Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:35): I rise to support this motion. A safe and stable home environment is one of the greatest things you can give a child, giving them a sense of belonging and permanency. Young children experience much of their world through parents and caregivers and, in their early life, it has major implications on their future life and relationships.
As of May this year, there were 4,300 South Australian children in the state care system. The term 'state care' takes into account foster and kinship care arrangements, plus those living in non-family-based residential care arrangements. There were more than 3,700 children in family-based care, including 1,621 in foster care and more than 2,000 in kinship care.
When a child cannot be cared for by family members, foster care is one of the best options. In a 2006 study looking at permanency in foster care, it was determined that safety and security, along with connections and enduring relationships, were two key elements of permanency. There is a definite shortage of foster carers in South Australia, despite the work of the Department for Child Protection and lead agencies in recent years.
Last year, there was a target of signing up 50 additional carers as part of a push to reduce the number of children in residential care. I give credit to the Minister for Child Protection, Rachel Sanderson, and the efforts of agencies such as ac.care to achieve this. The minister has said previously in this house that she is committed to reform and improvement for the carer experience, and this is essential if we want more carers to join the system.
As of June 2019, there were nearly 1,300 foster carers in South Australia, all with different backgrounds and circumstances. I commend anybody who decides to take on this important role, and there is no such thing as the average foster carer. Elderly people, married couples with children of their own, single men, single women, same-sex couples—people from all walks of life decide to become foster carers for different reasons. They include people like Mount Gambier parents Nicole and Ian, who became foster carers with ac.care and have welcomed 16 children into their home over the last six years for respite and long-term periods, and also Barb, nicknamed Nanna Barbie, who has opened her home to more than 100 children over two decades.
It is truly one of the most selfless and undervalued roles in our society today to dedicate your life and your home to a vulnerable child when they need it. Sometimes foster carers get just a few hours' notice before a placement and will have no idea how long that child will be with them. It is important to recognise that foster care is a team effort. It is not only the people actually caring for the children, but the Department for Child Protection and agencies working together to provide the best support possible.
Since the 1980s, ac.care has been the main provider of foster care services for the Limestone Coast, the Riverland and Murraylands, with a network of carers and support staff available around the clock. When someone takes the first step in deciding to become a foster carer the agency offers training, support and advocacy for carers, links them in with networks and other carers, and conducts regular home visits.
When foster carers need a break, ac.care offers respite. Currently, there are 254 children with 185 foster carers across the Limestone Coast. It is a sad fact that it is unlikely there will ever be enough carers to meet the needs of the growing number taken into state care; ac.care wants to recruit an additional 30 foster carers over the next year across the region and also retain their existing network.
It is an ongoing challenge to find the right placement, the right fit for both the child and the carer. The more carers there are in the system the more choice there is to find that placement. When you start to research the state care system, it is easy to get lost in the data and statistics, but at the centre of all this data is a child, wanting and deserving a family of their own, a safe supportive home and the best start in life.
The old adage, 'It takes a village to raise a child,' is correct. Protecting our children is everybody's responsibility. Today, I want to acknowledge and give thanks to those who tirelessly work in difficult circumstances, including DCP, ac.care and our network of foster and kinship carers across the Limestone Coast.