Screwing It For The Kids

03 February 2012
As a society we have an unfortunate tendency to get all worked up over nothing - then elect them. People elect Coalition governments hoping they will make everything better, then act surprised that they act like Coalition governments. The conservative side of politics doesn't have human interest as their main concern; they never have. So far in their just over ten months in office in NSW, the O'Farrell government has failed to do much of anything. Sure they inherited a dysfunctional public transport system from Labor, but they really should have made some progress by now; things are getting worse, not better. The NSW economy continues to tank. And this week, they have been responsible for three acts of incompetence and heartlessness affecting vulnerable kids. First, children with disabilities were left without assisted transport to school after the government failed to reach an agreement on funding for the scheme. Then it looks likely that school support services for students with disabilites will be cut in a school funding overhaul.

All bad enough, but the Coalition have also proposed an act of breathtaking meanness even for them - threatening to cut financial support for the foster parents of children aged 16 and 17. The Coalition is insisting foster children negotiate with their carers over distribution of the Youth Allowance, whilst also denying FTB; leaving foster families $214 a fortnight worse off than families with legal guardinanship of their children. When we consider the role foster parents play in the lives of older teens in foster care, it is incredibly petty. One set of foster parents have bravely decided to stand on principle, calling the government's bluff and saying they will no longer care for their foster children once they reach the age of 16. It's a heartbreaking dilemma I'm sure they didn't want to have to face.

There are relatively few children over 16 in foster care, some 1100 - kids don't enter the DOCS system in NSW over the age of 16, and kids aged 14-15 who enter usually go to refuges not foster homes so kids that age in foster care have usually been with their families for years. Foster families who keep kids past age 16 do the community and these vulnerable kids an enormous service. The expectation seems to be that foster carers will just keep doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. I'm sure most want to, or wish they could, but they are entitled to financial recompense as well. Foster care for older teenagers actually results in huge savings to the community - either from one less young person needing a place in the overburdened youth refuge system or worse, ending up homeless, which has a huge financial and social cost upon us all.

I'm sure these people are not doing it to be spiteful, but to highlight this underreported problem in our society - older teenagers who require out of home care. The system is flawed and has gaping holes for vulnerable young people to fall into, the government should do everything they can to try to close the gaps.


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