This summer I’m spending three weeks in Australia, on a fully funded kinship care knowledge exchange. One week in and I’ve been to:

Tasmania with Kin Raising Kids and Families & Children Tasmania 

 

Victoria with Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and Kinship Carers Victoria 

 

South Australia with Child & Family Focus SA

 

Queensland with Peak Care Queensland Inc with Queensland Foster and Kinship Care

With Western Australia and New South Wales to go, and two national conferences, I’m going to be sharing stories about the people I’ve met, what kinship care is like in Australia, and most importantly, some great ideas that we can learn from in the UK.

Before I start, a little bit of context and some thank yous to people who’ve made the trip happen. Last summer, Dr Meredith Kiraly, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, met me and Maxine - one of our Kinship Connected project workers and an experienced kinship carer herself. It’s fair to say kinship care is a topic of choice for all of us so Meredith left with lots of information about what’s good and less good about kinship care in the UK, lots of surveys and research, our assessment of good practice in local authorities and the important role of the voluntary sector and kinship carer groups. We also talked about Grandparents Plus’ work, our plans and our challenges.

It’s to Meredith’s credit that she could see that there was much that we could learn from Australia, and vice versa. The idea of a knowledge exchange was born, an Australian trust agreed to fund the trip and then the brilliant and tireless Sharon Broady at ACWA, a peak body for organisations working with children and families (we’d call it an umbrella organisation) took on the mammoth task of making it happen.

An ask went out to every state. If they’d arrange a kinship care event for as wide a stakeholder group as possible - kinship carers, young people, NGOs, civil servants, politicians, etc, I’d come to speak about kinship care and our work. It’d be an opportunity to share experiences and learning and could help catalyse change by bringing interested people together to start planning how to improve kinship care support.

So here I am, part way through a packed programme of workshops, forums, conferences and lots of opportunistic breakfasts, dinners, pre-, mid and post-event chats with inspirational people.

So far I’ve found that the challenges are similar:

  • Most children not raised by their parents are raised by family members in kinship care. Most, but not all, all grandparents
  • Support is determined by legal order - foster carers get financial and other support, formal kinship carers get some support, informal kinship carers get little or no support. Adoption is not common in most states
  • Support is a postcode lottery - they have a federal system and child protection sits with the states, who have different approaches. For example, contrast Tasmania which has majority of children in kinship care in informal arrangements, with Victoria which has most in formal arrangements. States have different arrangements with the voluntary sector - child protection services are often delivered by not for profit organisations of which there are many, eg Catholic Care, Oz Child. They are contracted to deliver support for foster carers, which is sometimes extended to formal kinship carers
  • Kinship carers struggle to find clear information about support and to navigate systems, including the benefits system. In Australia the federal government’s Centrelink scheme has one Grandparent Adviser working in each state (huge areas with large populations!) - they offer advice on financial support that’s available
  • The experiences of children are similar (although prevalence of parental substance misuse appears higher in Australia), as are the experiences of carers: financial challenges, lack of practical and emotional support, difficulties accessing appropriate support for kinship children. Kinship carers talk about needing allowances, tailored training and support, the importance of peer support, activities for their children and their family which often gives them respite
  • Kinship care is not well understood - some states include kinship care in their foster care awareness weeks, while other people would like a national Kinship Care Week like the UK
  • Support for informal kinship carers is delivered by charities. I’ll talk about this in later posts

The three week trip is fully funded by The Creswick Foundation, and is a unique opportunity for experts from different sides of the world to share ideas and look at how to make change happen. The trip is being organised by the Association of Children's Welfare Agencies. Lucy will be presenting at the Australian Social Policy Conference and the National Foster and Kinship Care Conference

If you have any questions for Lucy about the trip please contact [email protected]