Unnecessary medical costs push financially troubled host families to withdraw
Krissy Robinson enjoys being a foster family. And she loves Lucy *, whom she has looked after for five years.
But it’s not always easy.
It is not cheap either.
“Now one thing I didn’t know about volunteering was that I would be volunteering for my bank account,” Ms. Robinson said.
“They don’t tell you when you start.”
Medical bills leave caregivers out of their pocket
A recent census of 1,788 foster parents in Victoria found that almost three-quarters used their personal savings and two-thirds regularly used their own funds to pay for expenses, including medical, dental and treatment costs.
COVID-19 has put even more pressure on caregivers, with some families taking a break from placement, which has put even more strain on the stretched system.
One of the main reasons host families have to tap into their savings is that they do not always have access to health insurance.
The children in their care, who often come from child welfare, do not always have a health card. Even those who are registered do not always have access to their card.
The survey found that 27% of caregivers borrowed money from friends and family to help support their work as foster parents.
Foster families and foster families receive payments from the state to care for children, but most say it’s not enough, with medical bills contributing to personal expenses.
Advocates and caregivers are calling for more financial support from the government, as well as faster reimbursements of medical bills.
Many complain that their claims are blocked by bureaucracy.
Children in foster care often need more medical care and specialized help, but caregivers may find it difficult to access care because the child’s Medicare card is often held by the state.
Not knowing the child’s medical history can be extremely difficult.
It’s the same story with birth certificates. Some caregivers are unable to obtain important records, which causes problems when trying to enroll children in kindergarten or school.
“We got at random [Lucy’s] birth certificate for three years, but there are people who have had children for six, seven years [and] never had a birth certificate, ”said Robinson.
“[They’ve] never had their health card, so immunization records cannot find them.
“Sometimes we have all this authority to make decisions – I manage his NDIS plan, which is huge, with his plan manager – [and] it’s amazing the support we get, but I can’t sign a form for her to go on the bus to school. “
A government spokesperson said that sometimes a child’s situation meant that authorities did not have access to their health insurance information when they were first taken into care.
The state has said officials in cases like this have worked with the Commonwealth to get a new Medicare number.
The government also said it had improved its work with births, deaths and marriages to make birth certificates more accessible to caregivers.
The Victorian government stressed that refunds were still available.
But the recent survey found that too few caregivers understood what support was available to them.
There are around 14,000 children and youth in care or on protection orders in Victoria, but the area says there is an urgent need for more families.
Pandemic pressures exacerbate problems
Financial pressure on caregivers has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with some people leaving foster families.
“The COVID crisis has put many caregivers under additional stress, which has caused a number to take a well-deserved break from foster care,” Angliare chief executive Paul McDonald said.
“Last year, Angliare Victoria foster families supported nearly 3,000 foster care placements. In our agency alone, we urgently need around 90 new foster families to provide children with a safe, stable and caring home.
Foster Carers Association of Victoria chief executive Samantha Hauge said COVID-19 had pushed up household bills as more children spent time at home locked out.
“We have caregivers who have lost their businesses and others [have] faced with unemployment, therefore the financial stress is enormous, ”Ms. Hauge said.
The state made an additional payment of $ 600 available and schools remained open for vulnerable children during the lockdown.
Ms Robinson said the pandemic meant there was more stress on children and caregivers.
“Personally, some [Lucy’s] behaviors really scare me, and I try to [manage that] and having a conversation through Zoom, that just doesn’t go to the heart of, for me, how I would feel supported, ”Ms. Robinson said.
Ms Hauge said there were simple solutions, including faster reimbursements and faster registration of children in child welfare with Medicare.
Giving foster families access to Medicare would make it easier and cheaper for vulnerable children to receive the medical care they need, she said.
“Caregivers often lack the basics such as birth certificates and health insurance cards and [they] feel financial pressure to pay for health and education expenses that are not covered by the care allowance, ”Ms. Hauge said.
Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said the government has been working hard to cover the additional costs of the pandemic and has also made more respite services available.
Mr. Donnellan said he understood the frustration of dealing with bureaucracy.
“I understand that for caregivers, they just want to continue doing the wonderful job that they are doing,” he said.
The government has also set up a hotline.
“Foster families do a vital job and I cannot thank them enough for their tireless efforts to support our most vulnerable children and youth,” said Mr. Donnellan.
“But we are always looking for what more we can do, in particular to reduce the administrative burden.
“It is important to note that the instructions from the Chief Medical Officer of Health specified that vulnerable children can attend school during times of lockdown and this was reflected in the school advice. “
Shadow Child Welfare Minister Matthew Bach, who grew up in foster care, said the government had failed at the basics.
“This is a pretty incredible case of mismanagement on the part of the Andrews government,” he said.
“We see literally thousands of the state’s most vulnerable children each year unable to access health care, [because] the government has not done something incredibly basic, which is to enroll children in Medicare. “
* not his real name