Earlier this month I was privileged to attend my first foster and kinship care conference. It was held at the Rendezvous Hotel, in beautiful Scarborough Beach, Perth, Western Australia. It was a truly magnificent occasion with 600 people in attendance at a very well organised and informative Australian National conference. The organisers and hosts were the Foster Care Association of Western Australia – hats off to them for adding to our knowledge, keeping us extremely well-fed and entertained with some class acts.
This was an unusual conference for me because for the past 16 years the only conferences I had attended were academic conferences. This conference was different, with many firsts. I had never seen mums with babies in pushchairs at a conference before; I had never seen ‘ordinary’ people at a conference before; I had never heard the voices of service users at a conference before; I had never witnessed such informality before; I had never heard so many snippets of people’s stories that drew tears to my eyes before; I had never met such levels of unpretentiousness at a conference before.
I was greatly inspired by what I had witnessed at my first foster and kinship care conference, but I also had questions: Why were there so many white women caring for children of colour? Why were kinship carers so impoverished? Why were care leavers expected to leave their home at 18 years when other young people their age were not? Why were there so many Aboriginal children in care? Why were the needs of the biological children of foster carers neglected? Why were there so few people from ethnic minorities at the conference? Why were carers battling to get basic supports?
We were informed at the conference that eight Australian prime ministers were brought up in kinship care. Foster and kinship care are thus personal, family and community issues, but they are also political issues. It is not enough to thank and pay tribute to our foster and kinship carers and their families and communities (although we should, because they deserve our gratitude!) for their commitment to children from families that are in crisis. We need to listen to what they have to say and having heard them our politicians owe them adequate resources to support the healthy upbringing of all children in their care. When that is achieved my questions will be answered.
Thanks to all for my first experience of a foster and kinship care conference – I hope to attend many more!
IFCO Strategy and Policy Manager