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Young people in NSW foster care abused, report calls for system review

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The NSW Government has launched an “urgent review” of the foster care system after a report highlights the abuse faced by young people.
Foster care review

CW: Child abuse

The NSW Government will review the state’s foster care system and the abuse faced by young people.

It comes after an interim report, “Moving cage to cage”, into emergency accommodation was released by the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People (ACYP) — an independent office reporting to the NSW Parliament.

It found hundreds of young people were placed in short-term accommodation for extended periods in NSW last year. ACYP also said children awaiting permanent foster care are often placed in abusive and unsafe environments.

Context

When a child or young person can’t live with their biological family, foster carers take on temporary parental responsibilities.

If a young person can’t return to family, the aim is to find a permanent home through options like adoption, guardianship, or long-term foster care.

In emergency cases, some young people are placed in temporary care, instead of living with a foster carer.

Emergency accommodation includes ‘alternative care arrangements’ (ACA).

Young people in ACA are placed in temporary accommodations, such as hotels, motels, caravan parks, and serviced apartments.

ACA is considered a short-term or “last resort” measure. However, many children remain in ‘high-cost emergency arrangements’ on a long-term basis.

Interim report

A new ACYP report found 118 young people were living in ACA in NSW last year. Most spent over three months in temporary accommodation. Some had spent over 600 days in ACA.

It found some young people in ACA were placed in accommodations near or with other adults and strangers. One young person told the report: “It was just me on my own around like full grown adults on drugs, homeless people, people with mental illnesses.”

Others reported being relocated frequently, leading to disrupted access to education and healthcare.

Alternative care

One young person told the ACYP they felt the government gave up on “looking for a family” for them, in favour of ACA as “the easiest, quickest option.”

Another said: “I moved a lot of primary schools… high school is really hard… I could hardly learn to spell, read.”

One young person said they were “sexually assaulted in a hotel” when they were 12.

First Nations

More than half of young people in ACA are First Nations.

Narang Bir-rong, a First Nations organisation that aims to provide young people with stable homes, said there was a need for “culturally appropriate care and protection”.

CEO Heidi Bradshaw said ACA fails “to adequately meet the needs of Aboriginal children, physically and emotionally”.

Bradshaw said First Nations children should be “looked after by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.”

NSW’s peak body for First Nations children and families, AbSec, is urging the Government to immediately end ACAs.

AbSec CEO John Leha said: “This situation is intolerable and reminiscent of the darkest times of the Stolen Generations.”

He described the Government’s new review as “inadequate”.

Response

Minister for Families and Communities Kate Washington called the report’s findings “heartbreaking”.

It has prompted the NSW Government to launch an “urgent review” of the state’s foster care system. Washington said the review will examine ways to provide children with more stable and permanent housing.

Shadow Minister for Families and Communities Natasha Maclaren-Jones said the Government needs to prioritise and invest in “early intervention to prevent the need for removal in the first place.”

What’s next?

The ACYP says the Government needs to listen to young people in foster care and support them with education, mentoring, and peer support.

Training and support for caseworkers and foster parents have also been recommended.

A final report will be tabled in State Parliament later this year.

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