1 April 2015 | General Interest
The number of children in protective kinship care in Australia has grown dramatically over the last decade. Child and Family Community Australia has released findings from a review of kinship carer surveys. The publication reviews 13 recent kinship carer surveys and three population studies that outline findings for policy makers and practitioners in Australia.
The review highlights the vulnerability of the Indigenous kinship carers due to the large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in kinship care, and the higher rates of illness and premature death among Indigenous people. The rate of Indigenous children in out-of-home care in Australia is 11 times the rate of non-Indigenous children. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Indigenous children in statutory kinship care are with Indigenous kin (AIHW, 2014).
This survey found that, in comparison with the non-Indigenous carers of Indigenous children, the Indigenous carers were older, more often single, and more often caring for younger children and for larger numbers of children.
Nearly half of the carers of Indigenous children felt they were not receiving adequate support to keep children in contact with their family and culture; this was particularly so for the non-Indigenous carers.
Also concerning were indications that the legislated Cultural Support Planning is not consistently enabling Indigenous children to remain connected to their family and culture. Two-thirds (68%) of the carers were not aware of the Cultural Support Plans for children in their care.
All the surveys pointed to huge unmet needs for support to kinship care families. Foremost among these were financial assistance, including assistance with legal fees. Given evidence about the difficult circumstances of many kinship carers, the need for respite care and counselling services for carers were frequently mentioned.
Parental contact was identified as a particular stressor and carers also noted the children’s needs for counselling and educational supports. This highlights the vital need for information about resources that could assist kinship families. Ongoing support is critical to the wellbeing of children and carers in both statutory and informal kinship care.
As a recent arrival in the recognised spectrum of “out-of-home care”, the review suggests kinship care is not well conceptualised. Kinship families generally understand themselves as providing in-home, family care rather than “out-of-home care”.
Kinship care is perceived to have lesser status than foster care and less attention is paid to meeting the financial and non-financial needs of carers and children. Whether formalised as statutory care or arranged informally, kinship care has been a cheaper option for the care of vulnerable children than the alternatives of foster care and residential care.
The review calls for adequate resources to ensure quality of care and wellbeing for both children and carers. Policy is needed that recognises kinship care as a unique form of care rather than a variant of foster care.
The review also highlighted that overall there is a dearth of research in Indigenous kinship care and the Australian surveys provided limited data in this area. The review recommended that due to the particular vulnerability of many Indigenous kinship care families, more attention and research is needed to address this.
To learn more about the surveys you can read the full review from Child and Family Community Australia.