'Getting the big picture': A synopsis and critique of Australian out-of-home care research

3 Feb 2008

In Australia and internationally, while the need for foster carers has been rising, there have been decreasing numbers of individuals willing to foster. This has been attributed to the greater participation of women in the workforce, the inadequacy of remuneration provided to carers, increasing expectations of carers, and attrition as existing carers age. These and other reasons (e.g., the challenging behaviours of children in care, inadequate support) have also contributed to decreased retention rates for existing carers.

Out-of-home care is viewed as an intervention of last resort, and the preference is always for children to be reunited with their natural parents if possible. However, research into issues such as attachment and early brain development has also highlighted the need for children to have stable and secure placements (whether that be with their natural parents or in out-of-home care). This means decision-making regarding whether a child will be reunified with their parents or remain in care needs to occur relatively quickly, especially for very young children. Permanent placements are sought for those children who are to remain in care. The emphasis on achieving 'placement stability' and on 'permanency planning' has resulted in an increasing trend over the last five years for children to enter care at an earlier age and to remain in care longer. This decreases the capacity for existing carers to care for additional children entering the system.

This report reviews Australian out-of-home care research identified prior to and since the 'Audit of Australian out-of-home care research' in 2004.

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