Home' Scoop : Scoop 52 Contents alternative has been exhausted. It is not something
than any parent -- 95 percent Stephan reckons --
It shatters families, devastates the child, the
ripple effect impacting on the extended family
beyond those directly affected.
Yet conversely it can also be the catalyst,
prompting first steps towards a new future or, as
Stephan calls it reunification of the family.
The care and protection of vulnerable children
and young people at risk across Western Australia
is the responsibility of the State Government
Department for Child Protection.
Currently there are not enough foster carers to
care for children unable to live at home, prompt-
ing agencies such as Wanslea to embark on a
recruitment drive to attract new foster families
from across the community of WA.
Children coming into care require different levels
and types of care, from a few days, a few weeks to a
few years -- each story is different, each story heart-
breaking, but thanks to Wanslea and others, there is
hope for a different future for these children.
The process that removes a child from the care of
its parent is necessarily a complicated and highly
The Department for Child Protection bears
the brunt of responsibility, making the call of
when enough is enough, in some cases -- around
20 percent of situations -- taking the dramatic step
of removing a child without the knowledge of the
parent, for instance, when he or she is at school.
Those situations hit everybody hard, not
least the officers charged to carry out the child s
"Child Protection Officers are caught between a
rock and a hard place, trying to do the best for the
child while managing the parents often hysterical
reactions at the same time."
Many parents who lose their children can t take
in the enormity of what s happened and simply
disappear for a while; many are in jail, removed
from the outside world in any case. Others
descend further into drugs or alcohol.
For the child, however, being placed with a fos-
ter family may give them their first taste of security
and safety from abuse.
The shock of being removed from their family
home, no matter how destructive, can take its toll
on children, so the first priority is to reassure the
child that their needs are foremost, giving them
access to their own counsellor to help talk through
worries, feelings of guilt and other concerns.
"In the first week," says Stephan, "we may not
know how long a foster family will have the child.
Flexibility from the carers is required at that stage,
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but generally it s between two weeks and two years,
or in long-term cases, until the child is 18."
About 3500 children are in care across WA,
and of the state s 10 foster agencies, Wanslea has
around 300 kids on its books
Other agencies, such as Life Without Barriers,
specialise in placing special needs or disabled
children, while Yorganop (which means "girl/boy"
in the Nyoongar language) aims to place
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
within Aboriginal foster homes.
Perhaps surprisingly, in all but the most violent
situations, the plan for children who end up in
foster agency care is to somehow reunite the child
with his birth family, or at least maintain beneficial
contact between them.
However, it s a fine balance between keeping
contact and giving false hope for a "happy ever-
"The continual hope that they ll be going home
today or tomorrow can be more damaging than
being told that for now, they will be staying with a
foster family," says Stephan.
However there are legislative moves afoot to com-
pel failing parents to improve within two years or risk
having their child permanently placed under a special
guardianship order -- the idea being that this would
give stability to the child once and for all.
"It s important to put in place some kind of
permanent plan for the child," says Stephan, "even
if that means the natural parent forfeiting their
rights to the child."
Gone are the days thankfully, when wealthy
would-be foster families would ring up agencies dur-
ing the run up to Christmas, filled with a misplaced
desire to do their bit, asking to care for a child
over the festive period, only to return them like an
unwanted gift when the tinsel was taken down.
"The process we use to vet and train our foster-
ers is very exhaustive," says Stephan, taking three
months or so from start to finish. At the moment
there s a big push to attract new would-be foster
families to Wanslea s books.
"Our current carers are our best recruiters," says
Stephan. "There s a real sense of belonging when
you become a Wanslea foster parent, with 24-hour
access to a social worker, training, cultural infor-
mation and help at the end of the phone whenever
they need it."
There are certain practical circumstances which
must exist before a child is placed with a foster
parent, but generally the agency tries to be flexible
and accommodating of a potential foster family s
circumstances. For instance, the foster child must
have their own room, as sharing with a carer s child
is not allowed.
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