South Australian foster and kinship carers say they are being forced onto new agreements — cutting their State Government payments — in order to get the stability of being the legal guardian of their child.
- Foster carers say department practices have taken support away from children in care
- The Opposition has accused the State Government of “emotional blackmail”
- The State Government says no changes have been made to financial support arrangements
Labor’s child protection spokeswoman Jayne Stinson has accused the State Government of “emotional blackmail” by forcing carers of vulnerable children to accept less money.
Several carers the ABC has spoken to say a change to department practices has had the effect of taking support away from children in care.
Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson has insisted no change has been made to financial support arrangements under her watch.
Long-term guardianship is granted to carers through a court order, making the carer the lawful guardian of the child.
The carer is then able to make decisions relating to the child without consulting the State Government, and is no longer case managed.
Increasing access to guardianship arrangements was a key recommendation of the 2016 Royal Commission into Child Protection in South Australia.
Commissioner Margaret Nyland found the underused arrangement “can bring a greater sense of stability, certainty and normalcy to a child’s life, including placing important decision making in the hands of the adults who know the child best”.
In order to get guardianship, carers go through an extended assessment process by the department and apply to the Youth Court.
‘Devastating for these children’
One of the affected kinship carers told the ABC that after applying for guardianship, she was told she would have to accept lower payments.
The carer said she was told her application would be closed if she did not sign a new agreement, cutting her financial support, within two weeks.
One carer claimed she was told her application would be closed if she didn’t sign a new agreement. (ABC News)
“They were quite honest in telling me that was looking at cost-cutting measures,” she said.
“We’ve only been told this five or six months into our application, and as you can appreciate that’s now causing us a lot of heartbreak.
“I’m actually quite offended that we’re even talking about this child in monetary terms … we’re putting a dollar value on her.
“She means more to us than money.”
After the ABC interviewed the carer last week, she said the child protection department contacted her again to revise its offer upward.
She said while her position might be improved, it does not help other foster and kinship carers going through the same process.
“Sadly there are families that have dropped out,” she said.
The child protection department’s policy says the Government will honour previous agreements about the payment of school fees and “negotiated therapy should they be assessed to be in the child’s best interests”.
It does not commit to any support beyond that.
Minister says ‘there have been no changes’
The Minister this week told Parliament no guardianship policies had been changed.
“I can assure this house there have been no changes, any of the payments that were eligible for the child before long-term guardianship orders are still there currently,” she told Parliament.
She said there had been a net increase of 46 children under long-term guardianship in the past year.
“In fact, the last 12 months has seen the largest increase in people taking up long-term guardianship orders from any other 12-month period,” she said.
“Under Labor, there was a significant reduction in financial support for carers who undertook LTG, formally Other Person Guardianship,” Ms Sanderson told the ABC in a subsequent statement.
Child protection department chief executive Cathy Taylor said the base foster carer payment automatically continued into guardianship, up to the child’s 18th birthday.
She said the department would honour arrangements for the payment of school fees and therapy.
Other negotiated payments remain up in the air.
“When assessed as required and appropriate, additional support payments to meet individual needs — that are not covered by the carer payment, loadings or other payments — may be made by the department,” she said.
“The number of children under long-term guardianship is continuing to increase year on year, reflecting a continued commitment to pursue long-term guardianship.”
Labor said foster carers would feel forced into accepting less money.
“These carers are getting a dud deal because the department knows that they will take on the burden,” Ms Stinson said.
Accusation follows other funding cut
This is not the first time the State Government has been accused of withdrawing financial support from foster carers.
Carers came forward this year with stories that some types of exceptional-needs funding — including home and car upgrades — had been suspended.
Documents later obtained by the ABC through freedom of information showed the policy had been secretly suspended, despite denials at the time.
Text messages revealed Government staff did not feel the need to answer the ABC’s questions “literally”.