Foster carers shortage in New England, Hunter, Central Coast.

Help: There are 16 local children living with a roster of caseworkers in motel accommodation. Picture: Peter Stoop
Help: There are 16 local children living with a roster of caseworkers in motel accommodation. Picture: Peter Stoop

THERE are 16 children living in crisis motel accommodation in the Hunter due to a “desperate shortage” of foster carers across New England, the Hunter and the Central Coast.

Gary Christensen, the director of Hunter-Manning CatholicCare Social Services, said there was more than 10,000 children living in out-of-home care across the region. 

His service was one of many non-government organisations working with Family and Community Services to find care for children unable to live with their parents due to concerns for their safety and well-being.

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“We desperately need foster carers, and we need them now,” Mr Christensen said.

“It can fluctuate to up to 30 at a time, but currently there are 16 kids living in motels in our region that are looking for carers,” he said. “This is a story that has to be told. This is a crisis in the Hunter. And it is one that, as a community, we need to address.”

Nine-year-old Harry, who cannot be identified, has been living in crisis accommodation in a local motel since April.

In the past year he has been placed with three different emergency carers.

He was also briefly restored to his mother’s care.

Now Harry is living in a motel room, cared for by a roster of caseworkers.

One of his caseworkers said Harry, who has autism, was “always smiling.”

They said he loved going to the park, the beach and to school, watching movies, and Spiderman.

He used bubbles and Blue Tac as “calming tools.”

“Children with autism – like all children – need stability,” Mr Christensen said.

Help needed: Gary Christensen, of CatholicCare Social Services, says there is a desperate need for more foster carers in the Hunter.

Help needed: Gary Christensen, of CatholicCare Social Services, says there is a desperate need for more foster carers in the Hunter.

“And being in a hotel environment doesn’t provide continuity and stability, no matter how good the staff are, and no matter how well-intentioned the service is that is with him.

Being in a hotel environment doesn’t provide continuity and stability, no matter how good the staff are, and no matter how well-intentioned the service is that is with him.

Mr Christensen.

“A family home is where you find stability, continuity and routine. Moving Harry out of a motel, and into a family home where he can have his own space, his own routine and have the sensory work he may need, is far more ideal.”

He said the allowance foster carers received was far more cost-effective than a motel with around-the-clock staff for the taxpayer too.

“It’s a sad situation when you have a nine-year-old boy, or a three or five-year-old boy or girl living in a motel who can’t find a home, or can’t find someone who wants to give them a home, in a community like the Hunter – a community that rallies around each other.

“It does take a village to raise children, and we need people in our village to put their hand up and say, ‘We have a home, we have love in our heart and we can provide care.’ We obviously want to find a home for Harry, but also every other child who needs care as well.”

Mr Christensen said the idea was to move children out of crisis accommodation as quickly as possible, but a three-month stint in a motel was not unusual.

He knew of children who had spent as long as a year in a motel.

He said CatholicCare had 179 children in family foster care in the Hunter, Central Coast and New England areas, but they needed at least 30 more foster families to meet demand.

“We all have someone in our network who can provide some sort of care – whether that be short term care, immediate care, respite care or long term care,” he said.

Mr Christensen said they often found it harder to place older children in care, as many people were of the belief they were more likely to have experienced trauma and have behavioural problems.

While foster care could be challenging for carers, and young people, providing love and support to help a child of any age – or ability – reach their full potential was “incredibly rewarding” for carers.

“It is about finding the right match too,” he said.

“For Harry, that would ideally be a family with children the same age or a bit older.”

Foster care is not a perfect world. There will always be stories of messy situations. But the majority of children in care have good experiences, as do carers.

Gary Christensen, CatholicCare Social Services

Services, such as CatholicCare, offered 24-hour emergency support for carers, respite, and social events, as well as training on topics like trauma, therapeutic parenting, and mental health. If the child also has a disability, additional support is provided.

“Foster care is really about providing love and care and support to a child in need,” he said. “These children are removed from their families through no fault of their own.”

While the ideal scenario was being able to restore children to their birth families, if FACS had ongoing concerns for a child, placing them into more permanent care – with the long term goal of adoption or guardianship – was necessary.

“We are looking for permanent homes for children, and we do everything we can to remove the red tape to help the adoption or guardianship process,” he said.

“Every child deserves a loving, caring home, but we need carers to give them that. 

“Foster care is not a perfect world. 

“There will always be stories of messy situations. But the majority of children in care have good experiences, as do carers.”

Find out more at catholiccare.org.au.