Caring on the brink: Australia's struggling foster care system


Foster children are some of the country’s most vulnerable.

With increasing amounts of kids going into care in Australia there has never been more of a need for foster carers, but with a lack of funding and more alarming stories of abuse and neglect, how do we keep these children safe?

There are 9000 kids in foster care in Queensland, alone. Growing up, Terry moved between 15 foster homes – which meant new schools, friends and families.

Debbie Kilroy is a criminal lawyer and the CEO of Sister’s Inside. She represents many women who, in and out of prison, with kids in foster care. She says we’re too ready to separate mothers from their kids.

"It's very heart-wrenching because the mothers who have been criminalised and have had their children removed where the department makes no attempt to unify, or even get the children to see their mother," she says.

"Look when we're talking about children that are seriously abused, assaulted, yes of course those assessments have to be made, but if we're talking about children being removed just because the mum's been in prison, the mum's a victim of domestic violence, no, I'm sorry, they are better off with their children."

At Foster Care Queensland, they say the aim is for children to stay with their family of origin or next of kin, but it’s not always possible. 

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"Wherever we can actually do that, we're much, much better off," says Bryan Smith, the Executive Director of Foster Care Queensland.

"We've got life outcomes for children and we already know that."

Not only is Bryan the Executive Director of Foster Care Queensland, he and his wife have been foster carers for more than 25 years.

"How many children have we cared for? Probably around 150 children and young people.

"It has been tough. It's been really hard work at times, we've been really annoyed and cranky at the system at times, especially as kinship carers.

"But it’s enriched our lives beyond anything that we could absolutely believe."

But despite being so rewarding, Foster Care Queensland struggles to attract carers and new funding.

Emily Jade O’Keefe is a radio host, TV personality and foster carer of two children.

"The first time you pick up your kids... it's not what you think," she says.

"It’s been hard and rewarding and life changing for us."

"When you grow a baby in your stomach and you have all these beautiful feelings of love and anticipation then you get your baby and it’s really hard.

"It’s exactly the same for foster care. I was so excited…

"When I picked them up they didn’t want me. They didn’t want to get in the car with me.

"I had two very frightened, screaming kids in the car and it was probably one of the most horrific experiences in my life.

"I’m happy to say now they run to us when we pick them up and they cry when we have to return them.

"It’s been hard and rewarding and life changing for us."

But the uncertainty is taxing, as carers never know when the kid you’re caring for might return to their biological family.

"In my case I would like to see them reunited," says Emily.

"I have realised through this process that they love their mum and dad and they want their mum and dad to be the best mum and dad.

"I don’t know if that’s the case for all. All kids would want their parents to get better."

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