When most of us think of the Out-of-Home Care (OoHC) system, we usually think of kids in foster care, but statistics show that the majority of Australian children in OoHC (54%) are placed with a relative or kinship carer¹. In Victoria, some 77% of children in OoHC are cared for in Kinship Care.
‘When a child can’t live at home due to a risk of harm or neglect, kinship care is usually the first option explored by DFFH (Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing) Child Protection’, says David Jefferson, Manager of CatholicCare Victoria’s Family, Community and Mental Health Services.
‘Children in kinship care are typically placed with a grandparent or aunt - for indeterminate time periods to begin with, but which often extends to ongoing care.’
However, while it seems to make sense that family members would be best placed to provide loving, familiar and culturally appropriate care, there are no guarantees that these care arrangements will be successful.
‘Some might be reluctant to take on the role of kinship carer,’ explains David. ‘Imagine a grandparent who is just beginning to enjoy the freedom of an empty nest, suddenly having to care for young children again. Some feel like they have no choice.’
‘Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, particularly if the children have difficulty overcoming trauma.’
Ensuring the best outcomes for children who are placed with extended family is the focus of CatholicCare Victoria’s Kinship Care program. The team of six – based in Mildura and Swan Hill – is contracted to support 45 children across North-West Victoria each year. This year they have worked with over 60 kids.
‘What the team does will vary depending on the age of the child,’ explains David. ‘For babies, we focus on physical development, for older children it’s about ensuring they are settled into school. We might assist them to set up their own bedroom, or to pursue sporting interest. Whatever they need to thrive.’
‘While the child is our primary client, we also support the kinship carers. For grandparent carers we might provide some education on cyber safety – something that didn’t exist when they were parents. We also offer respite so they can have a break every now and then.’
David speaks glowingly of many of the kinship carers. ‘Some of them are saints.’
So what does success look like? Achieving long term, stable arrangements for children is key to the Kinship Care program. This might mean reunification with birth parent(s) or a permanent placement with a kinship carer.
Over the past year, the Mildura/Swan Hill team have achieved the following:
- seven children were reunited with their birth parents (including one Aboriginal child)
- two separate sibling groups were reunited (one across State boundaries)
- two young people ‘aged out’ (turned 18) while in kinship care (including a delightful young Aboriginal woman).
- eleven children became subject to Permanent Care Orders – where their carer becomes their legal guardian (including one Aboriginal child).
- a further seven children (including one Aboriginal child) are expected to achieve Permanent Care before the Children’s Court is suspended for the Christmas break.
‘It is always a highlight to be able to reunite sibling groups,’ says David, recalling a particular case from a few years ago.
‘The two younger kids were placed with an aunt, but the oldest sister was placed with another family carer. The aunt with the two youngest then moved interstate due to her partner’s employment adding a further wedge between the children. Our kinship worker was able to contact the family interstate and arrange for the oldest child to visit her siblings during holidays. She liked being with her siblings and expressed a desire to remain with them permanently – which the Aunt agreed to.’
‘Another highlight for the team is the case of two sisters who came into grandma’s care when they were 10 and 11 years old. Six years later, the eldest girl is 18 years old, she’s doing driving lessons and studying at TAFE to pursue a career as a chef. Most importantly, she is still happily living with grandmother and sister (who wants to study to be a social worker).’
“I challenge anyone to call that Out of Home Care. The girls are exactly where they want to be. They are home.’
- 46,000 – the number of Australian children in OOHC as at 30 June 2020
- 54% were living with kinship carers
- 37% were in foster care
- 6.6% were in residential care
- 67% of children in OOHC had been in care for two years or more
Source: Child Protection Snapshot, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, May 2021
Can you help?
The Kinship Care team are currently working with a sibling group of eight children who are being cared for by their aunt. The eldest child has just turned 18 (and no longer lives with them) and the youngest are 3-year-old twins. Auntie has two children of her own – so that makes nine children in total that she is caring for.
It currently takes three trips to get all the children to school!
If you – or anyone you know – can help this family to obtain a 12-seater van, we would love to hear from you. Please email email@example.com or phone (03) 9287 5529.
Bernadette Garcia | Group Director Community Engagement
¹Child Protection Snapshot, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, May 2021