‘Drop and run’ – the experience of kinship carers in the Australian child protection system
Written by Noel Macnamara
Recent research was conducted by the Southern Cross University and the Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care (McPherson, Gatwiri, Day, Parmenter, Mitchell & Macnamara, 2022) into the experience of kinship carers. We found that many experienced feelings of abandonment by essential services as well as financial disadvantage. For some, they experienced extreme hardship along with disrespect by key professionals within the child protection system.
What’s different about Kinship Care?
Unlike other placements in the out of home care system, when a child enters kinship care their family, including the kinship carer is likely to be in crisis. Relationships with the child’s parent(s) maybe under significant pressure from the start of the placement or at any time through the placement. The carer may not have parented for some time, have experienced trauma themselves, sufferer ill health and may feel inadequate to the task.
The kinship carer’s accommodation, transport and financial resources may be strained by the placement.
As a result of having experienced adverse events, possibly, abuse, exposure to violence and neglect the behaviour of the child may significantly test the capacity of their carer’s resources to sensitively respond to the child’s needs, resulting in the carer and child becoming overwhelmed. For all these reasons the placement of a child in kinship care requires that the services who place and support kinship care must understand and match against these needs.
Our findings suggest that the services designed and funded to support children living with kinship carers were, in fact, experienced by many carers as a source of stress, and by some as distress. This lack of safety, created by the perception of power held by authorities, combined with the implicit and at times, explicit threat that some carers experienced, prevented many of them from voicing their concerns more publicly. However, offered the anonymity of our study carers revealed time and again a sense that they had been ‘betrayed, lied’ to and that the child protection service had done a ‘drop and run’ in relation to their kin children, irrespective of their needs.
A disheartening example of this type of response was offered by one carer. Dorothy was struggling with her great-nephews’ behaviours that challenge. She persistently sought advice, guidance, and support from her local child protection service. Eventually the response she received was a box full of pamphlets in the mail. Another carer told us:
Our kin babies had multiple and complex medical needs when placed with us. The placement was made in an emergency, but six months later there were no birth certificates, no Medicare cards and not even an official letter to verify that I was the carer—nothing!
Kinship carers currently provide more that 50% of placements in the out of home care (OOHC) systems across Australia. How we understand and meet the needs of kinship carers is essential to the success of the overall OOHC system and more importantly, the outcomes for this highly vulnerable group of children and young people.
Thank you to all the kinship carers for sharing their stories and pain with us and for your love, commitment and dedication to the children and young people in your care.
For more information
If you are interested in reading more about our research into Kinship Carer’s experiences in Australia, please read the following journal or news articles:
McPherson, L, Gatwiri, K, Day, K, Parmenter, & Mitchell, J, N, Macnamara, N. (2022) The most challenging aspect of this journey has been dealing with child protection”: Kinship carers’ experiences in Australia. Children and Youth Services Review.