Working Together to Care for Kids

A survey of foster and relative/kinship carers
Research Report – May 2018

4. Care experience

Children in out-of-home care have often experienced abuse, neglect or other traumatic events that can lead to severe consequences for their development and wellbeing, in addition to immediate harm (e.g., Frederico, Jackson, & Black, 2009). This complexity of children's prior experience and developmental needs can present significant challenges for carers. The survey assessed the carers' experiences from a range of aspects, including how the children came to be in their care, how long carers had looked after the study child and, in particular, the timing of knowing about the study child's prior history of abuse, neglect and problems at home as well as the child's developmental and health disorders.

4.1 Becoming the study child's carer

Carers were asked how the study child came into their care - whether they were approached by their jurisdictional department, by the study child's parents or family members, or had volunteered to look after the study child. Their responses are shown in Table 4.1.

  • The most common response by carers was that they were approached by their jurisdictional department or agency (64%); the next most common response was having volunteered before any approach by a department or agency (29%).
  • Over one-tenth (12%) reported that they were asked by the child's parents or family members to look after the child. A very small proportion said that the study child transitioned from a temporary care arrangement to a long-term arrangement in their care.
  • Foster carers were more likely to report that they were approached by a department or agency compared to relative/kinship carers (76% vs 53%).
  • A substantial minority of relative/kinship carers (20%) said that they were asked by the child's parents or family members to look after the child, which was much less commonly reported by foster carers (2%).
  • A very small proportion of foster carers became the formal carer of the study child from a temporary arrangement, which is a pattern that does not apply to relative/kinship carers. On the other hand, for a small proportion of relative/kinship carers, the study child came into their care from a court order or via the study child's own request.
  • Reports of male carers and female carers were similar regarding how the study child came into their care.
Table 4.1: How carers became the study child's carer by care type and by gender
  Care type Carer's gender

 

All a

Foster carers (%) Relative/kinship
carers (%)
Males (%) Females (%)
Approached by a department or agency 76.2 52.8 61.5 64.2 63.9
Volunteered before any approach by a department or agency 22.6 34.4 32.8 28.3 28.9
Influenced by participating in a Family Group Conference/planning meeting (WA only) 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.1
Approached by study child's parent(s) or family member(s) 2.1 20.1 8.5 12.0 11.6
Transitioned from respite/temporary care 0.7 - 0.0 0.4 0.3
Court order - 1.4 2.9 0.5 0.8
Approached by study child him/herself - 1.5 0.8 0.8 0.8
Other 1.4 2.2 1.8 1.8 1.8
Two or more reasons 3.1 11.0 8.4 7.1 7.2
Number of carers 1,193 999 264 1,929 2,194

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data and sample sizes on unweighted data. A small number of respondents who either refused or opted "Don't know" were excluded from the analysis (0.4%). Multiple responses and percentages may exceed exactly 100% in total. a Includes carers whose care type couldn't be ascertained or gender was missing.

Further analysis was carried out by dividing relative/kinship carers into two groups: grandparents and other relatives. The analysis indicates that how study children came into their care differed somewhat between the group groups (results not shown in Table 4.1):

  • Grandparents were more likely than other relative/kinship carers to report that a department or agency approached them (56% vs 46%).
  • Other relative/kinship carers were more likely than grandparents to report that one of the study child's parents or family members asked them to look after the child (29% vs 15%).

Only grandparents reported that that the study child was in their care as a result of a court order, none of the other relative/kinship carers reported this.

4.2 Number of times and duration of looking after study child

While relative/kinship carers would be likely to have known the study child before he/she came into their care, some foster carers may have also known their study child. Some carers may have looked after the study child previously. The extent to which the study child had lived with the carer previously is presented in Figure 4.1.

  • The great majority of carers reported that the study child had only lived with them once, that is, the current episode (88%). Nine per cent reported that the study child had lived with them once previously and an even smaller proportion (4%) said that the study child had lived with them in two separate periods.
  • Given the likelihood of having an established relationship with the study child, it is not surprising that a higher proportion of relative/kinship carers than foster carers reported that the study child had previously lived with them (14% vs 10%).
    • Further analysis revealed that grandparent carers were more likely than other relative/kinship carers to have previously had the study child living with them (16% vs 11%).
  • There was no gender difference among carers in whether carers had previously had the study child living with them.

Figure 4.1: Number of times that study child came to live in the household (including current episode), by care type and gender of carers

Figure 4.2: The stage at which carers became aware of the study child's previous experiences of abuse and/or neglect

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data.

Figure 4.3 shows when carers learned of study children's previous experiences of abuse, neglect or problems at home by care type. Foster carers and relative/kinship carers differed somewhat in terms of when they were informed about the study child's past experiences.

  • Regarding sexual abuse that study children experienced in the past, both foster and relative/kinship carers typically reported that they learned this information after their study child was living with them (57% and 52% respectively).
  • Regarding the other five types of abuse/neglect experiences that study children had experienced in the past, foster carers were much more likely than relative/kinship carers to become aware of what happened after their study child was living with them:
    • emotional abuse: 30% vs 13%
    • physical abuse: 41% vs 21%
    • neglect: 22% vs 9%
    • family violence in the household: 36% vs 12%
    • household member(s) with alcohol or drug use problems: 30% vs 7%.

Figure 4.3: The stage at which carers became aware of the study child's previous experiences of abuse and/or neglect, by care type

Figure 4.3: The stage at which carers became aware of the study child's previous experiences of abuse and/or neglect, by care type

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data.

Figure 4.4 shows when carers learned of study children's experiences of abuse and/or neglect in the past by gender.

  • A greater proportion of male carers than female carers reported learning about the study child's prior experiences before their arrival, except with neglect:
    • emotional abuse: 60% vs 55%
    • physical abuse: 55% vs 47%
    • sexual abuse: 34% vs 28%
    • family violence: 64% vs 54%
    • alcohol/drug problems on the part of household members: 74% vs 64%.

Figure 4.4: The stage at which carers became aware of the study child's previous experiences of abuse and/or neglect, by carer gender

Figure 4.4: The stage at which carers became aware of the study child's previous experiences of abuse and/or neglect, by carer gender

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data. a Base on a small number (n = 30)

Carers were asked to report on how they became aware of each indicator of the study child's abuse and/or neglect, that is, who provided the carer with the information. Carers' responses are presented in Table 4.5, which also shows results by care type and by gender of carers.

  • In relation to each indicator of abuse and neglect, a caseworker or official was most commonly reported as the source of information for the carers (38-50%).
  • The second most common responses were that carers knew, had witnessed or suspected it (25-46%), except in the case of sexual abuse (8%).
  • The next two less common, but significant, sources were the study child themselves (9-33%) and the study child's family (11-19%).
    • Of the six indicators of abuse and neglect, the study child as a source of information was the highest in relation to sexual abuse (33%), followed by physical abuse (27%), while it was 9-20% for the other forms.
  • Small proportions of carers reported other sources (e.g., psychologist, found out by themselves) (5% or lower).

How carers became aware of the prior experiences of abuse and/or neglect of study children differed between the two types of carers.

Higher proportions of foster carers than relative/kinship carers reported that they were advised by a caseworker or other official (49-71% vs 18-28%), while relative/kinship carers were more likely to report that they had witnessed or suspected each form (13-75% vs 5-12%).

  • The majority of foster carers reported that they were advised by a caseworker or other official (56-71%), but this was lower in the case of sexual abuse (49%). The second most common source reported was the study child themselves.
  • Relative/kinship carers most commonly reported that they had witnessed or suspected the abuse and/or neglect experiences (44-75%), except for experiences of sexual abuse, which were more commonly disclosed by the study child (34%). Approximately one-quarter or fewer carers in this group reported that they became aware of the study child's abuse/neglect experiences from a caseworker or other official. Somewhat lower proportions of relative/kinship carers became aware of the child's experiences because of a disclosure from the study child but were more frequently told by another member of the child's family.

Male and female carers were similar in their reports of sources of knowledge about the study child's prior experiences.

Table 4.5: Carers who were aware of the study child's prior experience of abuse and/or neglect: How they learned about it
  Emotional abuse Physical abuse Sexual abuse Neglect Family violence
in the household
Household members
with alcohol/drug
use problems
Foster carers % % % % % %
I knew the family and had witnessed or suspected it 12.0 7.9 5.1 10.9 9.1 11.0
A caseworker/other official 59.6 56.3 49.3 70.9 67.3 70.3
Study child told me 22.1 29.4 31.9 12.4 17.9 13.1
A family member of study child 10.2 9.5 9.6 9.2 15.8 12.7
I found it out 6.9 5.6 12.2 5.0 1.2 0.8
Psychologist 2.2 2.7 6.4 2.1 2.1 1.8
Other 5.1 4.8 3.6 4.8 3.7 4.3
Don't know 1.3 1.4 0.0 1.1 0.4 0.7
Number of carers 697 498 136 865 745 827
Relative/kinship carers % % % % % %
I knew the family and had witnessed or suspected it 61.4 43.7 12.8 59.9 56.4 75.1
A caseworker/other official 22.4 24.6 17.9 28.3 22.8 19.6
Study child told me 17.3 24.2 33.7 8.3 13.5 6.3
A family member of study child 15.3 20.7 16.9 13.1 22.5 15.0
I found it out 2.5 2.4 11.0 2.4 0.4 0.3
Psychologist 1.2 3.8 7.7 0.4 0.5 0.5
Other 4.7 5.2 3.2 5.0 6.0 3.1
Don't know 1.0 1.8 0.0 0.6 0.3 0.8
Number of carers 517 330 62 648 609 75
Male carers % % % % % %
I knew the family and had witnessed or suspected it 38.8 21.7 10.4 33.1 42.5 49.8
A caseworker/other official 47.0 49.7 31.9 50.5 44.0 40.1
Study child told me 23.2 27.0 45.6 13.8 17.9 8.3
A family member of study child 12.2 7.8 4.2 11.2 14.7 10.7
I found it out 2.1 2.8 6.8 1.0 0.6 1.1
Psychologist 0.6 6.5 11.5 0.4 0.0 1.8
Other 4.1 5.7 3.5 4.7 5.5 2.4
Don't know 1.2 3.0 0.0 1.0 0.6 0.5
Number of carers 142 107 27 179 147 183
Female carers % % % % % %
I knew the family and had witnessed or suspected it 36.2 25.2 7.6 35.6 32.6 45.6
A caseworker/other official 40.4 40.2 38.4 49.6 44.2 42.8
Study child told me 19.2 26.9 30.5 9.9 15.4 9.6
A family member of study child 12.8 15.7 13.6 11.1 19.9 14.4
I found it out 5.1 4.3 12.5 4.1 0.8 0.4
Psychologist 1.9 2.7 6.1 1.4 1.4 1.0
Other 5.0 4.9 3.4 5.0 4.8 3.8
Don't know 1.1 1.4 0.0 0.8 0.3 0.9
Number of carers 1,073 722 171 1,335 1,209 1,400
All % % % % % %
I knew the family and had witnessed or suspected it 36.5 24.7 8.0 35.3 33.7 46.1
A caseworker/other official 41.2 41.4 37.5 49.7 44.1 42.5
Study child told me 19.7 26.9 32.6 10.4 15.7 9.4
A family member of study child 12.7 14.7 12.3 11.1 19.3 13.9
I found it out 4.7 4.1 11.7 3.7 0.8 0.5
Psychologist 1.7 3.2 6.9 1.3 1.2 1.1
Other 4.9 5.0 3.5 4.9 4.9 3.7
Don't know 1.1 1.6 0.0 0.8 0.4 0.8
Number of carers 1,215 829 198 1,514 1,356 1,583

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data and sample sizes are unweighted. Multiple responses and the sum of column percentages may exceed 100% and statistical test is not applied.

4.4 Study children's developmental conditions before current placement

Carers were asked whether the study child had each of the following developmental conditions when he/she came to live with them: a) an intellectual disability; b) a physical disability; c) diagnosed behavioural problems (e.g., attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorders); or d) diagnosed mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety). Figure 4.5 shows responses to each condition by all carers; responses by the two groups of carers are presented in Figure 4.6 while the results by gender are shown in Figure 4.7.

  • Eighteen per cent of carers reported that their study child had an intellectual disability and 15% reported their study children had a diagnosed behavioural problem, while a physical disability and mental health conditions were each reported by 12% of carers. Over one-third of carers reported that the study child had at least one type of developmental condition.
  • While the two groups of carers were similar in their reports of the study child having a physical disability and being diagnosed with mental health conditions (11-13%), the reports differed in that:
    • Foster carers were more likely than relative/kinship carers to indicate that their study child had an intellectual disability (20% vs 16%) and was diagnosed with behavioural problems (17% vs 12%).
    • Overall, a higher proportion of foster carers than relative/kinship carers reported that the study child had at least one type of developmental condition (38% vs 32%).
  • Male and female carers also differed somewhat regarding study children's developmental conditions.
    • Male carers were more likely than female carers to report that the study child had been diagnosed with mental health conditions (17% vs 12%).
    • Reports of the other three developmental conditions were similar between male and female carers.
    • Overall, a slightly higher proportion of male carers than female carers reported that the study child has at least one developmental condition (38% vs 34%). 

Figure 4.5: Proportions of carers reporting that the study child had prior developmental conditions

Bar chart Figure 4.5: Proportions of carers reporting that the study child had prior developmental conditions

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data. Responses "Don't know" (2-3% across the items) were included in the analysis in computing percentages of reporting of having the knowledge of the study child's developmental conditions.

Figure 4.6: Proportions of carers reporting that the study child had prior developmental conditions, by care type

Figure 4.6: Proportions of carers reporting that the study child had prior developmental conditions, by care type

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data. Responses of "Don't know" (2-3% across the items) were included in the analysis in computing percentages of reporting of having the knowledge of the study child's developmental conditions.

Figure 4.7: Proportions of carers reporting that the study child had prior developmental conditions, by carer's gender

Bar chart Figure 4.7: Proportions of carers reporting that the study child had prior developmental conditions, by carer's gender

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data. Responses of "Don't know" (2-3% across the items) were included in the analysis in computing percentages of reporting of having the knowledge of the study child's developmental conditions.

Figure 4.8 shows when carers became aware of the study child's developmental conditions, and reports by the two groups of carers are presented in Figure 4.9.15

  • For the physical disabilities and diagnosed behavioural problems of study children, carers were more likely to be aware of these conditions before the child arrived rather than after their arrival:
    • physical disability: 46% before the child's arrival, 28% after the child's arrival; and
    • diagnosed behavioural problems: 44% vs 34%.
  • For study children diagnosed with mental health conditions, it was the opposite pattern - awareness was more likely after the study child's arrival than before their arrival:
    • diagnosed mental health conditions: 33% before arriving, 44% after arriving.
  • For study children with intellectual disabilities, similar proportions of carers reported that their awareness of the conditions came before or after the study child's arrival (38% and 39%).

The overall patterns in the timing of carers' awareness of study children's developmental conditions were similar between the two groups of carers. Relative/kinship carers were more likely than foster carers to report that they were aware before the study child's arrival, except when it came to diagnosed mental health conditions:

  • intellectual disability: 44% of relative/kinship carers, 33% of foster carers;
  • physical disability: 50% of relative/kinship carers, 44% of foster carers; and
  • diagnosed behavioural problems: 47% of relative/kinship carers, 41% of foster carers.

Figure 4.8: Carers who knew study children's developmental conditions, when they became aware of the conditions

Bar chart Figure 4.8: Carers who knew study children's developmental conditions, when they became aware of the conditions

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data. Unweighted sample sizes: n = 263-392

Figure 4.9: Carers who knew of study children's developmental conditions, when they became aware of the conditions by care type

Bar chart Figure 4.9: Carers who knew of study children's developmental conditions, when they became aware of the conditions by care type

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data. Unweighted sample sizes: foster carers n = 132-235; relative/kinship carers, n = 109-156.

Table 4.6 shows how carers came to know about the study child's developmental conditions.

  • Carers who were aware of their study child's developmental conditions most commonly reported that they found it out themselves (36-43%).
  • Between 22% and 29% of carers said that they were told by a medical or health professional about the study child's conditions, and similar proportions (23-32%) mentioned a caseworker or other official as the source of information.
  • A slightly less common source was that carers either witnessed or suspected the study child's developmental condition (16-23%).
  • Nearly one-fifth (19%) said that they learned about their study child's intellectual disability from the child's school teachers, but school teachers were a much less common source of information for study children's other developmental conditions.
  • There are similarities but also differences between foster and relative/kinship carers in their sources of information about the study children's developmental conditions.
  • Although both groups of carers commonly reported that they detected the study child's developmental conditions themselves, this pattern is more apparent for relative/kinship carers than for foster carers.
    • For foster carers, a caseworker or other official was more often mentioned as a source of knowledge in relation to the study child's conditions than self-observation, with the exception of an intellectual disability.
    • In contrast, for relative/kinship carers, self-observation since living with the study child was most commonly reported as a source of knowledge of their study child's conditions.
  • Medical/health professionals were another important source of knowledge about study children's developmental conditions for both groups of carers.
  • Relative/kinship carers were more likely than foster carers to report that they had witnessed it (because they knew the child's family before the child was in their care).
Table 4.6: Carers who were aware of study child's developmental conditions: How they learned about it
  Intellectual disability Physical disability Diagnosed behavioural
problem
Diagnosed mental health
conditions
Foster carers % % % %
I knew the family and had witnessed/suspected it 8.0 12.7 8.4 4.3
A caseworker/other official 33.9 40.1 43.5 52.7
School/school teacher 16.4 0.6 7.1 5.2
Medical/health professional 22.9 24.1 24.3 24.1
I detected it 40.0 37.6 31.6 29.0
A family member of study child 0.8 0.0 1.1 0.0
A previous carer of study child 4.7 4.3 7.4 4.0
Someone else told me 10.2 8.0 13.9 10.5
Don't know 0.9 0.0 0.0 0.0
Number of carers 236 155 198 133
Relative/kinship carers % % % %
I knew the family and had witnessed/suspected it 28.8 34.1% 30.2% 24.2
A caseworker/other official 9.8 11.9 15.1 16.1
School/school teacher 21.6 3.7 11.8 7.1
Medical/health professional 20.2 24.6 26.6 33.6
I detected it 46.2 37.7 41.2 44.6
A family member of study child 1.5 1.7 4.3 2.8
A previous carer of study child 0.6 2.7 1.6 1.4
Someone else told me 5.6 6.9 11.6 10.0
Don't know 0.0 0.0 0.79 1.47
Number of carers 157 109 124 131
All        
I knew the family and had witnessed/suspected it 17.6 22.7 18.1 15.5
A caseworker/other official 22.6 26.6 30.9 32.1
School/school teacher 19.1 2.5 9.2 6.3
Medical/health professional 21.6 24.2 25.3 29.4
I detected it 42.7 37.5 35.9 37.8
A family member of study child 1.1 0.8 2.5 1.6
A previous carer of study child 2.8 3.5 4.8 2.5
Someone else told me 8.1 7.5 12.9 10.2
Don't know 0.5 0.0 0.3 0.8
Number of carers 394 265 322 264

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data and sample sizes are unweighted. Multiple responses mean the sum of column percentages may exceed 100% and statistical test is not applied.

4.5 Adequacy of provision of study child's history

The study further inquired about carers' views on whether they were provided with adequate information about the study child's history, such as his/her family home environment, medical conditions or any other information that would have been helpful. Figure 4.10 shows carers' responses overall as well by care type and by carer's gender.

  • The majority of carers (61%) confirmed that they felt they were provided with adequate information about the study child's history before he or she came into their care. However, more than one-third (36%) held the opposite view, indicating that they were not provided with adequate information before the study child came into their care. The small remainder (4%) opted for "don't know" as to whether they had adequate information about the study child's history.
  • Relative/kinship carers were more likely than foster carers to consider that the information provided about the study child's history was adequate before he or she came into their care (69% vs 52%). Relative/kinship carers would have previously observed and learned about the study child's history when interacting with the child's family or looking after the study child informally (e.g., providing childcare).
  • A slightly higher proportion of male carers than female carers reported that they had adequate knowledge about the study child's history (66% vs 60%).

Figure 4.10: Proportion of carers who reported receiving adequate information about study child by care type and by carer's gender

Bar chart Figure 4.10: Proportion of carers who reported receiving adequate information about study child by care type and by carer's gender

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data.

Figure 4.11 depicts carers' views about the adequacy of the study child's information they were provided with by the number of the study child's indicators of abuse/neglect and developmental conditions that carers learned of after the study child's arrival. Carers who were not aware that the study child had any prior experience of abuse, neglect, problems at parental home or any developmental conditions were excluded from the analysis.

  • It is not surprising that carers who reported being unaware of the highest number of prior experiences (of abuse/neglect) and developmental conditions prior to the study child's arrival were most likely to indicate that they were given inadequate information about the study child's history. Conversely, carers who did learn of any or only one prior experience or developmental condition after the study child's arrival were more likely to believe they were provided with adequate information.
    • Only one-quarter of carers who learned of at least four of the study child's abuse/neglect experiences and/or developmental conditions after the study child's arrival felt that they were provided with adequate information about the child's history.
    • Less than half (39-44%) of carers who learned of two or three of the study child's abuse/neglect experiences and/or developmental conditions after the child's arrival reported that they were provided with adequate information.
    • About two-thirds (62-69%) of carers who learned of one or none of the study child's abuse/neglect experiences and/or developmental conditions after their arrival felt they had been provided with adequate information. 

Figure 4.11: Proportion of carers who reported being given adequate information about the study child by the number of issues they learned of after the child arrived

Bar chart Figure 4.11: Proportion of carers who reported being given adequate information about the study child by number of issues they learned of after the child arrived

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data.

4.6 Contact between study children and their parents

Children come to out-of-home care for a range of reasons, including the death of either or both of their parents. For children whose parent(s) are alive, it is important that they maintain contact with their parents unless doing so would seriously compromise their safety. This is also required by state/territory child protection legislation and is consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This section examines the level of contact, either face-to-face or by other means, between study children and their parents, and if there is no contact, the reasons for the lack of contact.

The majority of carers reported that their study child's parents were alive, with 94% reporting the study child's mother was alive and 81% reporting the study child's father was alive. Some study children's parents were deceased - for 5% of study children, the mother was reported as deceased and for 6% the father was reported as deceased. The remainder of the carers reported that they did not know whether the study child's parents were alive (father's status unknown: 13%; mother's status unknown: 1%). It is worth noting that a slightly higher proportion of foster carers than relative/kinship carers reported that they didn't know whether the study child's father was alive (15% vs 12%), also a slightly higher proportion of male carers than female carers didn't know whether the study child's father was alive (16% vs 13%). These results are not presented in any table.

For study children with one or both parents alive, carers' reports of the frequency of contact between the study child and their parent(s) in the six months prior to the interview are shown in Table 4.7.

  • In relation to face-to-face contact between study children and their own parents:
    • One-fifth of study children had face-to-face contact with their mother at least once every fortnight, while a lower proportion (17%) saw their father at least once every fortnight.
      • Only 5% of study children had face-to-face contact with their mother on most days in the past six months, and a similar proportion also saw their father most days. Eleven per cent of study children saw their mother and 8% saw their father at least once a week.
    • Face-to-face contact with mothers and fathers at least once a month was reported for 13% of children in relation to their mother and 8% in relation to their father, with the most common reports of contact being less than once a month with both mothers (37%) and fathers (30%).
    • In the six-month period, nearly one-third of study children did not see their father, while 13% did not see their mother.
    • Therefore, overall, study children were more likely to have face-to-face contact with their mother than with their father.
  • Apart from face-to-face contact, study children also had other kinds of contact with their parents such as via social media, phone and so on. It should be noted that carers may not have been aware of some non-face-to-face contact between older children and their parents (e.g., Facebook) and the results may underestimate non-face-to-face contact between the children and their parents:
    • Just under one-half of study children had contact with their mother through other forms (i.e., non-face-to-face) in the past six months and over one-third had non-face-to-face contact with their father.
    • Close to one-fifth of study children had non-face-to-face contact with their mother and 14% had non-face-to-face contact with their father at least once a fortnight or more frequently.

Carers who reported that the study child did not have any face-to-face contact with their mother, father or both were asked about reasons for the lack of face-to-face contact. The most common reasons that the carers reported were that the study child's parent(s) chose not to see the child. Other less common reasons included that seeing the parent(s) was not part of the carer plan for the study child and that the whereabouts of the parent(s) was not known.

Table 4.7: Carers' reports of frequency of contact between study child and parents (face-to-face and other contact) in the past six months
  Child-mother contact Child-father contact
  Face-to-face (%) Other contacta (%) Face-to-face (%) Other contacta (%)
Most days 3.6 4.5 3.7 4.2
At least once a week 10.7 11.0 8.4 7.8
At least once a fortnight 5.7 3.7 5.1 2.4
At least once a month 13.0 5.1 8.0 4.5
Less often 36.8 16.5 30.3 13.6
Patterns varied 16.8 6.0 11.6 4.9
Not in the period 13.3 53.2 32.9 62.7
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Number of carers 1,912 1,876 1,637 1,613

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data and sample sizes are unweighted. aIncludes phone, email, social media, Skype or in other ways. Excludes a small number of study children whose parents were living in the same household with the carer or didn't know the level of contact (about 1% for each of the four groups by parent gender and type of contact). Sum of percentages may exceed 100% due to rounding.

Figure 4.12 shows frequency of face-to-face contact between study children and their fathers and mothers by study children's age.

  • The study children were more likely to be reported as having no face-to-face contact with their father as compared with their mother. This pattern is apparent for all age groups of study children.
  • Children were more likely to be reported as having face-to-face contact with their parent at least once per fortnight, or more often, if they were younger in age. This regularity of contact was reported more frequently for children aged up to four years, and was greater in relation to contact with mothers (31%) than fathers (21%).
  • The most commonly reported frequency of face-to-face contact for children in each age group was monthly contact, except for children's face-to-face contact with their father when they were aged 15-18 years, which was no face-to-face contact.
  • Having no face-to-face contact with their mother and father was more common among older study children than for younger study children.

Figure 4.12: Frequency of face-to-face contact of study children with father and mother by age of study children

Bar chart Figure 4.12: Frequency of face-to-face contact of study children with father and mother by age of study children

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data.

The frequency of other forms of contact between study children and each parent according to the children's age is shown in Figure 4.13.

  • For study children in the youngest (under five years) and oldest (15-18 years) age groups, other forms of contact were more commonly reported with their mother than with their father. The patterns of the two age groups in the middle (5-11 years and 12-14 years) were less apparent.
  • Unlike the patterns in face-to-face contact with each parent, other forms of contact with each parent were more commonly reported if children were older.

Figure 4.13: Frequency of other contact of study children with father and mother by age of study children

Bar chart Figure 4.13: Frequency of other contact of study children with father and mother by age of study children

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data.

Patterns of contact between study children and their own parents differed between the two care types, as shown in Figure 4.14.

Reports of contact (face-to-face and other forms of contact) between study children and their mothers and fathers were more commonly made in relation to children placed with relative/kinship carers than for those placed with foster carers.

  • Consistent with the discussion above in relation to child-mother and child-father contact, regardless of care type and forms of contact (face-to-face, non-face-to-face), reports of contact "at least once a fortnight or more often" or "monthly or less often" were more likely made in relation to contact with mothers than with fathers.

Figure 4.14: Frequency of face-to-face and other contact of study children with father and mother, by care type

Bar chart Figure 4.14: Frequency of face-to-face and other contact of study children with father and mother, by care type

Note: Percentages are based on weighted data.

4.7 Summary

This section of the survey collected important information regarding the care experience, including how the respondents became the study child's carer, how long they had taken care of the study child for, the study children's previous experience of abuse, neglect and problems at home, developmental conditions experienced by the study child, the carer's knowledge of the study child's history and the study child's level of contact with their parents.

Most carers were approached by their jurisdictional department or agency about becoming a carer for the study child, although this was more common for foster carers than relative/kinship carers. Relative/kinship carers more likely than foster carers to be approached by the child's parents or a family member or offer their care for the child.

The majority of respondents reported that this was the first time that the study child was in their care. Relative/kinship carers, and specifically grandparents, were more likely to have had the study child live with them previously. The median duration that the study child had been living with their current carer was 3.4 years. There was a spread across both shorter and longer time periods. Just under one-half of carers reported that the study child had been in their care for up to two years, with 14% of study children living with their carer for less than one year and 31% for 1-2 years. Nearly one-fifth of carers reported that the study child had been in their care between five and eight years, with a further 13% having had the child in their care for at least 10 years. Foster carers were more likely than relative/kinship carers to have cared for the study child for less than one year (19% vs 9%).

Most carers were aware that many study children (86%) had experienced or been exposed to at least one indicator of abuse/neglect, including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, violence in the study child's household, and a household member(s) with alcohol or drug use problems. Only 14% of carers reported that they were not aware that the study child had any such previous experience before coming into their care. The most common indicator of abuse/neglect experienced by study children was identified as having a household member(s) with alcohol or drug use problems (72%), followed by neglect (68%), family violence in the study child's household (62%) and emotional abuse (55%). More than one-tenth of carers were aware that the study child had experienced sexual abuse. Relative/kinship carers were more likely than foster carers to indicate that they were aware of the study child's problems at home, and were somewhat less likely to report being aware of the study child's past experiences of abuse, neglect, and problems at home, with the exception of sexual abuse. In addition, male carers were more likely than female carers to become aware of the study child's past experience of abuse/neglect.

Although most carers were aware of the various indicators of abuse/neglect experienced by the study child prior to them arriving at their household, substantial proportions of carers learned of the child's prior experience of abuse/neglect after the child was in their care. In instances of sexual abuse, only 29% of carers were aware of its occurrence beforehand. The majority (55%) did not learn of it until after the child had begun to live in their household. Higher proportions of foster carers than relative/kinship carers reported that they had become aware of the study child's past experience of abuse/neglect after the child came into their care, while relative/kinship carers were more likely than foster carers to have knowledge of the child's past experience before the child came into their care.

One-third of carers reported that the study child had been diagnosed with at least one type of developmental condition - intellectual disability, a physical disability, diagnosed behavioural problems, or diagnosed mental health conditions. The most common developmental conditions that the study children had were intellectual disabilities (18%), followed by behavioural problems (15%). Foster carers were more likely than relative/kinship carers to indicate that the study child had been diagnosed with an intellectual disability or behavioural problem, and were also more likely to indicate that the study child had been diagnosed with at least one of the four developmental conditions. A slightly higher proportion of male carers than female carers reported that the study child had at least one type of these developmental conditions.

In many cases, especially in regards to physical disabilities and diagnosed behavioural problems, carers were aware of these conditions prior to the study child coming to live with them, but it was also relatively common for the carer to become aware of these conditions after the study child's arrival at the household, especially regarding diagnosed behavioural problems (34%). For study children diagnosed with mental health conditions, it was the opposite pattern - carers' awareness was more likely after the study child's arrival than before their arrival.

Relative/kinship carers were more likely than foster carers to report being aware of conditions/behaviours before the study child's arrival except when it came to diagnosed mental health conditions. Both groups of carers were more likely to learn of the child's diagnosed mental health conditions after the child came into their care rather than before the child came into their care (44-45% vs 32-35%).

Overall, most carers (61%) did believe that they were provided with adequate information about the study child's history before they came into their care, with relative/kinship carers being more likely than foster carers to believe this to be the case (69% vs 52%). It is important to note, however, that a substantial proportion of carers (over one-third) reported that they were not provided with adequate information about the study child prior to their arrival, with this view being more common for foster carers than for relative/kinship carers (46% vs 27%). Carers who became aware of the study child's prior experiences of abuse, neglect and household problems and developmental conditions after he/she came into their care were more likely to express that they did not have the adequate information about the study child compared to other carers.

The majority of the study children's parents were still alive. For children where parents were alive, the degree and type of contact the children had with their birth parent(s) varied. For example, one-third of study children had contact with their birth mother at least once a month, but 37% had contact less often, and a further 30% had had variable or no face-to-face contact over the past six months. The trends were also somewhat similar for the study child's father, although the study children had face-to-face contact less frequent with their father than their mother, with 17% having face-to-face contact at least once a month. No face-to-face contact was more prevalent for fathers than for mothers (33% vs 13%).

Almost half of the study children also had some degree of other contact with their mother, such as talking on the phone, emailing or contacting each other via social media, while just over a third of study children had this level of contact with their father. The patterns of contact between study children and their parents varied according to their age. The frequency of face-to-face contact between study children and their parents fell with the increasing age of children, and having no face-to-face contact with parents was more common among older children than younger children. However, older children were more likely than younger children to contact their parents via other forms.

14 Qu, Weston, Moloney and colleagues (2014) analysed data of the Longitudinal Study of Separated Parents (2008-2012) and reported that of fathers and mothers who reported safety concerns for their children and/or themselves as a result of children's contact with the other parent, the other parent's alcohol or drug use was reported as one of the main sources for generating safety concerns.

15 Results by gender are not shown due to small numbers for male carers (n = 35-45)