Sandra Creaner

 sandra image30 Years FCAV Logo VerticalSandra Creaner is an FCAV alumni from the 1990s. She was a critical part of the early work that a 12-person volunteer committee of foster carers undertook to support one another and other foster carers to navigate the system at a time when little independent support was available to Victorian foster carers.

 

“I joined the FCAV due to a fostering issue of my own as a relatively new carer.  All we’d had was two full days of training on consecutive Saturdays and one Wednesday evening session and that was it. Then you were deemed ready to get a phone call and child would be dropped off.”

 

“There was no real training in trauma behaviours or what carers would actually face in supporting these young people.”

 

In fact, the emphasis was placed firmly on carer responsibilities and what carers must and mustn’t do.

 

“During training one of the things that was emphatically stated was that we were not to engage in discussions with children and young people if they disclosed instances of abuse to us. These kids may not have felt safe to ever talk about what they’d been through with anyone else in their lives, but as foster carers we were told not to lead that discussion with a child and ignore the natural response to supporting the child to open up.”

 

Sandra began attending the monthly meetings of the FCAV, advocating to better support individual foster carers and foster carers as a cohort, in a system where the Department and/or agency decision-making was often not operating in the interests of their role or the best for the children in their care.

 

“Senior Department staff at that time couldn’t understand why you were complaining (about the conditions). Their perspective came from a place of “We gave you a child. What more do you want?”

 

“There was a blame culture for carers where it was your fault if something goes wrong until proven otherwise and limited support to your wellbeing. We felt abandoned after we’d signed up. We didn’t really understand about the level of behaviours and system complexities we would face but then your caring capacity was questioned if you found that challenging.”

 

During this early stage carers and foster care agencies were interviewed by the 7.30 Report who packaged a full story about the lack of proper training for foster carers. Sandra offered the comparison between her training to become a foster carer and her prior training as a volunteer zoo guide. To become a volunteer zoo guide Sandra had to complete 12 full days and 12 half days of training versus the 2.5 days of training to become a foster carer. As that story unfolded the Department became very uncomfortable and the report ended up on the editing floor but it was the beginning of the development of improved training programs for carers. In the early 1990s the committee made up of carers who were also working their own jobs, would meet monthly to devise training sessions and then drive out to regions to conduct half days sessions. They took phone calls, attended meetings as carer advocates, held annual conferences and AGMs, and even provided childcare for carers so they could participate in training sessions and conferences.  This group of dedicated volunteers provided a strong voice for foster carers and FCAV’s advocacy platform.

 

The FCAV was given some funding to run statewide and ongoing training for foster carers which FCAV facilitated for many years before the advent of the Carer KaFE learning and development program in 2015.

 

As well as training needs, the committee was focused on improving some troubling conditions for carers.

 

“Carers would ring looking for assistance and we’d do the assisting. One of us secured the help of a pro bono lawyer who could give legal advice and so we could go along to care team meetings as a support person and help carers navigate the bureaucracy.”

 

“We could be available to carers for a phone call or two and be able to listen to their concerns and help explain how best to engage and bring some clarity to what they were involved in.”

 

This gave rise to the Carer Information and Support Service (CISS) which still operates through FCAV today. This advocacy and support saw funding for FCAV begin in 2006.

 

“There were no work health safety measures as a carer as the policies didn’t apply to volunteers back then. I was once sent by a worker to do a pick-up from Mum’s and bring a child back to my house because it entailed walking into the Carlton flats, five nights a week for three weeks, which was quite intimidating.  I later found out the agency had ruled that after 5pm workers could never go in alone, but as a foster carer, I was expected to do so. You got treated like a paid worker when it came to the responsibilities but there was no consideration for my health and safety or other conditions paid workers can expect.”

 

“Foster carers came to us with common themes including with children being lost in the system, with placement after placement over a number of years and reunification issues. We wanted to stop the repeating cycles where a change of worker would mean a cycle of the same decision-making that had failed previously.”

 

“There are gems in the system at every level, who have made significant difference to improving the way carers are viewed and understanding the complexity of what they take on. However, the FCAV played, and continues to play, an important role at State level reform to the Child, Youth and Families Act, ensuring carers are considered at a system-wide level.”

 

“We were successful in getting the carer voice at Government forums and instrumental in ensuring there was a Charter for children in care when they set up Office of the Guardian for children. We had to the opportunity to meet with the Minister and attend working groups which strengthened the focus on carers at that level. I was in an Interim President role of the FCAV at that time and it was highly political and you felt at risk as a carer, that you could be targeted speaking up for carers.”

 

At that time, the committee wanted to represent permanent care and kinship care as the inter-generational connections are a reality.

“We were told that we wouldn’t be funded if we allowed permanent care members.”

 

“FCAV’s capacity to support individual families (through CISS) is invaluable but to me the biggest contribution it made and continues to make, is the peak body advocacy. Without that level of support to system reform, real change can’t happen. FCAV has been instrumental in improving the funding carers receive and clarifying permissions and carer authorisations and system wide support to carers. So it is that one to one support for individuals carers and the system wide advocacy - that balance to do both that is so critical”.

 

“Thirty years later I no longer provide foster care (officially). However, I remain in close contact with a number of the children I fostered and those for whom I provided permanent care, providing practical or emotional and sometimes financial support.  I’m now Nanny Sandra to my foster children’s children and even provided kinship care for one of my foster grandchildren for an extended period in 2020. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Along with my family, and my parish and the children’s school communities, the FCAV and the friendships I made through fostering provided the village.”

 

“The contribution FCAV made and continues to make as a peak is significant.”