Growing up in a family environment is a right not a priviledge

Over the last few weeks I have attended a number of meetings where we have specifically talked about the need to identify family based foster placements for children who are living in either a residential model of care or in what we call ‘24hour Youth Work model’. These meetings highlighted for me, yet again, the amount of consideration that goes in to trying to find the right foster placement for the right child. In Child Safety circles we call this ‘matching’. On reflection I was reminded that, in general, our lives are full of ‘matching moments’. Where do we live? Where do we send the children to school? Shall I date him or her? Shall I marry? Do I want to be their friend? In a strange kind of way the process of ‘matching’ when it comes to children and young people and a new foster placement is not so dissimilar. At most it is a calculated risk and based on a range of factors or considerations. What we do know is that the best outcomes we see for children and young people in out of home care are mostly achieved when we have carefully considered whether the proposed foster placement is ‘the best fit’ for a child or young person. People interested in becoming foster carers often ask me if the agency will take in to account their capacity to meet the needs of a particular child against the child’s needs and I always say YES! We owe it to children who have suffered harm and trauma to try and make the right decision on their behalf.

What the above meetings reminded me recently is that we often lack the ‘luxury of choice’. There is a massive shortage of foster carers in both Queensland, throughout Australia and in most countries where foster care is the preferred out of home care choice. Tonight there are many children and young people living away from their families of origin because it is not safe for them to be there. Unfortunately for many of them the opportunity to live within a family environment is impacted by the lack of availability of the right kind of carers. Would you believe me if I said that the age range of children we have been talking about at these meetings ranged from an 11 month old baby to a 14 year old boy. I often hear people say ‘he is so lucky to have a foster family like that’ and although I do not want to minimise the impassioned meaning behind this sentiment what I so often want to say back is that growing up in a family environment is a ‘right not a privilege’. I know that it is this belief in the ‘right of the child’ which motivates community members up and down the country to open their homes and their lives to making a difference and to providing that ‘right match’ for a child or young person. If you are one of these people, we’d love to hear from you!