Foster carers' fresh new approach to growing challenge

Challenge’s regional manager Stephen Doley, Murrumbidgee Family and Community Services director Glynis Ingram, Challenge chairman Ted Wilkinson, chief Barry Murphy and Connecting Carers NSW’s Jill De-Ath at the opening. Picture: TARA GOONAN

Challenge’s regional manager Stephen Doley, Murrumbidgee Family and Community Services director Glynis Ingram, Challenge chairman Ted Wilkinson, chief Barry Murphy and Connecting Carers NSW’s Jill De-Ath at the opening. Picture: TARA GOONAN

THE preschool-aged children were paraded for Jill De-Ath and her husband and they were told to pick one.

“A boy or a girl?” the children’s home matron asked flatly.

The 1964 incident was the couple’s first experience of fostering a child — or inmate, as the government termed them at that time.

They took home a two-year-old girl, who stayed each weekend for six months.

When they applied to care for her full-time, the authorities hastily agreed — there was no formal agreement, no training and no police checks.

That is how it was done.

Mrs De-Ath, now the western regional co-ordinator of Connecting Carers NSW, shared her story with 50 foster carers, support workers and children yesterday, at the launch of Challenge Children’s Services in Englehardt Street, Albury.

Her tale was a fitting illustration of how much the NSW system had changed since the 1960s — change that was still occurring.

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Challenge Albury is the region’s second private sector out-of-home care provider, next to Anglicare. It is already working with 35 children and their carers.

Part of Challenge Disability Care, Challenge Children’s Services has grown since 2012 when the state government outsourced foster care to non-government organisations to free up Community Services Department case workers.

Its staff help foster carers and find places for children in need.

Selection and follow-up is a lot more stringent than Mrs De-Ath experienced in 1964.

Challenge manager Stephen Doley said the organisation had helped 460 children since it started.

He said demand for carers often outweighed supply, and the organisation was keen to hear from local people interested in fostering.

The Albury office was opened by Family and Community Services Murrumbidgee district director Glynis Ingram.

She said government changes had allowed support services to keep caseloads at a manageable level, as opposed to the “quite high” workloads of DOCS workers.

“Rural and regional children need the best services we can give them,” Mrs Ingram said.

Albury mayor Kevin Mack reflected on his work as a police officer with youth and the need for quality foster care.

“These young people are not statistics — they’re people,” he said.

“Getting them out of the residential care system is critical, they’re the gatekeeper to jail.

“The council will work to continue this journey and to help recruit many more foster carers.”

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