No safe place to call home: Vulnerable children housed in hotels amid foster carer crisis

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Vulnerable children staying in hotels and motels, a shortage of caseworkers and an increasing demand on residential care have led to an urgent plea for more foster carers in NSW.

More than 100 vulnerable children and young people are living in alternative emergency housing, such as hotels and motels, as the child protection system faces a dire shortage of foster carers.

Family and Communities Minister Kate Washington has urged more people to volunteer to be foster parents.

There are about 15,000 children and young people in the NSW child protection system. The shortage of foster carers has resulted in an increasing number of children being housed in residential care, consisting of facilities run by NGOs and private companies.

Hotels, motels and short-term rentals are supposed to be used as a last resort and are staffed by unaccredited agency staff through labour-hire agencies. As of June 30, there were 26 children in hotels and motels, 37 in serviced apartments and 55 in short-term rentals including caravan parks.

The Department of Communities and Justice estimates that $200 million is spent each year purchasing these emergency placements.

One group of four siblings recently each spent 444 nights in an alternative care arrangement.

Child welfare advocates criticised the use of these arrangements as a long-term measure but say the cost of living crisis has made it harder for people to volunteer as foster carers.

The number of children placed in foster care decreased by 6.1 per cent, or 400 children, in the first quarter of this year when compared to the same period last year.

Those placed in relative and Aboriginal kinship care also decreased by 3.2 per cent.

The proportion of children placed in residential care, consisting of facilities run by NGOs and private companies, has increased by 6.3 per cent during that same period.

The Department of Communities and Justice estimates that an extra 600 foster carers are needed each year to take care of children who cannot live safely at home.

NSW Minister for Families and Communities Kate Washington has used Foster Carer and Kinship Week to make an urgent plea for more parents to sign up as foster carers.

“There are amazing foster and kinship carers right across NSW, but we desperately need more,” Washington said.

“Right now, there are vulnerable children who don’t have a safe place to call home.”

CEO of child welfare organisation OzChild Lisa Griffiths said temporary measures of residential care facilities had been originally set up to “fill a void”, but were now used in ongoing care.

“There’s been a decline in foster care in NSW, as well as across Australia, with more children placed in residential care, run by NGOs or the private sector,” she said.

“The rising cost of living means that we have fewer families being able to put their hands up to support vulnerable children and open their hearts and their homes and give them a place to live.”

Family support and foster care charity Barnardos chief executive Deirdre Cheers said the NSW government needed to focus on improving the assessment for children.

She said the focus should be on ensuring that those who can safely return to their families can go home as quickly as possible and that those who can’t, find a permanent home, ultimately via open adoption with contact with the biological family where appropriate.

“Too many children move from placement to placement in foster care and never find the stability they so badly need,” Griffiths said.

“Recruiting more foster carers is not the long-term solution for vulnerable children – foster care is a temporary ‘fix’ and should not be a ‘lifestyle choice’ for any child. Foster care is by its nature impermanent.”

NSW Shadow Minister for Families and Communities Natasha Maclaren-Jones said it was unclear how foster carer numbers would be bolstered.

“It is also not as simple as increasing numbers, we need to ensure existing foster carers continue to be well supported,” she said.

“We need this government to deliver more long-term funding in the upcoming budget to support existing foster carers, and permanency support programs to ensure young people in out-of-home care can have a safe and stable home for life.”

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article