With around 36,000 children in Australia* living in foster care / out-of-home care, the need to recruit quality and dedicated foster carers has never been greater. Whatever your reason and motivation to join the PRFC team as a foster carer, you can be certain that this is a great opportunity to do something worthwhile for a child or young person in care.
What is foster care?
Foster care means caring for a child or young person who cannot live with their family. Although the reasons for family breakdown are varied, some common issues include: family violence, parental substance abuse, mental health, neglect and abuse. Foster carers are relied upon to open their homes and hearts to offer a safe and nurturing environment for these children for varying lengths of time.
What is the role of the foster carer?
Foster carers are adults who are able to open their homes to foster children and offer them a loving, safe and nurturing home. As with any parent-child relationship, foster carers are responsible for the day-to-day care of the foster child. This means foster carers, in conjuction with PRFC support, have responsibility for meeting the child's needs which include the emotional, physical, psychological and other needs.
A successful foster carer enjoys working with children and recognises the importance of a stable and nurturing home in the life of a vulnerable child. And, they also recognise the needs and benefits of working closely with PRFC Caseworkers and the children's natural family.
How do I become a foster carer?
From start to finish, the journey to become a foster carer takes around 2 to 6 months and involves several steps. These steps involve a combination of assessments, information sessions, interviews, training and background checks.
Typically, the process goes like this:
Step 1: Expression of interest - You contact PRFC and inform us that you are interested to become a foster carer. In response, we will send an information pack aimed at providing you with information to help you make an informed choice about becoming a foster carer.
Step 2: Information exchange session and meeting the household - After reading the PRFC information pack and if you remain interested to proceed, we will arrange to meet you in your home to further discuss the process, answer your questions and meet members of your family.
Step 3: Application - The third step involves completing your application to become a foster carer form and submitting it to PRFC for processing.
Step 4: Assessments - When we receive your application to become a foster carer form, we will be in touch to arrange your assessment appointments (6 sessions of about 2 hours each) and organise dates for foster carer training.
Step 5: Background checks - We will require information for the purpose of carrying out background checks on you and your family. These include: Criminal record check, Working with Children check, reference checks and a safety check of your home for potential safety issues relevant to foster caring.
Step 6: Training - You will be required to participate in foster carer training to give you a better understanding of the foster carer role and to equip you with the skills you will need to provide quality care.
Step 7: Approval - Upon completion of the paperwork, checks and training, we will contact you to discuss the progress of your application to become a foster carer.
Step 8: Placement - Once you have been approved to provide foster care, we will discuss with you child/ren we feel may be suitable placement options for your family.
How long does the process take?
This depends upon individual circumstances and may take between 2 to 6 months.
What do children in foster care need?
In short, children in foster care need a stable, nurturing and supportive home where they can grow, develop and learn to become self-sufficient young adults. Many foster children are exposed to challenging life experiences which may include abuse, violence and neglect. It is vital for foster carers to know and understand the unique needs of these children. As a result of past trauma, foster children may present with an increased need for support, recognition, relationship and trust building. Foster carers can assist children by taking the time to listen to them and by assisting them to find happiness and balance.
PRFC Caseworkers work closely with foster carers and involve other professionals with expertise to provide therapy and other remedial services to children.
PRFC is focused on providing therapeutic interventions which have been shown to be effective and to work well for children and young people. The PRFC Care Team work closely with foster carers in the provision of these services.
What support is available?
PRFC recognises the importance of foster carers to the happiness and stability of children placed in foster care. PRFC offers comprehensive and ongoing support to ensure foster carers are supported at all times.
We recognise foster carers may experience problems or wish to ask questions at times outside of office hours. PRFC provides foster carers with 24 hour/ 7 days per week access to an on-call Caseworker.
PRFC personnel regularly visits foster carer families to ensure effective communication, monitor placement progress and provide support.
Training - PRFC requires foster carers to participate in regular and ongoing training. This is to ensure that foster carers continue to be updated with the latest information and behaviour management skills and have the opportunity to network with other carers.
Financial assistance - To assist with the daily expenses of raising children, foster carers receive a tax-free fortnightly allowance (the amount depending on the age and needs of the child/ren in care). These payments do not affect other government allowances the foster carer may receive.
Can I choose the ages of the children I wish to foster?
Yes. Foster carers can choose the age range and gender of the child/ren they bring into their home. This is important for various reasons, including carer capacity and other children living at home. There are guidelines and practices as to what works best and these are discussed during the initial assessment process.
What are the types of foster care placements?
Depending on the needs of the child and the foster carer's ability, a foster carer may be called upon to provide a variety of care types for children living in out-of-home.
Whilst there are categories for placement arrangements these are fluid and sometimes with the agreement of all parties the care category may change to benefit the child.
Care arrangements include:
(a) Emergency Placements - as the name explains, emergency placements typically are expected to be for a few nights whilst a more permanent solution is put in place;
(b) Respite Care Placements - respite care is used to give families or foster carers a break from caring duties by allowing foster children to spend a few days each month with another family. This could be a one-off event; or occur on a regular basis, depending on the circumstances and the needs of the foster carers.
(c) Short Term Placements - lasts anything from 6 months to 12 months and is geared towards restoration of the child to their natural families;
(d) Long Term Placements - provides children with a permanent living arrangement with one foster family until the foster child is able to live independently as an adult (usually age 18).
How long do children stay in foster care?
Depending on the child and their circumstances, a child may reside in foster care for a few nights each month (Respite Care) or until they reach the age of 18years (Long Term Care). This does not preclude the child from continuing to reside with the foster care household beyond the age of 18.
Who can become a foster carer?
PRFC accepts potential foster carers from varied backgrounds. They may be single, married, in a same-sex relationship, living on a farm or in a city apartment, working, studying, unemployed or in paid work etc. We accept applications from potential foster carers from age 21 years.
Do I need a big house to become a foster carer?
No. Whether you rent a tiny apartment in the city, or live in a mansion in the country, PRFC will work with you to decide a suitable placement type for your home. And, whilst the living arrangements vary foster carers will be required to offer a foster child / groups of sibling children (age dependent) a room of their own to ensure the children are given privacy and space to allow them to feel comfortable and able to settle into your home.
Can I become a foster carer if my own children live at home?
Yes. Provided you have discussed the situation with your own children - and they are agreeable, you can foster children whilst having your own children at home.
Can I apply to become a foster carer if I have a criminal record?
Yes, you can still apply. Having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you from becoming a foster carer. Clearly, child-related and serious offences will prohibit you from working with children, but for most offences, you will be assessed on a case by case basis. PRFC caseworkers will weigh up such factors as: the nature of the offence/s you committed, the length of time since offending and certain other features.
What financial support do foster carers receive?
To help with the daily expenses of raising a child, PRFC foster carers are paid a fortnightly allowance for outgoings such as food, clothing, the child's education and other activities. The exact amount of money is determined by the age and needs of the child/ren in care. Note also, as foster care allowances are not treated a income it will not affect existing government payments you may currently receive.
Do foster children have contact with their birth parents?
Yes, unless contact with parents or significant other family members is considered contrary to the child's best interests. It is well established that children significantly benefit from maintaining connection with their natural families.
Maintaining a connection may involve various contact arrangements, however the usual way children in foster care maintain contact is through regularly scheduled and meaningful contact visits with their parents / families which are often supervised. The regularity of such visits is often determined by Court Order but there are exceptions to this.
Do foster carers meet the birth parents of the the children they foster?
Each case is assessed on its own merits. Foster parents often at some stage meet their foster child's natural parents. This may occur at a Case Conference or other activity including placement assessment.
PRFC Caseworkers will seek to promote a positive working relationship between foster carers and the birth parents. In certain circumstances, PRFC (following assessment) may determine that a face-to-face meeting between the foster carers and child's natural parents is not in the child's best interest. In these circumstances a meeting is avoided.
Whilst each case is different, PRFC Caseworkers find that biological parents are often appreciative when they discover their child/ren are placed with a caring and committed family.
Will the child's parents be given my name and address?
Sometimes. The level of disclosure of personal details about the foster care family is subject to an in-depth risk assessment conducted by PRFC Caseworkers and involving members of the PRFC Care Team, including the foster care family and others. The outcome is discussed with the foste carer family before any disclosure is made.
The level of disclosure may involve generic information to more detailed information which depends on each individual case. Birth parents may be provided with their child's placement details (i.e. your suburb, the child's school details etc) unless PRFC determines this is contrary to the child/ carer's best interest. During the initial placement assessment, foster carers will be included in this decision-making process and you will have a say in whether your details are to be released to the parents.
What happens if the child and I do not get along?
Although the option remains for the child to move to another placement research clearly shows that children are significantly affected by placement changes whilst in care.
To ensure placements are given the best chance of succeeding, PRFC foster care families are given around the clock support and access to support services to help families stay intact. We recognise the importance of quality and effective therapeutic interventions for children in foster care and will seek to explore these and other options before moving a child. However, there are exceptions and matters will be determined on a case by case basis.
* Australian Government - Australian Institute of Family Studies 2011