Calls for better-supported kinship care to be preferred option for at-risk children in Queensland

By Elizabeth Cramsie
The Queensland government is renewing its push for kinship care to be the preferred option for children in care. (7pm TV News VIC)

Lily became a kinship carer to a child in her extended family through what she calls "pure chance".

She had met the school-aged boy "once or twice" previously, but now refers to him as her "young man".

"He was actually out on a day outing with his carer and they turned up at my business," she said.

Lily was unaware the young man had entered care, although he had been living in a residential facility for two years.

With the help of a youth worker, Lily began having nightly phone calls with him.

"[It] was really amazing because this young man, [with whom] I had had no relationship, had all these really interesting things to tell me," she said.

"And I, of course, had a lot to tell him about his family."

A long phone discussion with a support worker changed Lily's mind about becoming a kin carer. (ABC News: Chris Gillette)

They moved on to overnight stays before Lily was asked to become his kinship carer, which .

Lily said that had it not been for an Integrated Family and Youth Service Administration (IFYS) worker, it would have stayed that way.

"A young lady who works there coached me through an amazing phone call," she said.

"[It was] an amazing experience that has led to the full-time care of my young man."

However, Lily expressed disappointment that the work to locate her had not happened in the first instance.

"The carers are great in themselves and [in] what they have to offer, however it's a very fractured system [and] approvals take a very long time," she said.

"It is broken [and] it could be smoother, absolutely."

Forum looks at 'ways forward'

The Queensland government has renewed the push for kinship care, when a child is placed in the care of extended care or with someone they know, to be the preferred option for children who enter care.

Agencies, carers and representatives from the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs yesterday participated in a forum that discussed how to best support the move to kinship care.

The director of youth and family support group PeakCare, Lindsay Wegener, said when possible, children should remain safely within their families or kinship structure because they have a connection to the places and community they come from.

He said this was especially the case for Indigenous children.

Lindsay Wegener says it is important to locate a child's kin and support them to make the best decisions. (ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

Mr Wegener said there was a lot to learn from Indigenous communities about kinship structures.

"They already have traditional child-rearing practices that have a much, much more extended role for relatives and community members to play in the care of those children," he said.

The Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak (QATSICPP) presented details to the forum of their "family caring for family" model, informed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship structures.

A Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs spokesperson said they would "love to recruit hundreds more carers, particularly kinship carers to double our kinship carer rates and halve residential care rates".

"We recognise that carers require support and are constantly exploring ways to improve and increase assistance," the spokesperson said.

"We are currently developing new ways to find, recruit, and support kinship carers, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children."

Do it properly, do it well

Now, agencies and kinship carers are asking the Queensland government to ensure any framework around kinship care is properly resourced so that those taking on the guardianship of children are properly supported.

Mr Wegener said it was important to do it properly the first time.

"If we are going to follow through [with] this intention that the government has stated, about increasing the use of kinship care, we need to do it properly and we need to do it well," he said.

He said kinship carers needed to be supported in that role so they could better understand what those children had experienced.

"So there's no surprises for them in the behaviours these children might sometimes exhibit and they feel well equipped to deal with those situations and to deal with the impact of trauma really," Mr Wegener said.

Call for 'a shoulder to cry on'

Lily said she did not know "how to deal with trauma".

"I can love him as much as I can, I can get him all the right things that he needs as far as education and health, but when there's something broken inside that little brain, it's really hard to deal with," she said.

Lily says better communication with authorities would help carers and the kids. (ABC News: Simon Winter)

She said kinship carers needed more support.

"Even a shoulder to cry on, that might sound really bad but you don't get that from the department," she said.

"You don't get the respite, you don't get the information that you need to do the very, very best by that young man, you just don't.

"It stops pretty much when they come into care."

Where to from here?

Lily said she would like to see more communication from the department, more support when taking children from residential care to kinship care and ultimately, more respite.

She said better communication between carers and authorities was essential, as is a period of transition for children between residential care and kin care placement.

And she would like to see better access to respite, to take children out for activities.

"You know, come and take my young man out, take him to the footy, do boy stuff; I'm an old lady!"

Lily said forums like the one on Thursday gave her hope for the future.

"I don't believe it's lip service," she said.

"I have to hold on to hope, I have to hold onto hope for the young guys in care.

"It's got to get better; it can't continue down this fractured system, it can't."


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