Can't do full-time foster care? Short term options can still help kids in crisis

Kinderling News & Features

Nothing compares to the feeling of tucking your littles ones into bed at night knowing they are safe, warm and loved. 

But across New South Wales tonight, there will be up to 140 children as young as three, sleeping in hotel rooms. They’re part of approximately 21,000 children and young people across the state who can’t live with their birth parents for a range of reasons. 

The Benevolent Society’s Fostering Young Lives program aims to provide foster care to children and teenagers across Sydney in situations just like this. But right now they’re facing a serious crisis – there aren’t enough homes for all the children and teenagers in need.

“It’s a sector-wide issue,” Alanna Hughes, The Benevolent Society’s deputy manager, told Kinderling. 

Children as young as three need homes urgently

This shortage of foster carers means that children as young as three years old are staying in hotels or serviced apartments with available staff which often means they are not getting the consistent care they need during these vital formative years.

"Previously, we have seen great difficulty in finding placements for children who are older, maybe from eight years and up," says Alanna. "However, due to a shortage in carers we are now seeing this impact children aged 0-18 years. It can also be very hard to find placements for children with additional needs."

How can you help?

There are several ways interested people can help play a part in the program, even if they’re unable to commit to permanent foster care. 

All kinds of kids need all kinds of carers and there is a need for carers across a number of different care types, including immediate, short term and respite care.

It’s worth noting too that carers are well-supported, with access to 24/7 support, ongoing training, workshops and regular meet-ups.

Luke and Samantha Gillett are two parents who offer emergency and respite care under the Benevolent Society's 'Fostering Young Lives' program.

Hear Sam and Luke on Kinderling Conversation

Immediate and short-term care can make a huge difference

Short term carers play a critical role in supporting a child or young person’s connection with their family while they are away from home.

 “Where Family and Community Services (FaCS) have made the decision to remove a child from their home due to a risk of significant harm, Fostering Young Lives will place children with carers while the care team work with the child’s family to create a safe environment for the child to return home to,” Alanna explains.

“Children and young people need emergency and short-term foster carers to provide them with safety and security during this difficult time.”

Respite care is an important but little understood option

"Respite care means there are few limits in terms of the time commitment," explains Alanna. "It’s a great option for people who may have the space to accommodate a child but can only provide temporary care, like one weekend a month, or two weeks in the school holidays or perhaps just emergency care for a week or two at a time."

A lot of people aren't aware of this option, but the benefits are significant. It allows the child to build better relationships and social skills while providing the long-term foster carers with a break. 

The new environment can provide a safe space for them to disclose their worries and fears, and give some much-needed, one-on-one attention to children who may be in permanent care with siblings or other children.

"We had a child in long term placement who'd begun to find it hard to regulate their emotions and make sense of their life story," says Alanna. 

"As we know, sometimes it can be hard to talk to those closest to us. By introducing some respite care, it allowed the child to build new relationships and attachments and the child could ask them questions and talk about their feelings. This particular arrangement has continued for some time now and has been a benefit to everyone involved."

How to become a foster carer

To be eligible to become a foster carer, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. Each child in your care must be given their own bedroom.
  2. Each carer must complete a  Working with Children Check and a criminal record check.
  3. Carers must possess the motivation to want to help a child without reward. Being a foster carer can be very challenging and emotionally draining. You need good self-care and emotional resilience.
  4. The Benevolent Society doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion, sexuality or relationship status.
  5. You don’t have to be a parent to qualify but you do need to have some exposure to children, i.e. having cared for a niece or nephew, younger sibling etc.

The process can take anywhere between three and six months to complete.