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Love For Money
February 2, 2012 permalink
Australians Helen and Brian MacDonald have shown the love that foster parents have for their wards. Because the state is cutting payments for teenagers, they are refusing to provide further care and are turning their foster children back to the state.
Take back our children, say angry foster parents
Helen and Brian MacDonald believe the children they have raised for the past 6½ years are the ''best two foster kids in Australia.''
But they have decided they will not look after them any more because the state government has cut payments to foster carers of 16- and 17-year-olds, from January 1. In most cases households will be $214 a fortnight worse off.
''It's a shocking thing to do,'' says Mrs MacDonald of the couple's decision. ''But we feel we are being emotionally blackmailed by a minister [Pru Goward] that doesn't care about the children in her care, only about money. They're betting on carers just keeping the children.''
The MacDonalds have refused to sign a placement agreement for Sheila* who is 17 and doing her HSC because it requires them to agree to the new payment. When Declan* turns 16 in May they will decline to care for him, too.
''We're doing this on principle,'' Mrs MacDonald said. ''We're not doing this out of greed. There's a small group of us caring for 16- and 17-year-olds so they think there's only a few people to whinge about it.
''It looks like our foster children's lives will be traumatised again due to the government's changes to the allowance.''
There are 1100 carers affected by the change. Though some have written to the Department of Family and Community Services to express their anger, a spokesman said ''none of this correspondence requests a placement change nor suggests a placement has broken down''.
In a letter to the carers in December, the department said the government ''had to take some tough decisions'' to return Family and Community Services to financial sustainability. The decisions ''have been made reluctantly'' and the measure will save $7 million a year.
Sue O'Connor, president of the Foster Parents' Support Network, said the repercussions would be felt long-term: ''We'll find fewer placements for kids that age.''
The department is reverting to the pre-2006 practice of reducing the foster care allowance when children reach 16 and claim the Youth Allowance from the federal government.
The foster care allowance, worth $622 a fortnight when a child is 15, is cut by the same amount as the Youth Allowance, $212 a fortnight.
Carers have been told to ''negotiate with the young person in your care'' to contribute to household expenses. But the problem, according to carers, is not just the prospect of possibly difficult negotiations with their charges over money. Once their charges receive Youth Allowance carers also lose the federal Family Tax Benefit of $214 a fortnight. The new regime means instead of the household getting payments of $836 a fortnight, once a child is 16 he or she gets $622, including the Youth Allowance.
Mrs MacDonald, who has been involved in fostering for 25 years, said carers were expected to make up the shortfall. With many carers in their 50s and 60s it was unfair to expect them to dip into retirement savings.
''A lot of people think this work is lovey-dovey - all you need to do is love them and they'll return the love,'' she said. ''Why should children ripped out of their families and sent to a place where they have to make their beds, go to school and do their homework be nice to you?''
She and her husband did the work with professional care because they wanted to help children become reasonable members of society.
Sheila and Declan were distressed and while they understood the principle involved this did not make it easier. ''We will miss these children greatly but we refuse to have our lives short-changed,'' Mrs MacDonald said.
Ms Goward said last night of the payment cut: ''We understand that this will not be easy for some carers, the government did not take this decision lightly.''
She said the saving measure was a price of Labor's legacy of budget waste and incompetence.
The policy would affect 1100 young people out of 17,000 children and young people in out-of-home care.
*names changed for legal reasons
Source: Sydney Morning Herald