The child protection system does not routinely prepare care leavers well for independent living. “The circumstances and life chances for these young people are significantly poorer and the challenges and hardships considerably greater than for other young people their age in the general population.” All young people leaving the child protection system are meant to have support from caseworkers and a leaving care plan, as well as support to complete or continue their education. Many care leavers report they do not. There are a number of good new online resources available to help guide care leavers, such as this one from CREATE, and this app from FACS. But this is not nearly enough for many young people leaving the foster care system.

“Young people who remain in care until they reach 18 rarely have the emotional, social and financial support that is available to most young people their age from their families”

Care leavers are one of the “most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of young Australians.” Young people leaving care, as a group, fare more poorly than other young people their age in the general population. They are less likely to have completed school, and to have somewhere safe, stable and secure to live, and they are more likely to rely on government income support, to be in marginal employment, and to have difficulties in ‘making ends meet’. They are at a disproportionate risk of homelessness, mental illness, early parenthood and interaction with the justice system. “Trauma adds to the risk of offending behaviour, contributing to the link between child maltreatment, homelessness and offending.” The mistreatment that led these young people to be taken into care and the resultant trauma, added to the lack of support received as they exit care can become a vicious cycle that is very difficult for them to escape from as young adults.

This has, of course, a lot to do with the relationships these young people have experienced whilst in care, and the ones that continue with them into adulthood. “Relationships engage children in the human community in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). Research has shown that young people leaving care who said there was “no one that they felt secure with or loved by” had the least positive life outcomes 5 years after leaving care. This makes a sad kind of sense. If you think no one cares about you, how do you value yourself? Who do you turn to for support or advice? And how do you make sense of where you fit in the world? “For young people in care the worst aspect of the experience may be the sense that at the end of the day nobody really cares about you.”

“Close personal relationships and social and emotional support throughout children’s early years and adolescence are essential contributors to their healthy development” (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Resnick et al., 1997). The impact of a genuinely caring & supportive foster carer, caseworker or teacher on a young person’s life outcomes cannot be overstated. This is why we are always looking for people willing to open, not just their homes, but also their hearts to vulnerable children and young people: someone to care about them, not just for them.

“Young people who were at least 18, felt that they were ready to leave care, had already completed their secondary schooling, had support from those around them and were able to maintain some continuity in their relationships and living arrangements were doing much better than those who were discharged from care earlier with little preparation or support and without having completed their secondary schooling.”

As one young care leaver in this study stated: “My foster mum’s been great – a great influence and support. During counselling I started to learn that I’ve always lived, without realising it, expecting everyone to go… Because that’s happened all my life… Now I understand that people do stay forever.”

UPDATED: 30 October, 2017

How much do you know about personality types? Do you like to find out which categories you fall into? If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer, or you already are one, it may well be that you fall into the personality type categorised as a ‘Pioneer’ according to research into ‘Why Foster Carers Care’ conducted by the UK’s Fostering Network.

This research found that an amazing 73% of foster carers displayed character traits that put them into the ‘Pioneer’ category against an average of just 42% of the general population. But what does this mean?

An amazing 73% of foster carers displayed character traits that put them into the ‘Pioneer’ category against an average of just 42% of the general population!

‘Pioneers’ share a set of common values which make them much more likely to become foster carers than people characterised as ‘Prospectors’ or ‘Settlers’, the other two main personality types identified in the study[i]. None of these types of personality are “better” than the others. They simply describe what individuals are like, and give an indication of the types of activities they might feel comfortable to undertake.

If you have a strong desire for fairness, justice and equality, are concerned about the environment and society, are reasonably self-assured, open to change and feel that whatever life throws at you you will manage, then chances are you are a ‘Pioneer’! ‘Pioneers’ also like to understand the big picture, and feel like they are working towards making things better.

Other research[ii] by eminent Professor of Social Welfare, Jill Duerr-Berrick, describes high-quality care-givers as typically being flexible, teachable, members of a team, loving, interested in strengthening a family, and up for a challenge. All of these attributes are consistent with (but not exclusive to) the characteristics of the ‘Pioneer’ personality type.

Does this sound like you or someone you know? You don’t have to be a ‘Pioneer’ to become a foster carer, but if you identify with some of the character traits above, maybe it’s time to give us a call and find out how you can make a difference in a child or young person’s life!

Take this special Fostering NSW version of the Pioneers, Prospectors & Settlers Quiz to find out which category best describes you!

We have had a great response to this Quiz, and have received preliminary results from Cultural Dynamics, who developed & run the quiz. It will remain open  till the end of December, but we have results from the original participants, and they are consistent with Dr Duerr-Berrick’s findings:



87%, or the vast majority, of people who took the quiz with us were ‘Pioneers’, while 11% of participants were ‘Prospectors’, and only 2.5% were ‘Settlers’. Have a look at the way Cultural Dynamics describes & breaks down the three personality types. In contrast with this, the three personality types are more or less evenly spread across society generally. That our participants were wildly skewed to the ‘Pioneer’ personality type is hardly surprising.

Our followers are largely people who are already foster carers, or those who are seriously considering it. Most foster carers share a common set of values, and they are markedly different from those of the wider population. These values are characterised by the confidence and need to help in the local community. Foster carers are principally motivated by an intrinsic desire to ‘do the right thing’ and to contribute to improving society. That is not to say that the other personality types do not care about these values, but rather they act in different ways, according to the other things valued more highly, such as personal safety & security, or the esteem of others.

If you haven’t yet, why not take the quiz, and see which personality type you fit into?


[i] The research uses the ‘Values Mode’ system of evaluation developed by Cultural Dynamics Strategy & Marketing and based on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
[ii] Berrick, J. D., Shauffer, C., & Rodriguez, J. (2011). Recruiting for excellence in foster care: Marrying child welfare research with brand marketing strategies. Journal of Public Child Welfare. 5(2)


The Australian Institute of Family Studies recently released their annual Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics for the year 2015-2016, and it makes for sobering reading. Since 1990, the AIHW has compiled annual national figures for child protection activity, and the news is not good. The number of reports of child abuse has risen year on year, and so too has the number of children in out-of-home care across Australia. This could possibly be that as people become more aware of child protection issues they are reporting more and helping to remove kids from bad situations, but it means that the foster care system continues to be stretched, and the demand for more foster carers to meet this need expands.

Providing foster care is not for everybody. Children who come into care do so because it is not safe for them to live with their family of origin. They are often traumatised, and their removal and placement with strangers can have a further traumatising effect. These experiences can have long-term implications for development and behaviour. Science Journal News reports that suffering abuse impairs a child’s ability to learn, and that in turn can cause them to misbehave, especially as teenagers  The study discussed found that the relationship between physical abuse and the disruptive or aggressive behaviours that often stay with abused children well into the later stages of adolescence has a developmental basis. It has been known for a long time that there is a link between behavioural issues in adolescents and various types of adversity in early life, but the connection isn’t always straightforward, or even clear.

The process by which an individual subconsciously links stimuli and experiences together is called associative learning and this partly explains how people react to various real-world situations in general. Associative learning is a learning principle that states that ideas and experiences reinforce each other and can be mentally linked to one another. This seems to be impaired in children who have suffered abuse, perhaps due to the unpredictable nature of their early experience of life. Individuals exposed to early life adversity made decisions early in the learning process as if rewards were less consistent and occurred more at random.

Participants who had been exposed to early childhood abuse were less able to learn which stimuli were likely to result in reward than their peers were

A poor sense of associative learning influences a child’s behaviour patterns negatively during fast-changing or complex situations, so the study sought to explore these processes. Through playing computer games with various types of feedback they showed that participants who had been exposed to early childhood abuse were less able to learn which stimuli were likely to result in reward than their peers were. This was the case even after they had received feedback repeatedly. Abused children were on average less skilled at differentiating which behaviours would lead to the best results for them personally. Mistreated children were also more pessimistic about the possibility of positive outcomes when compared to the group who hadn’t been abused.

This type of learning difficulty and even general pessimism is something that foster carers often have to deal with. Knowing why these behaviours persist can perhaps go some way to helping foster carers sympathise and have patience with the children and young people in their care.

The process to adopt or foster can already be long and sometimes difficult. Having a health condition is also not easy. How does a health condition impact on the ability to foster or adopt a child?

Improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer, chronic illness or disability has led to significant improvements in survival rate, and subsequent quality of life. Yet, for many patients a diagnosis and treatment can affect their fertility and reproductive health or their desire to have a child. For them especially, adoption and foster care are non-biological options for having children or growing their family.

Whilst the foster care and adoption system is well established in Australia, little is known about the fostering rates amongst people with a health condition. There has also been no investigation that covers their thoughts and perceptions, and the specific barriers that may arise for them to adoption and fostering. The Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital is conducting a nation-wide research study titled: Access and Barriers to Fostering and Adoption in Patients with Cancer, Chronic Health Conditions or a Disability.

If you would like more information about this study or would like to be involved as a participant, then please contact

This research has been approved by the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District Human Research Committee and therefore has strict privacy and confidentiality requirements.


Recent changes to the Care and Protection Act now makes it easier for foster carers to adopt children in their care. While the process may be easier, there are a number of considerations that foster carers need to weigh up if they decide to go down this path. Have you thought about these issues? Have you pursued adoption from foster care?

Open Adoption: adoption is a legal process that transfers rights and responsibilities of parenthood from the child’s birth parents to the adoptive parents. An open adoption is one that states how birth parents are still to be involved in the child’s life after the legal changes are passed.

The Institute of Open Adoption Studies is interested in hearing from you, as a foster carer, about what may influence your decision to transition from fostering to adopting a child or children in your care.

The Institute – a joint venture between the University of Sydney and Barnardos Australia – is a publicly funded independent research centre set up to inform and guide good practice in the area of Open Adoption.

A research team for the Institute will be conducting focus groups in various parts of NSW in the next few months. The aim of this research is to ensure that the views and concerns of foster carers are clearly understood and taken into account in foster care and open adoption practices.

You may be sent information about these focus groups via your foster care support agency, or you can view it here. You are invited to look at this information and consider whether you would like to attend. We know that foster carers live busy lives and have many demands on your time, so the team will endeavour to hold the focus group at convenient locations and times. They will also offer child minding so you can attend.

This research has been approved by the University of Sydney’s Human Research Ethics Committee and is subject to strict privacy and confidentiality requirements.

If you would like more information about this research or the Institute of Open Adoption Studies go to the website or send an email to

“Throughout history, and in all human cultures, the family has been acknowledged as one of the essential social institutions.” – Dr. J. J. McDowall

This National Families Week, we are focusing on the need to keep siblings together in foster care. But why does this matter? What benefits are there for siblings in being placed together? Or what are the negative effects where they are separated?

Two recent reports have looked into this issue and come up with a variety of reasons why it is important for sibling groups to be placed together in foster care, wherever possible. The Rees Centre, at Oxford University, recently released this report looking at international studies from the UK, the US, Australia & Canada. Australia’s CREATE Foundation also looked at this issue and released a report in 2015. Both these reviews firmly support the co-placement of siblings in care, unless there is a justifiable, child-centred reason for separation.

The sibling bond is one of the most important and enduring relationships an individual may have over the course of their lifetime. The heightened significance of sibling relationships for kids in foster care has been identified in these reports (and the wide research they review) as a source of protection and healing for them.

Children in foster care have already been removed from their biological family, and face the difficulty of finding their identity – working out who they are – apart from that basic unit that most of us take for granted. Children entering foster care are often removed from all of their former community, social and activity-based connections. The presence of a sibling living with them can help to provide a sense of emotional continuity and safety for children in an otherwise unfamiliar situation.

Nurturing sibling bonds not only reduce the impact of some of the negative occurrences while in care, but also provide a valuable support well into adulthood. The Rees Centre report found that outcomes, including mental health outcomes, for children placed with siblings in foster care are mostly better than for those placed apart from their siblings. They do note, though, that some young people with very severe behavioural issues seem to benefit from being placed apart.

Individuals who experience stronger sibling relationships while in foster care have greater levels of social support, self-esteem, income, and continuing adult sibling relationships

The CREATE report found that individuals who experienced stronger sibling relationships while in foster care had greater levels of social support, self-esteem, income, and continuing adult sibling relationships than did those who did not have continued childhood relationships. Further, stability and permanency in foster placements are more likely to be achieved when siblings are together. Interestingly, children and young people placed with one or more sibling were not only more likely to feel emotionally supported, but also to feel closer to their caregivers. Children placed in intact sibling groups also experienced more stability and fewer disruptions in care than those who were separated.

This shows that foster care agencies need to recruit more foster carers who are able and willing to foster sibling groups, such as people with greater housing capacity and those with more experience in caring for multiple children with a range of needs. In the face of many siblings being placed separately, it is important too that foster carers are committed to helping facilitate contact between siblings placed apart.

These two reports make clear that children really do benefit from maintaining close relationships with their siblings when they enter foster care – not only at the time, but also across the rest of their lives.

Could you open your heart and home to provide stability to a sibling group?