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What is foster care and kinship care?

4-minute read

When young people are unable to live with their own families, they may go into foster care so they have somewhere to stay that is secure, safe and nurturing.

What is foster care?

Foster carers provide a more stable environment for vulnerable children and young people, and take on the responsibility of being their parents over this period of time.

Why children are fostered

Reasons that children may need to be fostered include:

  • the home life of the parent(s) or carer(s) is unhealthy or not suitable for the child
  • the child has been exposed to domestic violence or a history of sexual assault or physical abuse
  • parents or carers might have drug or alcohol abuse issues, or be in jail or otherwise unavailable
  • parents might have mental health issues or an intellectual disability and be unable to adequately care for their child

Why might you consider fostering a child?

Currently, there are not enough foster parents available in Australia for the children who need out-of-home care.

Children are more likely to do well when they live in a nurturing environment so if you are interested in making a difference to a vulnerable child by providing a loving and stable home, then fostering a child may be of interest to you.

What is kinship care?

Unlike fostering, kinship is a type of out-of-home care where the child or young person is with a caregiver with whom they have had a previous relationship. The caregiver could be a relative or family friend, or in the case of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children, may be a member of their community or someone who speaks the same language.

There are different kinds of kinship arrangement:

  • formal, when the child has been placed by a child protection agency, often in an emergency situation; the kinship caregiver is recognised and receives payments and services in the jurisdiction in which they live
  • formal, through the court system, but not recognised or reimbursed by the jurisdiction
  • informal, when the caregiver is providing home care as a private arrangement with the family, unrecognised by both the court and jurisdiction

Generally, a kinship arrangement is preferable to fostering because it can be more stable for the child and allow them to keep a sense of their culture and family. It can also reduce the anxiety children can feel when separated from their parents.

Out-of-home care in different jurisdictions

The various authorities responsible for fostering and kinship across Australia may have different legal requirements for fostering and kinship care. They may also have different ways in which they administer these services and pay caregivers. In some jurisdictions, the service is provided by the state government while in others, it is run by non-profit organisations. This, added to the different types of out-of-home care, can lead to carers being confused about what funding or services they are entitled to or who they should talk to.

It’s best to check how your own local jurisdiction works by contacting them directly. There's a link to the relevant authority in the resources section at the bottom of this page.

Can a foster carer be a single person or part of a same-sex couple?

Yes. You also don’t have to have lots of money or own your own house. Foster carers can be:

  • people aged between 25 and 70, depending on the jurisdiction
  • single people
  • couples, including same-sex couples
  • people who don’t have children
  • people who already have children

You need to:

  • be an Australian citizen
  • have no criminal record
  • be healthy
  • be willing to be trained and follow a plan
  • relate well to children or young people
  • have room in your house for an extra person
  • be prepared to provide a caring environment

Resources

To find out more about out-of-home care in your area, please contact your local government agency:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020


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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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