2nd November 2023 12:25
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (12:25): (338) My question is to the Minister for Children and concerns the disparity in foster and kinship carer allowances. Kinship carers are the preferred model for placement of children who are unable to live with their families, particularly for Aboriginal children, and they account for roughly 70 per cent of all placements. The Yoorrook justice commissioners heard that 96 per cent of kinship carers receive the lowest level of care allowance, compared to 32 per cent of foster carers, and recommended the disparity be fixed to attract more much-needed Aboriginal carers into the system.

The commissioners were assured by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing that they would be looking at methods of getting more suitable support to kinship carers. Can the minister provide an update on what more suitable support the 96 per cent of kinship carers are now receiving?

Lizzie BLANDTHORN (Western Metropolitan – Minister for Children, Minister for Disability) (12:26): 

Thank you, Mr Ettershank, for your question, your interest in the children’s portfolio and the ongoing dialogue from both you and of course your colleague. I note that I was absent from the chamber when she also asked a question recently in relation to children in the child protection system, so I thank you for your ongoing dialogue on these issues.

Can I also begin by thanking the kinship carers, the foster carers and of course the permanent carers for the work that they do in our care services system.

I have highlighted to this house on a number of occasions now that we do obviously provide a carer allowance, which contributes towards the day-to-day needs of caring for a child.

It is important to note that there is no discrepancy in the allowance itself being applied to a foster carer or a kinship carer. The allowance is indeed differentiated on the needs of the child, not the type of carer in the system. The level of funding is dependent on the age and the needs of the child, and the higher allowances are determined on a case-by-case basis based on the needs of the child and the complexity of their issues ‍– the things that they have that require ongoing specialist support requirements.

 We also have other allowances available. We have a new placement allowance for level 1 allowance placements for the first six months of the child in care. We have the education assistance payment per year until a child is 18, which assists with meeting the educational needs of individual children. We also have client expenses funding, which is available to help cover the costs of other extraordinary expenses that carers, whatever type of carer they are in the system, may need.

And of course we have the care support help desk, which has been a really important initiative in making sure that carers can actually access the support that they need. If they feel they are not getting the right support, they can contact the care support help desk and get the assistance that they need to make sure that they are getting the right support.

That in particular has gone to issues like getting key documents such as birth certificates, Medicare cards and those sorts of things where families and carers have had trouble getting those.

In regard to the specific issue you raise around the evidence that was given at Yoorrook – and I take this opportunity to thank the Yoorrook Justice Commission for the work that they have done and for their report into child protection matters – to go to the specific reference that the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing made, there was an acknowledgement that they made and certainly that I also made at the Yoorrook Justice Commission in relation to the further work that does need to happen in regard to kinship and foster carer allowances. We have set up within the department a working group that is working on how we can better apply allowances to kinship carers, foster carers and indeed permanent carers in the system. The peak organisations are represented in that discussion as well, and I was pleased to talk to the Foster Care Association about that during Foster Care Week at an event they had in Ballarat. That work is ongoing and remains a priority, but the government are certainly considering further ways in which we can build on the range of supports and allowances that we provide.

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (12:29): Thank you, Minister, for your response. As well as generally receiving a higher allowance than kinship carers, foster carers are also eligible for additional foster care therapeutic payments. These payments must certainly assist with the financial pressures of caring for a child and would be welcomed by kinship carers, who on average are substantially poorer than foster carers.

Can the minister explain why therapeutic payments are not available to kinship carers?

Lizzie BLANDTHORN (Western Metropolitan – Minister for Children, Minister for Disability) (12:30): 

Again, thank you, Mr Ettershank, for your supplementary question. Just to reiterate, foster carers and kinship carers are not differentiated in relation to the payments and support services that they are provided with for the needs of the children in their care. It is based on the needs of the child and the complexity of the child that is in their care.

I am not sure if you are referring to a specific program that we do have, the TFCO program. This is a very specialised model of care which is for a short period of time for particular children in care. It is a model of care that is designed to prepare that child to prevent them hopefully from entering residential care but also to provide them with really intensive specialised supports to enable them to return to either kinship care – what is commonly understood as a foster care model – or hopefully to their own immediate family. To be clear, foster carers, as they are commonly understood, and kinship carers are eligible for the same payments.


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