Carers call for greater mental health support

A Better Life for Foster Kids founder Heather Baird is calling for better mental health access for kids in out of home care. photograph michelle slater

Michelle Slater

A Better Life for Foster Kids founder Heather Baird is calling for better mental health access for kids in out of home care. photograph michelle slater

A Gippsland-based foster care support group is imploring the state government for better access to specialist mental health services for traumatised children in out of home care.

A Better Life for Foster Kids founder Health Baird said more than half of local carers had difficulties in obtaining the necessary permission to access mental health supports for children in their care.

Ms Baird said children are required to be assessed by a doctor, a dentist and an optometrist as soon as they enter the system, but not by a mental health counsellor.

“These kids need to be assessed as soon as we get them and then have access to wrap-around services,” Ms Baird said.

“The difficulty is getting the department to approve these initial assessments unless a carer really pushes for it.

“These kids are already traumatised before they enter out of home care as they have dysfunctional histories, and they need someone to tell their story to and receive a mental health care plan.”

Ms Baird said the Latrobe Valley and Wellington shires had high rates of kids going into out of home care.

She said across Victoria, there were only 900 carers but there were 10,000 children in need of home care, with many kids getting “bandied around the system”.

It comes as a new departmental carers report found 70 per cent of kids entering the system had a history of trauma, with other issues such as behaviour, attachment and mental health difficulties.

It also found a third of carers ended their caring arrangement due to behavioural and mental health issues including anger and violent behaviours of the child.

Ms Baird cited one four-year-old who had been to more than 30 placements due to the constraints faced by carers.

“We have one couple who have been caring for 15 years but they are giving it up because it’s taken a toll on them trying to get a child into mental health treatment,” she said.

“But it needs departmental approval, this is the biggest hurdle. It gets put into the too hard basket and to the point the where carer says this is too much and the kid has to find a new placement.”

Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath raised the issue in Parliament last week, saying that the state government was “failing to support the basic needs of children at risk”.

“Providing access to trauma counsellors and mental health supports would provide early intervention and creating positive outcomes for vulnerable children and their carers,” said Ms Bath.

The Victorian government has funded a $101.8 million care package for vulnerable children to help sustain them in their current placements or support them into new placements.

Carers also have access a learning portal with training on a range issues including mental health, cultural safety and dealing with trauma.

A Victorian government spokesperson said all children’s healthcare needs in home based care were considered, and mental health assessments and plans were provided when needed.

“Foster carers do a vital job, and we thank them for the love, care and support they provide to children and young people in their care,” the spokesperson said.