Children in Benalla are being removed from homes at an alarming rate and there are simply not enough foster carers to offer them a safe place to live.
Upper Murray Family Care (UMFC) is getting more than 30 foster care requests in the region every month and only have 80 foster carers offering help.
Many of those requests are for children from Benalla and UMFC is having no option but to relocate children to areas many miles from their schools, friends and family members.
Roger Burton and his wife Catherine are one of only eight foster families in Benalla and feel the worst thing you can do to a child who has experienced the trauma of being removed from their home is to relocate them.
Roger said they have recently taken on a second foster child simply because the alternative was to move her away.
‘‘A lot of kids, Benalla kids, get shipped out to Shepparton, Wodonga or Myrtleford, for example,’’ Roger said.
‘‘And it’s even more traumatic for them, it’s the worst possible thing you can do.
‘‘My wife is a teacher and knew this girl from school.
‘‘She needed somewhere, and moving her would have been very unfair as she was midway though Year 11.
‘‘There’s only seven or eight carers in Benalla, with a town of 13000 that’s not many.
‘‘And Benalla has high rates of family violence, all those sorts of issues, so we could do with another 30.’’
Roger is on the board of Foster Care Victoria and the eastern region committee of Carers Victoria.
Those organisations are advocating for better reimbursement for carers, which is a major barrier for families offering to help.
Recent studies have highlighted that it costs on average $5000 per year on top of the funds that foster care families receive for taking a child into their home.
The result is that many families who may want to help are not able to for financial reasons.
There is also a push to change the cut-off age for payments from 18 to 21.
Roger said many children from traditional families were not ready to leave home at 18, and those who had a traumatic upbringing were even more likely to need extra time to transition to living alone.
‘‘A lot of younger homeless people are ones who have been kicked out of the homecare system,’’ he said.
‘‘They just don’t transition well and they end up on the streets.
‘‘They don’t have the skills and haven’t got a job, so what hope do they have?’’
This week is Foster Care Week, the aim of which is to raise awareness and celebrate the many families across Australia who offer their help as carers.
The theme for 2017 is ‘‘Shine a light’’ and organisers hope a new generation of home-based carers will take a child into their family.
The alternative to home-based care is residential care, which is a situation many children find themselves in.
The cost to taxpayers for one child in a residential care facility is more than $400000 a year.
Therefore it would seem that the funding model is broken if only $5000 on top of caring payments would allow some of these vulnerable children to move into a family home.
Roger is pushing for the next generation of foster carers to be encouraged into offering help with a fair system of financial reimbursement.
‘‘A lot of people doing out of home care have been doing it for 20 to 30 years and they’re getting a bit old,’’ he said.
‘‘We need to attract the next generation of foster carers; the alternative is residential care, which is no good for anyone.
‘‘There have been five or six reports into out of home care in the past 10 years, even a Royal Commission, and they all say the same thing.
‘‘Residential care homes are no place for children, and strengthening foster care is the only responsible option.
‘‘But that just hasn’t been done, and at the moment, with a lack of foster carers, kids are being dumped into residential care.’’
●If you would like to offer your services as a foster carer you can phone Upper Murray Family Care on (02)60558000 or visit www.umfc.com.au
Alternatively you can phone Fostering Connections on 1800013088 or visit www.fosteringconnections .com.au