Breaking news from the Fostering NSW Campaign!

The changing face of fostering in Australia

The number of children and young people in out-of-home care in New South Wales has increased by 23.9% to 18,169 between 2008 and 2012. About half were placed in foster care, with the rest going to their extended family. Over thirty percent of these children were from Aboriginal backgrounds.

The traditional Australian family has changed dramatically over the past thirty years and with these changes, foster care is changing in response, developing innovative new models and appealing to new pools of potential carers.

“Australian families are becoming more and more fluid; nuclear families still exist but blended families are more and more common.” –  Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass from UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre.

Almost a third of children are now being born outside of marriage: 34% in 2008 compared to 12% in 1980. At the same time, the proportion of lone parents has doubled, rising to 21% in 2008, which has implications for the traditional foster care model, which relied on placing children in nuclear families.

Foster care agencies now look to support foster care needs towards 2020 and beyond.

More and more same-sex couples are fostering

There has been a huge increase in the number of same-sex couples – up 32% in the five years between the 2006 and 2011 census. Same-sex couples will likely form an increasingly important part of the foster care base into the future. These are the foster carers of the future, and although some agencies don’t place foster children with same-sex couples, others are seeing huge potential in this growth area.

People are becoming foster carers at an older age.

There are changes already underway in the ‘aging’ of the average foster carer – in 1986 the average age profile was 25 – 49, and by 2003 this was 35 – 54.

Working parents are looking at fostering in different ways to suit their lifestyle.

According to Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass, the widespread move of mothers into the labour force over the past few decades is one the single most significant changes to the Australian family. Nowadays, the most likely scenario is for couple parents to have a full-time and a part-time job between them. This means less and less time is available for looking after foster children. There is, however, a different perspective on this. There is always the opportunity to take up foster caring and access the compensation available [which is an allowance to cover the cost of the child’s care]. Professor Elizabeth Fernandez from the School of Social Sciences at UNSW notes that foster care may provide enough additional financial incentive for some mothers to stay home, rather than go to work, and look after their own children as well as fostered children.
Foster care being a 24/7 commitment is a myth – there are many different types of fostering available, including part-time or respite fostering, where a child’s foster parents are given a break by another foster parent. There are many ways to make fostering fit with today’s busy lifestyle.

Singles are more likely to foster than couples.

Australian families are getting smaller – the number of women who have had four or more children by age 40 – 44 has fallen dramatically, from 28% in 1981 to just over 10% in 2006. At the same time, the number of women with a single child almost doubled. In addition, an increase in Australia’s divorce rate is also likely contributing to more, smaller families.
There is also the increasing propensity of Australian adults to live by themselves, which is a positive development for fostering. Single adults in New South Wales are more likely to foster than couples, though the majority of foster carers are couple families, because of their greater number, and this proportion increased substantially between 1986 and 2003.

Aboriginal and other children from culturally diverse backgrounds are increasingly being placed with culturally appropriate carers.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children comprise 4.9% of all children aged 0 – 17 years in Australia, yet in 2010 – 2011 they constituted nearly 33% of all children placed in out-of-home care. The ‘Aboriginal Placement Principle’ dictates that Aboriginal children should ideally be placed with Aboriginal carers. AbSec works as the peak body for Aboriginal out-of-home care agencies and is critical in resolving the mistrust of state care of children that lingers following the experiences of the Stolen Generation.

So what does it mean to be a foster carer in Australia now?

Despite the changes to Australian families and society, the underlying characteristics of a great foster carer remain the same. Professor Alan Hayes of the Australian Institute of Family Studies identifies six key characteristics of a high-performing foster carer:

  1. A sense of love
  2. Warm attachments
  3. Consistency of parenting practice
  4. Stability
  5. Financial and material support
  6. Successful transmission of “pro-social” values

Amidst all the change, the one constant that matters most is to always remain focused on what is important for foster children.

Open you heart – Foster a child.

Read ACWA’s “The Changing Face of Fostering” media release. [PDF document]

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