A recent Victorian Government announcement of additional support for children in Kinship Care is a welcome step in enhancing this vital support for children who cannot live with parents and for the extended family members who support them. A report from the Ombudsman into financial support for kinship carers indicates that there is more to be done.
On Tuesday 12 December 2017, the Hon. Jenny Mikakos, the Minister for Families and Children, announced an additional $33.5 million to improve services and support for kinship carers. Kinship care is the largest section of out-of-home-care in Victoria, with the number of children in kinship care doubling over the past five years to around 5,500.
The new model of kinships care will include:
* 36 dedicated kinship practitioners to initiate arrangements with a young person’s family and support them to provide care.
* Additional support for new kinship placements by Child and Family service organisations, including Aboriginal agencies to ensure that children’s and carers’ needs are identified from the start of a placement and links to supports occur.
* Additional funding to Aboriginal agencies to strengthen supports to Aboriginal children and young people including finding extended family, supporting carers and helping children and young people return to their parents where possible.
* Flexible brokerage funding for existing kinship care placements.
A Manual for Kinship Carers, launched in October 2017 provides information to assist kinship carers about financial and other support available as well as information to help them navigate the child protection system. In addition, kinship carers can access training through the Carer Kafé: kinship and foster care education, launched earlier in April this year.
These measures will go some way to addressing the concerns raised by the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass, detailed in her report on Investigating the financial support
provided to kinship carers in Parliament on 13 December2017. The investigation found significant system failures in terms of:
* Best interests of children: Child Protection Practitioners are not making decision in the best interest of the child, with few assessments resulting in applications for higher care allowances.
* Inequity: Many kinship carers are vulnerable and yet received less financial support than foster carers; 96.8 per cent of kinship carers receive a level one allowance compared with only 40 per cent of foster carers.
* Delays: kinship carers are disadvantages by delays between placements starting and care allowances commencing as well as delays when higher allowances are requested.
* Information provision: the system for financial support is complex and there is a lack of information to assist kinship carers with the application process for higher care allowances.
In a media release, the Ombudsman said, "Kinship carers are typically grandparents on low incomes, who take children in times of crisis, often because of family violence or substance abuse affecting the child's parent,” and, “they do so often in difficult and challenging circumstances and at a fraction of the cost to the public purse of other forms of out-of-home care." Supporting kinships carers helps to reduce the risk of placement breakdown and further contact with the child protection and youth justice systems.