Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson flagged a year ago that she was considering a scheme to pay up to $75,000 to entice skilled workers to become professional foster carers, and was monitoring programs interstate.
Ms Sanderson, pictured, met last month with Oz Child, which is running trials in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and will travel to Victoria next month to examine initiatives there. The Advertiser understands she is awaiting results of evaluations, due in the middle of next year, before committing to a program in SA. It can cost more than $500,000 a year to house children with disabilities or complex behaviour in state-run homes. Specialist foster carers can receive allowances of up to $45,000 but often need another job to cover costs and accrue superannuation.
The salary scheme would target professionals such as nurses, teachers and psychologists. They would quit their job to work with one child for six to 12 months in an attempt to help them to return to their parents or regular foster carers.
UniSA Professor Leonie Segal said a past survey of almost 650 nursing, education, social work and psychology students found 16 per cent would take up professional foster care and 34 per cent would consider it.
“We made it very clear they would be very troubled children and we still got this positive response,” Prof Segal said. She argued it was “worth pursuing” in SA with rigorous criteria and oversight. Data provided by Oz Child shows 39 children have so far been placed with 54 professional carers in three states, and six children have returned to their families.
OzChild chief executive Dr Lisa Griffiths said introducing the program in SA could have “an immediate impact” on reducing the 413 children now living in state-run homes.
Centacare has previously supported a salary option and Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland recommended “adopting or adapting a proven model” in her 2016 report.
Labor child protection spokeswoman Jayne Stinson said it was “open to a workable scheme for professional carers for high needs children but, after a year, the minister is yet to come up with any ideas or fulfil her promises”.
Connecting Foster and Kinship Carers chief executive Fiona Endacott said she was keen to see the interstate trial results but the priority should be retaining existing carers with “fair and timely reimbursements”.