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.”

Most children in foster care have experienced some form of trauma. Many have experienced multiple types. “Exposure to traumatic experiences in childhood can have a negative impact on the development of the brain when it’s most vulnerable.” This in turn leads to “a series of maladaptive physiological and behavioural responses [that] will directly shape the child’s ability to cope in future life.”

Sadly that means many children who have been traumatised seem out of control and hard to love, often displaying over the top responses to seemingly trivial experiences. Respected neuropsychologist, Allan Schore, says the most significant consequence of early trauma is a “failure to develop the capacity to self-regulate the intensity and duration of emotional states.”

One blogger reports that “It took nearly four years to come to terms with the fact that living in a family with children who have experienced early childhood trauma(s) can be an isolating, lonely, and oddly enough traumatising endeavour, with very unique and difficult challenges.”

Trauma affects a child’s ability to feel safe & self regulate, and can explain extreme, perplexing and seemingly self-defeating behaviours. Psychiatrist Sandra Bloom describes the behaviour of traumatised children as “the best solutions our children have been able to come up with to help them manage unendurable feelings.” Understanding the reasons for these behaviours is key to the way foster carers and adoptive parents can help the children in their care move forward. Traumatised children cannot thrive under traditional forms of parenting, and so carers must provide Trauma Informed Care, which is increasingly recognised as important across both care and education.

We have a biological need to be both physically and socially safe.  People thrive in relationships and environments that feel safe and nurturing

The Australian Institute of Family Studies defines trauma informed care as “a framework that is based on knowledge and understanding of how trauma affects people’s lives and their needs.” Therapeutic parenting can occur where foster and adoptive parents have the training and support that allows them to form relationships with the children and young people in their care that “promote both individual and relational healing and growth.”

The principles underlying Trauma Informed Care are:

  • Realisation about trauma and its impacts on individuals, families and communities;
  • Recognition of the signs of trauma;
  • Response – applying the principles of a trauma-informed approach; and
  • Resist re-traumatisation

“We have a biological need to be both physically and socially safe.  People thrive in relationships and environments that feel safe and nurturing.” Being able to feel safe with other people is the “single most important aspect of mental health” according to trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk. Through providing trauma informed care foster carers and their support community – Agencies, teachers, health professionals and friends – can work together to provide the safety, love and consistency that children need to help recover from their trauma enough to connect and heal, and learn new and better behaviour responses.

Educational training and support are the keys you need to be able to effectively parent the vulnerable children placed in your care. UK psychotherapist Fi Newood says “highly traumatised children, even with the best possible parenting available to them, cannot be ‘cured’.  We cannot cure children at all.  All we can do is provide them with relationships that offer them the best opportunity to heal”

Natalie Johnston, a young Australian filmmaker has reached out to us to help find people involved in foster care who may be willing to participate in a new film she is creating. She is aware of the legal restrictions around sharing the images of children & young people in care, and is keen to respect privacy and confidentiality where needed. This is what she said:

I am a young filmmaker currently working on a documentary centring around the hardships and joys associated with Foster Care. I am driven not only by my passion for learning more about the Foster Care System, but also the possibility of sharing experiences and giving a voice to the selfless men, women and children involved.

As a young adult, I was surprised to find that many other young adults are either ill informed or completely unaware of the purpose and critical nature of Australia’s Foster Care system. Our goal is to not only raise awareness but to shed a light on the realities of foster care.

In order to be true to reality and unique opinions and experiences, myself and my colleagues aim to gain the perspectives of various parties involved. For this, we need the help of generous foster carers, case workers and adults who as children, experienced the foster care system first hand.

We are looking for volunteers that can provide information or insight so that together we can create a meaningful film that focuses on real people and real stories.

If you or someone you know can spare the time, my colleagues and I would really appreciate the opportunity to meet you and hear your stories, opinions and experiences.

This project is due to start as a matter of urgency and should you be willing to participate, please contact me as soon as possible:

Thank you

Natalie Johnston & Alex Smart

SAE Creative Media Institute

Across Australia, and all around the world, Governments and organisations struggle to find enough mature, appropriate adults willing to take on foster care. We don’t know of anywhere where there are always enough loving homes for kids in need. There are Government call outs, clever marketing campaigns, celebrity endorsements and awareness-raising drives. These may increase enquiries for a while, but they never generate enough actual new foster carers to fill the need.

There is an ongoing search to find the “magic bullet” that will bring in enough people to fill the huge need for safe, secure homes for society’s vulnerable children. Because who doesn’t want to help out kids, right? Perhaps this magic bullet does not exist, and clearly it is not that simple. There are a variety of reasons why people do not want, or do not feel able, to open their hearts and homes to become a foster carer.

There are a wide variety of reasons why people do not want, or do not feel able, to open their hearts and homes to become a foster carer

We would love to hear from people who have considered, and then rejected the idea of becoming a carer. If this is you, please take our quiz below. You can click multiple answers, or write your own reason in the “other” section.

If this is not you, do you know someone who may be able to give us an insight into why they said no to foster care? Can you share this quiz with them?

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 new Census data released this year confirmed that Australia continues to become more and more multicultural, and our resultant cultural diversity is enormously rich. As the Huffington Post paraphrased it:

Australia’s population has grown by almost two million in the last five years. Our incomes are up, there are more same sex couples, more migrants and more people of diverse backgrounds, and our population is getting older.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics confirmed that Australians now speak more than 300 languages in our homes, follow over 100 religions, have more than 300 different ancestries, and were born in nearly 200 countries. For the first time, there are more Australians of Chinese and Indian birth than of English birth, and Mandarin, Cantonese and Arabic are the languages (other than English) spoken most commonly at home. In 2016, Sydney had the highest overseas-born population of all Australian capital cities.

This is, of course, now also apparent in the cultural identities of the children & young people entering foster care. This cultural diversity in the children entering foster care needs to be likewise reflected in the people offering to provide it. Best practice is for any child entering foster care to be placed with carers who share the same cultural identity and who speak the same first language as the child. This can go some way to reducing the trauma to the child of being placed with people who are often strangers. Good carers will do what they can to meet the cultural needs of any child placed into their care, but it follows that sharing a common culture is better.

The need to attract foster carers from different cultural backgrounds to meet this growing diversity in out of home care has, happily, been noticed in the media. SBS recently published a guide to becoming a foster carer in Australia (which is available in audio version in different languages), in which they interviewed Ghassan from SSI, a specialist multicultural foster care Agency. He stated “We need carers from many backgrounds, from many cultures to meet the needs of different children.” SBS also spoke to Samar, a Muslim foster carer (featured in this popular Fostering NSW video), who said that taking in children from the same background was in some ways just easier: “Whether it’s eating halal food or attending the mosque, we don’t have to get out of our way to provide something different for the children.”

TVB (Australia) also recently recorded the video below, which features Ghassan, Marist180 foster carer Jenny, and Tamena from Creating Links, another multicultural foster care Agency. The video is in Cantonese, so it won’t work for everyone (or you can download their app to watch it in Mandarin), but feature stories like this one help to reach parts of the population who may not otherwise hear the invitation to consider foster care.

What else can be done to reach diverse Australian communities to share the crucial message that more people need to consider foster care? The future of some of our country’s most vulnerable children rests on our ability to do so.

Lily* was 17 months old when she came to live with CareSouth foster carers Carolyn and Ian. The Shellharbour couple became foster carers with a view to adopt and the future they dreamed of for Lily was one of weekend bike rides and friends’ birthday parties. But, as Lily was diagnosed as having a global delay, they first had to help her reach key milestones like walking and talking.

The couple also had to teach Lily how to hug.

“When she came to us she didn’t know how to connect,” said Carolyn. “You could pick her up and she would just leave her arms hanging.”

Carolyn and Ian spent countless hours showing Lily how to wrap her arms around their necks and squeeze tight. The family called it a ‘koala’. Now at eight years old, Lily still asks for a koala each morning.

“I have to sit on a chair now to give her a koala because she’s just too heavy,” laughed Carolyn.

Once Lily had learned how to hug, Carolyn and Ian set out to teach her how to walk and within a month she was off and running.

Once Lily had learned how to hug, Carolyn and Ian set out to teach her how to walk and within a month she was off and running.

“My husband and I used to sit on the kitchen floor at arm’s length from each other and pass her between us so she could get the idea that she could stand up and do this. It was like role modelling.”

Lily has now come full circle and with the help of the couple, has even mastered riding a bike without training wheels. Carolyn acknowledges it has been a long road from those first toddling steps to seeing Lily flying around the footpaths on her bike.

“It’s about giving her the opportunities in her own time, when she’s ready to learn. Because of the experience she came from as a baby she would probably be eight months behind other children her age, and that’s on average with most things,” explained Carolyn.

Carolyn, who has worked in the child protection sector and now has a career in early childhood education, is well aware of the number of children out there who need a loving home.

Ian had raised two children from a previous relationship when he and Carolyn met and married. They had always hoped there would be more children in their lives but “left their run a bit late”. Foster care was a way to fulfil that dream.

“Both of us are community minded and we wanted to make a difference. We started off doing respite care for a couple of sibling groups, it was a way for us to dip our finger in the water and try it out for a weekend. We could see the difference it made to these children’s lives and we wanted to do that long term,” said Carolyn.

“I said to Ian if there is a child who needs us, they will find us. And then the phone call came. The day we met her it was just an amazing, amazing thing. I can’t find a word to describe the feeling. You know when you just know you’re in the right place at the right time,” said Carolyn. “Well she just looked at us and that was it.”

“Somewhere everybody can make a difference. It’s about sitting down with your family and asking ‘what could we do?’ It’s about being willing to give and willing to learn, because it’s sure taught us a lot.”

*Not her real name