The Foster Care Association is made up of foster carers from all around Victoria, each with their own story, but with one thing in common, a driving dedication to the children and young people they care for... 

 

Sandra Creaner

 

    

30 Years FCAV Logo Vertical

sandra image“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.”

 

 

 

Anne & Daryl's Story

 

annebush“I think my path to foster caring was acknowledging what I can do, and do well,” says Anne. “We need more carers who are willing to do therapeutic care. Acknowledge your skills.  [Children] come to you emotionally fragile but mentally tough and apart from the stresses, it’s awesome.”

 

“We’ve met amazing people through fostering. I attend every education opportunity I can and I’m also part of the Carer Advisory Groups for that reason, to have a voice and get information and meet people.”

 

“Fostering was something we always knew that we’d do, but on the day we signed up, it was very spontaneous. Four years ago we walked into the agency. The people there were very keen for us to become carers. They said ‘quick do the training’!”  Anne and Daryl were introduced to the Circle Program, and were quickly matched.

 

“We needed the agency to be honest and up front with us about what would be needed. We asked and found out everything we could about circumstances and history etc.”

 

“Daryl’s in his 60’s and I’m about to turn 60 this year. We very consciously decided that we would become foster carers at a later age. I could never have provided the time, empathy and focus needed for the child in our life without the wealth of life experience behind me and the time for the 24/7 care. I can only give that because our 5 children are grown up.”

 

Anne and Daryl ‘tag team’.  “We are not in a position to take in any other children at this point and we can only do this because we have time to dedicate” says Anne. “The team around us, our caseworker, is fantastic and we feel well supported by them. We told the agency and the DHHS from the start that we’d support access as it was to assist with connection and bonding. It’s an important part of supporting cultural background, to be proud of it."

 

“Although we are not Aboriginal, I have a long connection with an Aboriginal family.  We wanted to care for an Aboriginal child who was primary school age because that’s my background. I worked with primary school age children and that’s what I know. Just last week I went to the funeral of a 100 year old elder over the South Australian border. I took our 9 year old with us. It is important for children in care to experience their culture and understand the rituals and the way things work.”

 

“We get on the internet and research. We have a big map of Indigenous Australia up which is fantastic. We have been to smoking ceremonies and have all the Dreamtime books, clapsticks, and a didgeridoo (even though the women don’t play). We’ve visited the cultural centre at Hall’s Gap, the Bungil caves at Stawell, when we travel we visit places that are important to culture and tell the stories as best we can. We encourage questions.”

 

“Our child has come so far and is part of our family in every way, we recently all went to Phuket.  We travel a lot. We go to swimming lessons. I figure that’s what the money is there for, but we also spend a lot of money on home schooling.”

 

Anne and Daryl also go on camping trips across the Nullarbor and back in swags and tents.  “Camping and traveling are two of our favourite pastimes,” says Anne.  “With a son on the west coast, a daughter on the east coast, a son in Melbourne and other family in SA we are often the road. We would like to go to Tassie soon, I have a girlfriend who lives in Hobart who used to care for teenagers, and she keeps telling us to hurry up and visit.”

 

“Some of the biggest hurdles are just getting permissions through the department. Every time we go over the border it’s hard. For instance we like to go camping over the NSW border, it’s literally only 10 metres over the border but we have to go through so much red tape to be allowed to go. Getting a passport was a big stress. These things should be simple and easy for carers. It’s hard with relationships and access too. It’s different in the city. In the country you bump into people you know and we sometimes have to shuffle around things like sibling access."

 

“Despite all the challenges we never had doubts along the way."

 

Anne describes fostering as an amazing journey.  “I’ve been on the planet for 59 years, but I’ve grown so much in ways that I didn’t see coming in the past 3.  If you go in with an open mind you can embrace the experience.”

 

“This a long term commitment but when you are told by the child in your care that when they grow up they'll bring their children here to visit us, those are the things that let you know you’ve made a good decision."

 

David's Story (Video)

 

 

Glenda's Story (Video)

 

 

Jacqui's Story

 

Jacqui has been a foster carer in the north of Melbourne since the days of working with Nuns at St Joseph’s. She doesn’t keep count of the numbers of children she’s cared for as that’s not the point. “… I love it and it’s going to be something I do until I can’t do it anymore. It’s such a rewarding thing to do, what you get back is more than what you can give,” she says.

 

Jacqui has been caring for children of all ages since she was a young parent raising her own children. Her mantra is routine, routine, routine. Children come to her from many situations and backgrounds and she implements the same kind, but firm routine for each of them. She believes in encouraging them to learn to do everything they can manage at certain ages, that they can then do for themselves.

 

“When they’re with me I make sure they will leave with life skills. Through praise, consequences and working together I make sure whether they’re going back home or to a long term family, that they will know how to make their beds, fold laundry, help me with jobs, know where the weetbix are and how to help with babies. I give them all a lot of love, plenty of nurturing, a strong sense of self-worth, sleep and a healthy diet.”

 

Jacqui makes sure every child has their own clothes and that there are plenty of healthy food options each child likes in the cupboards. Most of these expenses will be her own, she spends well over the allowances for each child, ensuring they are given individual sense of identity in what they wear, what they like to cook and eat and activities they like to do.

 

Jacqui is also very generous with her time with parents. She has maintained as many links to families and parents as she can depending on the situation. She allows access to happen as often as is allowed and appropriate and passes on her knowledge to many young parents. She is conscious of the feelings of mums who have their baby in her care and always makes sure she hands the baby to mum as soon as the visit begins. She keeps journals of illnesses, events and fills in the gaps. Consequently she is respected and parents are trusting about her caring for their children. This also allows parents to open up in front of her and she can impart lessons on parenting, the basics from how to change nappies to more expert experience in dealing with all sorts of behaviours. She is also able to mediate where feelings might be hurt if a parent fails to show up or doesn’t call when they said they will ensuring the child feels valued and supported.

 

Jacqui came to foster care having worked in childcare for 30 years. In the end she had to take long service leave because she was caring for 2 year old twin boys which took priority over her career.

“When babies go to permanent care those families feed back to me that the children are always adjusted to great routines and seem settled.”

 

Jacqui makes sure no matter how many young children are in her care, they each get cuddle time every day which is the type of nurturing she provides them right from the first night. When a child comes to her care, the first night she may sleep in the room with them and make sure they know she’s there and they’re safe. 

 

Continuity is so important. Jacqui doesn’t do respite as too often the children come back so upset and out of routine. She’s been doing this ongoing now for over half of her life. Jacqui’s advice to new foster carers of babies or very young children is to buy a good pram, with the child facing you at a height where you can talk to them. Tell them everything you’re doing and don’t stop. 

 

Kerryn's Story (Video)

 

 

Krysia's Story (Video)

 

 

Rachel & Steve's Story

 

rachel kentMy husband, Steve (54) and I (43) have been foster carers for the last 11 years or so and have just decided to take a break for a while to recharge our batteries.

 

It has been a fantastic journey and we have learned so much but it takes a lot of emotional energy and we want to be able to give any kids in our care the best of us, rather than just put a roof over their head.

 

We don't have any biological children. We began fostering thinking that we would do it for a few years before having our own, but we ended up feeling that our long-term foster kids were the kids we wanted and that was enough for us. We didn't want them to think that they were somehow "second-best". Two of those placements went to Permanent Care.

 

We live on a small property in East Gippsland and have a lot of pets. It's a great environment for kids but sometimes it's hard to access services because of distance.

 

There have been so many rewarding aspects of being a foster carer that it's hard to choose just a few! I have loved being able to see the kids grow up to be happy adults, and knowing that we played a part in that. I have found it really rewarding learning about the effects of trauma on development as it has helped me to understand the children's behaviour so much better. It has been amazing and rewarding to learn about Gunaikurnai culture and to understand the long histories of the families we have come to know. I feel very lucky to have been welcomed to events by parents and the extended families of the children we have cared for.

 

There have of course been challenges as well as rewards. Sometimes I have been happy to have the child protection system and the workers to fall back on or to make the tough decisions. Unfortunately though, there were many times that we felt that the system was letting the young people down because of the lack of flexibility in the system to respond to an individual child's needs. There is also a distinct lack of support for your people once they reach the age of 18, even with Leaving Care support. Finding affordable housing is a huge problem; there are just so few options.

 

If I had to choose only one thing to change? The single most important thing that I think needs to happen is that a lot more needs to be done to help carers make links with cultural organisations that can help the children in their care to feel they belong. We have met some great workers but they don't have time to do a lot of transport for the kids to see their families or help them maintain their connection to culture.

 

Sarah & Rob's Story

 

Sarah and Rob

Sarah and her husband Rob are in their 30s. They live in Williamstown in Melbourne’s west which, although close to the city, has the benefits of small town coastal life, and the kids love strolling down to the beach for a swim or to the jetty to watch the ships.

We have been caring for almost two years now, and have cared for nine children (from six different families) in that time. We currently do regular respite for two of those families and also offer emergency care. We have also done a stint of full time care (three months) for one of the children we continue to do respite for.

 

What first made you decide to embark on your fostering journey?  Did you have any doubts?

I still have doubts now! Never about the kids; but the challenges of the foster system often make me wonder about my decision to continue caring. The kids make it worth doing though, and that's why I first decided to become a carer. I was raised in a family day care house and my maternal grandmother was a foster carer in England. Meanwhile one of my cousins is a teacher and two others work in day care centres and two of my aunts also did family day care from home. I grew up in a family where caring for other people's children was the norm! And growing up this way (as well as working in day care/OSHC myself) I've seen kids from all walks of life, from all different families - kids with trauma and developmental and behavioural issues - and I've seen how amazing these kids are and how much they can accomplish. I think I've always known I wanted to be a foster carer because I've always wanted to care for kids who need care most. 

 

What made you first feel that you'd made a good decision, and that fostering was for you and your family?

Our first placement - a child we still provide respite care for (he has since moved back with his birth parent but we are in regular contact) - absolutely stole our hearts and changed our lives. I don't know if he made us feel like fostering was a 'good' decision, exactly, because the pain of saying goodbye to foster children is a grief unlike anything else we've ever experienced, but our time with him really showed us that fostering was the right path for us. 

 

Are there any issues that arise or seem to be particular to the region of Victoria you live in?

More than this Q&A could possibly allow. I recently attended the West Division's CAG (Carer Advisory Group) meeting, and we managed to condense the depressingly long list of foster care issues to a few key points. Primary among them was the need for better communication and respect for carers, putting the child at the centre or care decisions, and the lack of adequate funding and supports. Another major issue identified was the lack of knowledge and practical information/items available to carers: things like Medicare cards, Health Care cards and birth certificates are notoriously difficult to obtain, and often basic information isn't easily accessible. For example, we recently had two siblings that needed a doctor's appointment, but we didn't have their Medicare information, dates of birth or even their surname/s. It took us two days of back and forth calls with our agency's after hours number (who in turn was calling DHHS for information) to get a doctor's appointment organised. This sort of experience is, I know, not at all uncommon for carers. That said, I have met some amazing and passionate carers and some wonderfully kind and helpful workers in my time fostering.  

 

How do you support the children in your care with their connection to culture and cultural needs?

I believe connection to our culture is vital to forming our identities: our sense of self and place and figuring out 'who we are'. This becomes all the more vital for children in foster care, whose sense of self and place is already turbulent - particularly if children and carers come from different cultural backgrounds.

I once interviewed Indigenous children's book publisher Rachel Bin Sallah (from Magabala Press in Broome) about the importance of cultural identity; its formation and its connection to 'who we are', and together we examined the cultural needs of Indigenous children in Australia and the barriers they face in a literary world filled with predominantly white protagonists. I explained to her that we did respite care for two children from a Tongan family, and one of them, a young girl, was going through a bit of a 'cultural crisis'. Unlike her fair haired, blue eyed siblings, she was dark skinned with dark hair and eyes. She felt 'different' from her own family - and the other children around her. Rachel explained that this sort of cultural dilemma was very common for Indigenous children from mixed backgrounds, and she very generously posted over a large collection of Indigenous book titles for us to read to this young girl and share with the other children we foster. These books (although primarily telling different Aboriginal children's stories) all tell the stories of children with the same colouring as this young girl, something that might not seem so significant but goes a very long way to helping establish a feeling of connectedness and inclusion. We are also looking at purchasing some Tongan flashcards online so we can learn Tongan words together with the siblings, and I have also found some Tongan themed colouring pages to print out for our next respite weekend! 

 

What would be the single most important improvement that could be made to your fostering experience through legislation, funding or external supports?

The single most important improvement ... That's a tough one. I think my fostering experience is improved if the children's fostering experience is improved. Many of the children we have cared for need access to things like counselling, tutoring and art therapy, or simply the ability to join after school groups and activities. These sorts of things should, I think, be freely provided to all children in care. As my agency's most recent newsletter quoted: "If you can help a child, you don’t have to spend years repairing an adult" - Joyce Meyer. I think this is very true. 

 

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Priorities for the FCAV are directly informed by foster carer’s experiences in providing care to the children in their homes. As the peak body representing foster carers in Victoria, the FCAV continues to champion change through government working groups and independent review processes which aim to target areas for improvement.


Consistent areas of highest priority remains increasing the foster carer allowance and more funding for other expenses for children in care, as reflected in the responses to Carer Life. Over the 18 month period that we have conducted Carer Life, Allowance and Funds remain to be lowest rated by carers. We have seen positive shifts overall in areas of Training, Support, Coordination and Communication. We are passionate about lifting the voices of carers, and thus we display a diverse range of comments received from the chorus of stories and opinions shared in relation to our question areas.

 

To read our Final Survey Report please click here

 

 

Carer Advisory Group Update 2022

 

There are around 50 carers across the state who are members of four Divisional Carer Advisory Groups, established to improve the lines of communication between carers, community service organisations and DFFH. 

 

The Carer Advisory Groups (CAGs) are now in their 8th year of operation, although 2020/21 had obvious barriers to progress. The FCAV hopes to provide minutes and updates from CAGs on a regular basis as well as scope for strengthening the connections between the CAGs and the Carer Strategy Working Group, which has begun it's work again in early 2022.

The forum provides a great opportunity for carers and carer representatives to contribute to the future design of the children and families services system in Victoria. Divisional CAGs share updates on their activities and progress at quarterly meetings. They discuss the challenges carers are facing and how CAGs can help to address these challenges. CAGs also spend time on developing their local area plans, focusing on strengthening and supporting carers at the local level. Expressions of Interest are open to carers, although a drive to recruit interested carers occurs on a three year basis, due to reoccur this year in 2022.

 

CAG Terms of Reference

Information for Carers

Expression of Interest Form

 

For further information on Carer Advisory Groups please contact the divisional representative at Department of Families, Fairness and Housing:

 

Key secretariat contacts for divisional Carer Advisory Groups

 

North Division: Jade Baker and Rebecca Collins job share the secretariat function for the CAG. Jade Baker (DFFH) Jade.Baker@dffh.vic.gov.au and Rebecca Collins (DFFH) Rebecca.Collins@dffh.vic.gov.au

 

West Division: Sandie Mitchell,  Sandie.Mitchell@dffh.vic.gov.au and Tina Coviello (DFFH) Tina.Coviello@dffh.vic.gov.au

 

South Division: Karyn Spencer (DFFH) Karyn.Spencer@dffh.vic.gov.au  

 

East Division: Ashley Malpass Ashley.Malpass@dffh.vic.gov.au – Ashley is the Divisional contact, however the CAGs meet by local area.

 

 

History of updates

Click here to read the full July 2018 CAG update

August 2017 CAG Updates

May 2017 CAG Updates

January 2017 CAG updates

2016 CAG Updates

 

Foster Care Association of Victoria  - Foster Care Campaign

 

The Foster Care Association of Victoria (FCAV) is asking the Victorian Government to target foster care as a priority issue in this upcoming Budget round, the last budget delivery before the state election in November 2022. This is because foster care is a critically underfunded and under resourced area of child welfare and volunteer foster carers have borne some of the highest health, wellbeing, educational, social and economic costs during the pandemic.

 

The FCAV is asking all of its 5100  members to complete this short priority issues survey today - ADD YOUR VOICE

 

This will ascertain the highest priority needs of volunteer carers of our state’s children and young people in care and identify vital reforms for their support. Victoria again had the highest number of carers (596) exit the foster care system in Australia during 2019-20[1] and proportionally fewest commencing foster care (354). This represents a net loss of 242 carers for the state.

 

The FCAV has previously welcomed better support for carers in the 2020-21 budget including:

 

  • a short-term extension of the Carer Assistance Program (CAP) that provided therapeutic support to foster carers, 
  • universal access to the Better Futures/Home Stretch that extended care support for all young people in care; and 
  • the consolidation of ongoing funding for Carer KaFÉ training with expansion to include permanent carers.

 

These initiatives are essential for achieving stability for carers (and therefore, in the lives of vulnerable children and young people in their care) leading to long-term benefits for those children and the wider community. Evidence suggests these measures represent future cost savings in the areas of education, employment, mental health, housing and welfare services.

 

Unfortunately, the administrative and financial costs imposed on carers who are funding care out of their own pockets, remain as barriers for accessing carer support and undermining carer retention. This has significant impact costs including placement instability, carer attrition costs, loss of experienced carers and increased recruitment costs. They have unquantifiable impacts on the quality of experience for the majority of carers who continue to provide care for children and young people in their homes despite these imposts.  

Read the detailed outline of FCAV's advocacy claims here: FCAV_Advocacy_April_2022.pdf 

Complete the carer survey here: https://tinyurl.com/nhaba77r

Events

Foster Care Week 2022
September 11, 2022 2:17 pm

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