SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- As a foster carer, you are providing a safe and supportive home for a child or young person who can’t live with their parents or kin.
- You may face challenges that affect you physically, emotionally and financially – as well as particular stressors that other parents don’t have to confront.
- You will be an important part of the child or young person’s care team and hold responsibilities as part of that team, as well as having more scrutiny, support, limitations, and monitoring of your role than biological parents' experience.
- Dealing with a child’s complex behaviours and needs, maintaining contact with the child’s biological parents, helping a child with trauma, and managing financial costs are some of the key challenges foster carers face.
- Therapeutic parenting is an effective approach you can take to parent a traumatised child.
- You need to be able to make time to attend care team meetings, student support meetings and therapeutic appointments, etc.
- Support services are available to help you.
About foster care
As a foster carer, you are providing a safe and supportive home for a child or teenager who can’t live with their own family or kin. You are caring for the child for a period of time – anywhere from one night to many years, depending on the circumstances and your own preferences.
Your role as a foster carer is incredibly important and can be very rewarding – but it can also be particularly challenging.
Some people say being a foster carer is being more than a parent. You can also be a friend, , advocate and for a child who needs help. You can make a real difference to a child’s life, but you may face challenges that affect you physically, emotionally and financially – as well as particular stressors that other parents don’t have to confront.
Victoria needs more foster carers, but becoming a foster carer is a major life decision. If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer, it may help to understand the types of foster care arrangements available and the challenges and rewards you may face.
If you’re already a foster carer, this information may help you to better understand and cope with some of the challenges you’re facing, or to access support services.
Foster care in Victoria
Children in foster care can be vulnerable, often coming from abusive or neglectful circumstances.
Children and young people entering foster care may come from homes that are unhealthy or inadequate. They may be experiencing or or physical abuse, or emotional neglect. Sometimes the child’s parents are in jail or suffering from drug abuse issues, mental health issues or an intellectual disability.
A child in foster care may be any age from a baby to 17 years old, and come from any cultural, religious and socio-economic background.
Foster carers nominate the length and type of care they wish to provide, and the age and gender of the children they’d like to care for.
Foster carer placements are managed through foster care agencies who will support you as the carer to have a child or young person in your care. Carers are reimbursed a care allowance to assist with covering the day-to-day costs of providing foster care and you will have access to ongoing learning opportunities through the statewide learning and development program, , as well as the agency you are accredited with.
The rewards and challenges of being a foster carer
There are both challenges and rewards in being a foster carer. The challenges fall mostly within 3 categories:
- dealing with a child’s complex behaviours and needs and helping a child with
- dealing with and being part of a complex system
- maintaining contact with the child’s biological parents and other loved ones.
Foster carers say that the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
Rewards and benefits of being a foster carer
Aside from the personal rewards that are inherent to caring for a child or young person, there are some very specific rewards that come from providing a healing environment and building a trusting relationship with a child or young person recovering from trauma.
As a foster carer, you will become one of the most significant people in the young person’s life and be making a difference every day. Your decision-making and the way you parent will have an impact on that child’s future – which is both daunting, and immensely rewarding.
Dealing with complex behaviours and needs
One of the main issues for foster parents is managing challenging behaviour, which might be violent, antisocial or sexualised. Some common behavioural problems include:
- Attachment disorder – disruptions in relationships (with birth as well as foster parents) may result in children withdrawing from those around them. They may appear sad or listless, they may not smile, or they may not be interested in interactive games or toys.
- Defying authority – children may refuse to listen to their foster carer, or intentionally do the opposite of what they were asked.
- Violence and aggression – children may be violent toward birth or foster siblings. They may also behave violently towards friends, school mates, and other authority figures (such as teachers).
- Crying and clinging – children may become excessively clingy or upset if they have had many changes in caregivers.
- Sexualised behaviours – for example, use of inappropriate words or behaviours, sexual threats or violence.
- Other anti-social behaviours – such as stealing or hoarding food.
Therapeutic parenting – helping a child with trauma
Therapeutic parenting is a form of parenting that gives a child high levels of structure and high levels of nurture. It is intentional parenting designed to create feelings of safety and connectedness in the child so that they can start to heal and attach.
Like any parenting style, you will need to adapt therapeutic parenting to suit your special circumstances, but generally this approach focuses on:
- Safety – both physical safety and ‘felt’ or perceived safety of the child and others in your family.
- High structure/high nurture – which every child needs, but particularly the traumatised child who may have difficulty trusting you and will need consistent boundaries held in place with lots of love and respect so they can learn to feel safe again.
- Connected parenting – in which you look past the child’s behaviour to what the child is trying to communicate. Being – staying attuned to your child – are all important tools.
- Intentional parenting – in which you have a purposeful parenting plan in place (knowing why you’re using specific parenting tools and strategies).
- The long-term – because healing may take a long time.
- Self-care – so you stay physically and mentally strong for as long as the child needs you.
And remember, as a foster carer you’re playing a crucial role in a child’s life.
Looking after yourself when fostering a child who has experienced trauma
When caring for a child who has experienced trauma, remember to look after yourself as well:
- Don’t take the child’s behaviour personally. It’s about their past experiences, not you. Remember, they may be acting out of fear or shame, or a range of other emotions.
- and get plenty of and .
- Be as patient with yourself as you are with the child in your care.
- Stay calm and positive.
- Seek counselling for yourself if you think you need it. FCAV offers short-term counselling via their .
- Seek support from other foster carers and associations.
- Take breaks away from the child and family life.
- Use the carer assistance program offered by your foster care agency.
Maintaining contact with biological parents
Children in foster care usually have a connection and contact plan to maintain contact with their biological parents when possible.
When safe and productive to do so, family contact helps the child develop their identity and resilience (a key building block in mental health), plus their perception of security and stability. If they’re going to be reunited with their biological parents, continuity of contact paves the way.
As a foster carer, part of your role will be helping to maintain the child’s significant relationships, such as those with their birth family, foster families, friends, role models and other extended family.
Meeting the child’s birth parents can be helpful to foster carers as it can help dispel any myths that may have developed (for either party).
Maintaining these lines of contact may be quite difficult or confronting for you and the child in your care. Some common challenges include:
- deciding how often the child sees their birth family, and whether this contact is supervised or unsupervised (Note: The conditions around the child seeing their birth family could be specified by a court order – for example, who should have contact, the type of contact, how often it will occur and if visits need to be supervised or not.)
- knowing what to do if the child feels torn between you and their birth family
- staying neutral to any animosity or mixed feelings between you and others in the child’s life
- knowing how to help the child if they blame themselves for being removed from their parents’ care
- knowing how to help the child deal with further rejection if their birth parents don’t attend contact visits
- helping the child to understand why they can’t return home yet
- helping the child prepare to return home.
The Foster Care Association of Victoria provides information, advice and support on this and a range of topics, including how to prepare for a placement, and legal requirements. If you need support to maintain relationships in the life of the child in your care, contact the or your agency.
Dealing with your emotions and needs as a foster carer
Parenting can be challenging for every parent, but many foster carers also face feelings of isolation and frustration. For example, you may:
- not know who to talk to about the complex needs of the child in your care, or who to call if a crisis arises
- feel like you’re not sufficiently trained or supported to deal with the specific needs or behaviour of the child in your care
- feel frustrated that you can’t access information about the behaviour or health problems of the child in your care
- have mixed feelings about the biological parents of the child in your care
- feel emotionally attached to the child in your care and not know how to deal with these feelings – or not know how to deal with the child’s feelings towards you, which may be mixed
- feel frustrated or unsettled by the uncertainty around the care arrangements, such as not knowing how long the child will be in your care (some foster arrangements are only a couple of days long while others are long term or permanent)
- feel frustrated dealing with social and government agencies.
Managing finances as a foster carer
An assessment is made at the beginning of a child or young person’s placement with a foster carer as to the level of allowance that will be reimbursed each fortnight to the carer household, as a contribution towards everyday living costs.
The care allowance isn’t a payment for being a foster carer, and it isn’t considered income. So you’re not taxed on it, and it won’t affect your eligibility for Australian Government allowances or bank loans.
Despite the care allowance, you may still find the costs of providing care difficult, especially for a child with special needs. It’s important you consider these financial costs before becoming a foster carer, particularly if the costs will affect your own life or retirement plans.
Where to get help
- – Foster Care Association of Victoria – one-on-one free therapeutic counselling for foster carers
- – free centralised training program in Victoria for out of home care carers (OOHC)
- Local foster care agency
- Tel. – for anyone who is not already a foster carer but interested in becoming a foster carer