Paid Parental Leave for foster and kinship parents

| January 19, 2018

A gap in the Paid Parental Leave (PPL) scheme means that foster and kinship parents are ineligible for payments. Foster carer and PPL advocate Kylie Cutting explains how extending the scheme could leader to better outcomes for vulnerable children.

Foster and kinship parents hold a vital place in our community. The goal of foster families is to provide a safe and loving environment for children before they, ideally, return to their birth family. However, sometimes things do not work out that way and children will need to remain in their foster family.

My husband, Anthony, and I have been providing foster care for children in the ACT since 2012. Anthony and I are proactive advocates for kinship and foster parents and have joined community committees to add our voices to issues raised by our, and other, foster and kinship experiences.

We discovered a gap in the Federal Government Paid Parental Leave (PPL) scheme in mid-2014. The PPL scheme excludes kinship and foster parents from receiving the payment, which is a great disservice to the vulnerable children entering the child protection system. Since this discovery we have been campaigning for the introduction of PPL for kinship and foster parents.

A key reason for kinship and foster parents to access PPL is to maximise the development of a firm bond between the primary parent and the child entering the child protection system. This has the potential to minimise the breakdown of placements, reduce the effects of trauma related to any abuse or neglect suffered by the child/ren, as well as their separation from their birth family, and should restoration be unsuccessful, aid in the provision of a permanent home, through adoption or other permanent order.

While we would not want the introduction of PPL to be at the detriment to the birth family, we do believe that it would be of great benefit to allow kinship and foster parents the same allowance, providing they meet the eligibility criteria, as any other new parent, for the benefit of their child/ren.

We believe this to be especially important for kinship parents as they may feel obligated to family to take responsibility for the children. Financially this may be a difficult decision, should time off work be necessary.

In 2013 we applied to become concurrent parents. This program asks for a primary carer to be available be available around the clock (and requiring 12 months minimum leave) to stabilise the placement by providing intensive love and nurturing to the child. Most employers do not offer a paid provision for kinship and foster care and the PPL scheme excludes kinship and foster parents.

When all restoration options to birth parents have been exhausted, an infant remains in formal State or Territory care, under an order. Foster and kinship parents should be able to apply for the same income support that other primary carer’s, meeting the eligibility criteria for PPL, can.

The Productivity Commission PPL report 2009 and the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlight the therapeutic need for all infants to have a primary carer, at home, for as long as possible to establish secure attachments and bonds. However when long term care is considered in the PPL report, for children entering the child protection system, therapeutic needs are not discussed. This is an oversight by the Commission. Bonds and attachment are invaluable for all children of this age, but particularly so for children entering the child protection system. As research in the field shows, bonds and attachments established during this period of development are irreplaceable, if a child is to grow into a healthy human.

Closing this gap in the PPL scheme would work in conjunction with initiatives for children to achieve permanency arrangements, like adoption, sooner.

The strongest directive from the 2016 National Foster and Kinship Care Conference was the need to minimise placements for children. A crucial factor in achieving this is having enough suitable parents for each child’s individual circumstances. Recruitment and retention of parents then becomes a significant factor in being able to realistically achieve the desired outcome. This is where opening up the PPL to foster and kinship carers can play an integral part.

Having PPL available could encourage and help in the recruitment of eligible working parents, enabling them the financial freedom to open their homes to vulnerable children, also ensuring that they are in a better financial position when permanency or adoption is considered and potentially achieved. This would minimise the movement of children between several foster placements, and decrease the costs to the government and the community, in the long term.

The 3 main reasons for excluding foster and kinship parents I have encountered over the years are:

  • Foster and kinship parents receive a subsidy from the state and territory government. This subsidy is to assist with the care of all children and young people entering care and is in no way a wage replacement. The spirit of PPL is to allow parents to be home for 18 weeks to bond and form attachments with their children. The two payments have unrelated purposes.
  • Foster and kinship placements can be short term and a person may have multiple placements during any twelve month period. While this is not a part of my experience, there is no reason why a foster or kinship parent should not be able to access PPL if taking time off work to care for a child. A cap of 18 weeks could be set for any individual within a 12 month period – unlikely to occur – to cater for a person taking multiple placements in a year.
  • How to develop a policy for PPL, for foster and kinship parents, when State and Territory court orders are different. Other federal payments administered by Centrelink, i.e. family tax benefit A and B, child care rebate, are available to foster and kinship parents and have the same requirements. This is a starting point. Applying existing policy, from similar Federal policy payments, to address the concern for evidence required for PPL payments.

Photo by Joshua Reddekopp on Unsplash.