Working Together to Care for Kids

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

7. Carer wellbeing and family relationships

Most of the study children were reported to have experienced and/or been exposed to different (and often multiple) forms of violence, abuse, neglect or other family issues, and a proportion of study children was reported by their carers as having at least one developmental condition. Many carers also indicated significant challenges in their everyday care of the children, which was associated with a lower likelihood of looking after other children in the future. This section examines how carers are doing themselves, how their family relationships are in the context of caring for children in out-of-home care, and the extent to which these factors are associated with their care experience.

7.1 General patterns of carers' wellbeing and family relationships

The aspects of carers' wellbeing investigated as part of the survey included carers' physical and mental health, the presence of any long-term medical conditions/disabilities (for carers and their partners), and carers' overall satisfaction with life. The results from these wellbeing measures are presented in Table 7.1. The table also shows the results by care type and by gender of carers.

Regarding carers' general health:

  • The majority of carers (60%) rated their health as "excellent" or "very good", with a further 28% rating their health as "good". Only 12% of carers believed that, in general, their health was "fair" or "poor".
  • Close to one-quarter of carers (23%) indicated that they had a disability or medical condition that was likely to last for six months or more and cause them difficulties in everyday life. In addition, one-fifth (21%) of carers living with a partner reported that their partner had a disability or such a medical condition.
  • Reports of general health differed to some extent by care type:
    • When comparing the care types for self-rated health, relative/kinship carers were less likely to rate their health as being "excellent" or "very good" in comparison to foster carers (53% vs 67%), with conversely, relative/kinship carers being more likely than foster carers to rate their health as being "fair" or "poor" (16% vs 8%).
    • Relative/kinship carers were more likely than foster carers to say that they had a disability or medical condition that was likely to last for six months or more (28% vs 18%, and, if living with a partner, that their partner had a disability or medical condition (26% vs 16%).
  • Patterns in relation to general health also differed between male and female carers:
    • A higher proportion of female carers than male carers rated their health as "excellent" or "very good"
      (61% vs 51%).
    • Also, a higher proportion of male carers than female carers had a disability or medical condition (30% vs 22%), but the reports on whether their partner had a disability or medical condition were similar between male and female carers.
Table 7.1: Carers' reports on wellbeing measures, by care type and by gender
   Care type Carer's gender

 

All (%) 

Foster carers (%) Relative/kinship
carers (%)
Males (%) Females (%)
General health (self-rated)   
Excellent or very good 67.0 53.4*** 51.0 61.1*** 59.9
Good 25.2 30.1 29.8 27.6 27.8
Fair or poor 7.8 16.5 19.2 11.3 12.3
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Vitality (SF-36)     
Mean 64.8 62.9* 64.2 63.8 63.8
SD 19.6 19.5 18.4 20.0 19.8
Mental health (SF-36)    
Mean 81.4 79.1*** 79.9 80.3 80.2
SD 14.3 15.4 15.8 15.1 15.2
Medical conditions/disabilities (respondent carer)   
Yes 17.9 28.2*** 29.9 22.3** 23.3
No 82.1 71.8 70.1 77.7 76.7
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Medical conditions/disabilities (partner)  
Yes 16.2 26.2*** 21.9 20.9 21.1
No 83.8 73.8 78.1 79.1 79.0
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Overall life satisfaction (rated from 0-10)  
High satisfaction (8-10) 81.9 73.6*** 71.0 78.5* 77.6
Moderate (5-7) 17.2 22.9 25.6 19.4 20.2
Low satisfaction (0-4) 0.9 3.5 3.4 2.1 2.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Mean 8.4 8.1*** 8.0 8.3* 8.3
SD 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.5 1.5
Number of carers 1,188~1,194 1,001~1,004 263~266 1,924~1,933 2,191~2,199

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data and small numbers of respondents' "Don't know" answers were excluded from the analysis for each item. Sample sizes are unweighted. For each item, a design-based chi-square test was used to assess statistically significant differences between foster carers and relative/kinship carers. (*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001). Percentages may not total exactly 100.0% due to rounding.

Two scales shown in Table 7.1 are the vitality and mental health scales that are part of the SF-36 (the 36-Item Short-Form Survey; Ware, Snow, Kosinski, & Gandek, 1993). The Vitality scale was derived from responses to four items (e.g., feeling tired and "worn out", having lots of energy in the previous four weeks), with scores ranging from 0-100 and higher scores indicating higher energy levels. The Mental Health scale was based on five items (e.g., feeling nervous, whether he/she was a happy person), with scores ranging from 0-100 and higher scores indicating better mental health.

  • The overall mean score for vitality was 64 on a scale of 0-100. The mean scores between foster and relative/kinship carers and between male and female cares were similar (63-65).
  • For mental health, the overall mean was 80 on a scale of 0-100, suggesting carers tended to positively assess their mental health.
  • Mean scores of the two scales were similar between male and female carers, but slightly differed between foster and relative/kinship carers.
    • There was a marginal significant difference between the care types, with foster carers faring better in both measures (vitality mean scores: 65 vs 63; mental health mean scores: 81 vs 79). Although significant, the differences between the care types for these measures were quite small.

Carers were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with their life as a whole, where 0 was "completely dissatisfied" and 10 was "completely satisfied". "Low satisfaction" was classified as a score from 0-4, "moderate satisfaction" was a score of 5-7, and "high satisfaction" was a score of 8-10.

  • Overall, the mean rating of life satisfaction was 8.3, indicating that carers were generally satisfied with their life overall. The majority (78%) of carers reported high levels of satisfaction with their lives.
  • While carers tended to have high ratings for their overall life satisfaction, foster carers were more satisfied with their life in comparison to relative/kinship carers. The proportion of carers who were highly satisfied with their life (i.e., provided ratings of 8-10) was 82% for foster carers and 74% for relative/kinships carers.
  • Female carers reported higher levels of life satisfaction than male carers (high satisfaction: 79% vs 71%)

Carers' ratings on their satisfaction with various family relationships including their relationship with the study child are shown in Table 7.2. The figure shows mean ratings of satisfaction with the following relationships: a) your relationship with the study child; b) your partner's relationship with the study child; c) how the study child got along with other children in the household; d) your relationship with your partner; and e) your relationship with your children in the household. (The rating options ranged from 0 = "completely dissatisfied" to 10 = "completely satisfied".)

Regarding relationships with study children:

  • Carers' ratings of their satisfaction with their relationship with the study child were high, with the mean rating of 9.0 on a scale of 0-10, and 87% providing ratings of 8-10 (indicating high satisfaction).
  • Carers living with a partner also rated high levels of satisfaction with their partner's relationship with the study child, with the mean rating being 8.9, and 85% being highly satisfied (ratings of 8-10).
  • Carers who had their own children (including step-children) in the household were also satisfied overall with how the study child got along with other children in the household, with a mean rating of 8.9, and 69% being highly satisfied (ratings of 8-10).

While carers generally expressed high levels of satisfaction with their relationships concerning study children, there were some differences between foster and relative/kinship carers and between male and female carers.

  • Ratings of satisfaction with these types of relationships by foster carers were slightly lower than they were for relative/kinship carers. For example, the proportions of carers who reported high satisfaction (ratings of 8-10) by care type were different in regard to:
    • the carer's own relationship with the study child: 83% of foster carers, compared to 89% of relative/kinship carers;
    • their partner's relationship with the study child: 83% of foster carers, compared to 88% of relative/kinship carers; and
    • how the study child got along with other children: 66% of foster carers, compared to 72% of relative/kinship carers.
  • Male carers were less satisfied with these relationships relating to study children. For example, the proportions of male and female carers who reported high satisfaction were:
    • the carer's own relationship with the study child: 81% of male carers and 88% of female carers; and
    • their partner's relationship with the study child: 81% of male carers and 86% of female carers.
Table 7.2: Carers' reports on family relationships, by care type and by gender
   Care type Carer's gender

 

All (%) 

Foster carers (%) Relative/kinship
carers (%)
Males (%) Females (%)
Your relationship with study child    
High satisfaction (8-10) 83.4 89.8*** 80.6 87.7** 86.8
Moderate satisfaction (5-7) 15.0 8.9 17.2 11.0 11.8
Low satisfaction (0-4) 1.6 1.3 2.3 1.3 1.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Mean 8.79 9.12*** 8.65 9.01 8.96
SD 1.66 1.30 1.55 1.46 1.48
Number of carers 1,186 1,001 265 1,923 2,189
You partner's relationship with study child
High satisfaction (8-10) 82.6 87.9** 81.0 85.9** 85.1
Moderate satisfaction (5-7) 16.1 10.1 14.7 12.9 13.3
Low satisfaction (0-4) 1.3 2.0 4.3 1.1 1.6
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Mean 8.77 9.01** 8.65 8.93** 8.88
SD 1.58 1.44 1.86 1.45 1.53
Number of carers 796 571 203 1,164 1,368
How study child gets along with other children in the household  
High satisfaction (8-10) 66.3 71.8* 63.0 69.8 69.0
Moderate satisfaction (5-7) 26.9 24.0 28.7 25.1 25.5
Low satisfaction (0-4) 6.8 4.1 8.3 5.1 5.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Mean 7.95 8.26** 7.85 8.13* 8.10
SD 2.21 1.78 2.16 1.98 2.01
Number of carers 867 623 174 1,318 1,492
Your relationship with partner   
High satisfaction (8-10) 92.0 89.7 87.1 91.7*** 90.9
Moderate satisfaction (5-7) 7.2 8.0 8.1 7.4 7.6
Low satisfaction (0-4) 0.8 2.3 4.8 0.9 1.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Mean 9.15 9.11 8.86 9.18* 9.13
SD 1.32 1.38 1.72 1.28 1.37
Number of carers 800 573 206 1167 1374
Your relationship with your children in the household   
High satisfaction (8-10) 91.9 90.9 90.4 91.6* 91.4
Moderate satisfaction (5-7) 7.9 7.1 5.4 7.8 7.5
Low satisfaction (0-4) 0.2 2.0 4.2 0.7 1.1
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Mean 9.12 9.11 8.82 9.16 9.12
SD 1.15 1.29 1.57 1.19 1.24
Number of carers 396 270 71 596 667

Notes: Percentages are based on weighted data and small numbers of respondents' "Don't know" answers were excluded from the analysis for each item. Sample sizes are unweighted. For each item, a design-based chi-square test was used to assess statistically significant differences between foster carers and relative/kinship carers, statistically significant deference in mean ratings between foster carers and relative/kinship carers and male and female carers based on regression (*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001). Percentages may not total exactly 100.0% due to rounding.

In relation to carers' own relationships with their partner and with their children in the household, carers also provided an overall positive picture, with mean ratings of 9.1 for both sets of relationships, and 91% being highly satisfied. Foster and relative/kinship carers shared similar views. Both male and female carers also reported high levels of satisfaction with their relationship with their partner and with their children. Nevertheless, the proportion of male carers who were highly satisfied with their relationship with their partner was slightly lower than it was for female carers (87% vs 92%).

7.2 Carers' wellbeing and family relationships and their carer experience

The following analysis examines whether carers' wellbeing measures and their satisfaction with family relationships were associated with their care experience. A multivariate analysis approach was adopted to control for various factors that may have affected carers' wellbeing (e.g., demographic characteristics, financial circumstances) and potentially confounded the results. An OLS regression was applied to three wellbeing measures and carers' satisfaction with five types of relationships. The three wellbeing measures were: the vitality scale, the mental health scale, and life satisfaction. Care experiences included: the number of indicators of abuse and/or neglect that study children experienced (including whether there was family violence in their original home, whether any household members had alcohol or addiction problems); whether the study child had any known developmental conditions; the rewards and challenges scales; and carers' levels of agreement/disagreement that adequate allowances were received and they felt supported by agencies/services in meeting the needs of the study child. The results are shown in Table 7.3.

  • Study children's prior history of indicators of abuse/neglect appeared to be associated with lower levels of carer vitality, lower carer satisfaction with their relationship with the study child, and lower carer satisfaction with the relationship between the study child and other children in the household. Compared with carers whose study children had no such experience:
    • Carers who cared for study children with three or more indicators of abuse/neglect reported lower levels of vitality.
    • Carers who cared for study children with four or more indicators of abuse/neglect were less satisfied with their relationship with the study child, and with how the study child got along with other children in the household.
  • Carers' wellbeing and family relationships were also associated with their views on rewards and challenges:
    • Carers who reported a greater sense of reward in looking after children were more likely to report higher levels of wellbeing - that is, a higher vitality level, better mental health, higher satisfaction with life, and higher levels of satisfaction with each of the five types of family relationships.
    • Carers who reported facing greater challenges in caring for children also reported lower scores on the wellbeing measures - that is, lower levels of vitality, poorer mental health, lower levels of satisfaction with life, and lower satisfaction with each of the five sets of family relationships.
  • The perceived adequacy of the allowance received by carers was associated with two sets of relationships concerning study children. The stronger views of carers on the inadequacy of allowances received were linked with lower satisfaction in their relationship with the study child, and also with the relationship between their partner and the study child.
  • Carers who felt well supported by agencies and services tended to report better wellbeing - that is, higher levels of vitality, better mental health, greater satisfaction with life, and better outcomes on family relationships (i.e., more highly satisfied with each of the five types of relationships).
Table 7.3: Coefficients of OLS regressions of carers' vitality, mental health, life satisfaction and satisfaction with family relationships
  Vitality Mental health Life satisfaction Your relationship with study child Your partner's relationship with study child How study child gets along with other children in the household Your relationship with partner Your relationship with your children in the household
Relative/kinship carer -1.372 -1.123 -0.199*** 0.360*** 0.275*** 0.410*** 0.012 0.009
Female -1.024 -0.126 0.237** 0.270** 0.268** 0.18 0.268** 0.227
Age of carer        
(less than 40 years)        
40-49 3.501** 0.727 0.136 0.251* 0.188 0.324* 0.205 0.071
50-64 3.106* 0.145 0.074 0.432*** 0.389** 0.146 0.258* 0.045
65+ 1.869 -0.531 0.249* 0.492*** 0.459** 0.207 0.296* 0.372
Living with a partner -1.763* -0.923 0.057 -0.155** (omitted) 0.035 (omitted) -0.103
Study child's age        
(under 5 years)        
5-11 2.498* 0.039 0.083 -0.276*** -0.321*** -0.675*** -0.104 0.027
12-14 2.600* 0.162 0.017 -0.720*** -0.775*** -0.951*** -0.249* -0.166
15-18 2.479 0.15 0.061 -0.776*** -0.742*** -0.972*** -0.018 -0.159
Financial hardships        
(None)        
One -1.567 -1.282 0.078 0.074 0.072 0.079 -0.231 0.083
Two or more -4.810*** -4.222*** -0.358*** -0.122 -0.138 0.06 -0.455*** -0.305*
Self-assessed financial circumstances    
(Prosperous/very comfortable)        
Reasonably comfortable -4.932*** -2.826*** -0.323*** 0.053 0.041 0.089 -0.086 0.005
Just getting by/poor/very poor -8.204*** -4.093*** -0.418*** 0.088 0.197 0.077 0.124 0.043
Number of abuse/neglect that study child experienced or was exposed to   
None        
1 -1.272 -2.307* 0.203 0.076 0.099 0.147 0.18 -0.066
2 0.087 -0.406 0.227* 0.042 0.16 -0.012 0.219 0.035
3 -3.598** -1.239 0.188 -0.109 0.017 -0.363* 0.233 -0.283
4+ -2.590* -1.172 0.152 -0.284** -0.099 -0.544*** 0.259* -0.025
Study child had developmental issue/condition -0.682 0.297 0.012 -0.009 -0.024 -0.078 0.108 0.02
Motivation scale (0-10) 0.692* 1.328*** 0.196*** 0.350*** 0.311*** 0.266*** 0.164*** 0.146***
Challenge scale (0-10) -3.226*** -2.167*** -0.189*** -0.150*** -0.185*** -0.271*** -0.147*** -0.156***
Level of agreement that the allowances received for the study child are adequate (1-5, from strongly disagree to strongly agree) 0.455 0.09 0.011 -0.059* -0.063* -0.034 -0.025 -0.05
Level of agreement with feeling well supported by agencies and service providers (1-5, from strongly disagree to strongly agree) 1.227*** 1.143*** 0.156*** 0.111*** 0.090** 0.157*** 0.111*** 0.151***
Constant 75.545*** 81.353*** 6.863*** 6.243*** 6.680*** 7.058*** 7.654*** 8.219***
Adjusted r2 0.231 0.197 0.213 0.271 0.234 0.237 0.126 0.163
Number of carers 2140 2143 2138 2136 1339 1463 1346 656

Note: For categorical variables, reference group is indicated in brackets. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.

Box 2: Interpretation of coefficients of OLS regression

OLS coefficients represent the change in the dependent variable for each unit change in an independent variable. For example, in relation to results of vitality, the coefficient for carers living with a partner is -1.78, this means that the vitality score is reduced by 1.78 for carers living with a partner compared to carers living without a partner.

7.3 Summary

Overall, carers reported positively on their wellbeing and family relationships. The majority of carers rated their health as "excellent" or "very good", with relatively high levels of vitality and mental health. More importantly, the majority of carers were highly satisfied with their life and each of the five types of family relationships. These patterns were apparent regardless of care type and gender.

Despite the overall positive picture, some carers fared less well. Relative/kinship carers rated less well on their general health compared to foster carers. It is worth noting that close to one in four relative/kinship carers had a disability or medical condition that was likely to last for six months or more and caused some difficulty in their everyday life. Relative/kinship carers also reported lower levels of life satisfaction compared to foster carers. However, relative/kinship carers were more satisfied than foster carers with the three types of relationships concerning the study child: their own relationship with the study child, their partner's relationship with the study child, and how the study child got along with the other children in the household. This is likely to reflect that relative/kinship carers and their families had already established a relationship and bonded with the study child and, of course, some may have already looked after the study child informally in the past.

Male carers also appeared to fare less well on some wellbeing measures and family relationships compared to female carers. Specifically, male carers rated more poorly than female carers on their general health, and male carers were also less satisfied with life, and less satisfied with family relationships.

Negative care experiences and lack of support were found to be associated with poorer wellbeing and family relationships for carers. Specifically, carers who reported facing greater challenges in caring for children in out-of-home care (particularly those children who had experienced multiple types of maltreatment) and carers who did not feel well supported by agencies/services in meeting the study child's needs reported lower levels of wellbeing (lower level of energy, poorer mental health, lower life satisfaction) and lower satisfaction with family relationships.