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SA foster carers on rise but more doors need to open

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The State Government has reached its target of recruiting 50 new foster families this year, with the Child Protection Minister now urging people outside the traditional foster carer stereotype to consider opening their doors to at-risk children.

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The Department for Child Protection set a target in January to recruit an additional 50 foster carers in 2019 as part of its push to reduce the number of children in costly residential care.

Seven months later, the Government has already reached that goal, with Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson crediting a new recruitment website and a concerted effort from foster care agencies for the fast turn-around.

According to the Department, the total number of primary foster carers in South Australia in 2017-18 was 1246.

The total number of foster carers recorded so far for the 2018-19 financial year was 1296 – an increase of exactly 50.

A new government website designed to highlight the diversity of people who can become foster carers has generated 80 online enquiries in its first month, a result Sanderson described as a “positive start and a fantastic first step for people thinking about becoming a foster carer”.

“Foster and kinship carers do amazing and tireless work,” she said.

“I once met a carer who opened her home to more than 140 foster children and I’ve met single men who foster care and same-sex couples who do a wonderful job looking after our most vulnerable young people.

“What strives me is their warmth, their dedication and above all, the selfless love they give to our state’s most vulnerable children.”

Sanderson, who is in Mount Gambier today visiting foster carers, said research showed home-based care was “invaluable” for children who entered the child protection system, giving them a greater sense of permanency, stability and belonging.

She said while she was “thrilled” the Government had reached its foster carer recruitment goal, there remained an “urgent need for more loving, safe and nurturing homes for children and young people who come into care because it is no longer safe for them to live with their birth parents”.

“We know there are a lot of people who may be thinking about becoming foster carers but may not believe they are suitable due to their living situation, their age, or other factors,” she said.

“The new website has been designed to be interactive and engaging for potential foster carers and dubunk some myths about suitability for becoming a foster carer.”

Sanderson said the Department had also established a Carer and Recruitment Taskforce to increase the number of children in family-based care, and it was working to “streamline” its foster care recruitment, assessment and training systems.

An analysis published in April by the Guardian for Children and Young People found the Government was continuing to show a “heavy commitment” to spending on out-of-home care as opposed to family-based supports.

According to the analysis, in 2017-18, 77 per cent of all child protection services spending was on out-of-home care, including 64 per cent on costly residential and emergency care accommodation.

In May, Guardian Penny Wright also criticised the Government for overseeing a 10 per cent decline in the number of Aboriginal children being placed with Aboriginal carers in the past 10 years.

Sanderson said protecting vulnerable children was an “absolute priority” of the Marshall Government.

“Keeping children safe and reducing the number of children in residential care is my focus,” she said.

“Foster carers dedicate their lives to looking after young people who have experienced hardship and neglect and for that I extend my sincere appreciation and thanks.”

Sanderson said all foster carers are allocated a support worker and carers receive a carer payment to cover the day-to-day costs of caring for a child.

Those interested in becoming foster parents can call 1300 2 FOSTER or visit fostercare.sa.gov.au.

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