Working Together to Care for Kids: A survey of foster and relative/kinship carers

Content type
Short article

July 2019


Lixia Qu, Nick Heyes

A large number of children aged 0–17 years in Australia live in out-of-home care, but not enough is known about the circumstances, needs and experiences for those who care for these children. In June 2018, 45,756 Australian children were in out-of-home-care (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2019). The majority of these children were in home-based care – either foster care or relative/kinship care. This article discusses some of the key findings of a recent study of foster and relative/kinship carers (referred to as carers).

Working Together to Care for Kids: A survey of foster and relative/kinship carers

In order to provide a better understanding of the circumstances, needs and experiences of carers, the Department of Social Services commissioned and funded the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) to conduct a survey of foster and relative/kinship carers. The Working Together to Care for Kids study involved telephone interviews commencing in late 2016 with 2,203 carers in formal care arrangements from all states and territories, except the Northern Territory. AIFS has released a research report that provides broad findings from the study.

The report discusses the characteristics of carers and the children in their care, their experiences of how the children came into their care and the training they received to support them in their role. The report also examines the rewards and challenges of being a carer, their wellbeing and their family relationships.

Overall, many carers reported they were coping well in their caring roles despite the challenges and complexities involved. Carers generally had positive reflections about their caring experience, reporting they felt they could make a real difference to a child’s life and that being a carer was a rewarding undertaking.

Support services use

The study looked into carers’ use of support services. Overall, 90% of carers had received support from at least one service, and 54% had received support from three or more services during their time as carers. However, there were differences in the use of services between foster and relative/kinship carers, with foster carers more likely to use support services. For example, the study found that while 70% of foster carers reported contact with three or more services, only 40% of relative/kinship carers reported the same level of contact.

Unmet needs and barriers to support

The unmet service needs of carers were also examined in the study, with 64% of carers reporting an unmet need. When asked about the support services they needed but had not received in the last six months, or had never received, carers reported the following unmet needs:

  • Carer support staff from government child protection departments – 25%
  • Child counselling/psychological services – 22%
  • Carer support organisations and groups – 22%
  • Respite carer services – 19%
  • Foster carer advisory groups – 19%.

While the overall unmet service needs were similar for foster and relative/kinship carers, foster carers were more likely to report an unmet need. Carers who reported difficulties in accessing services were asked to provide information on what the difficulty was. These carers reported the following barriers to accessing support:

  • Long waiting lists/support staff availability – 46%
  • Not aware of what’s available – 27%
  • No appropriate services – 22%
  • Cost of the service – 21%
  • Agency problems (e.g. bureaucracy, poor communication, slow to respond) – 21%.

While responses between foster and relative/kinship carers were similar, relative/kinship carers were more likely (32%) to report not being aware of what was available as a barrier compared to foster carers (23%).


The Working Together to Care for Kids project provides a snapshot of the lives and experiences of foster and relative/kinship carers. While the report shows carers are coping well overall, the results indicate that more can be done to meet the support service needs of carers. Specifically, it highlights the services that carers report they are not receiving and the barriers they face in accessing these services.

The study offers valuable insight for policy makers and service providers, signalling areas where policy and practice can be improved to ensure carers are supported to provide the best possible environment for children growing up in out-of-home care.

Further reading

Five research snapshots covering the findings of the Working Together to Care for Kids report have also been produced and cover:


Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing. (2019). Child Protection Australia: 2017–18 (Child Welfare series no. 70. Cat. no. CWS 65). Canberra: AIHW.

Qu, L., Lahausse, J., & Carson, R. (2018). Working Together to Care for Kids: A survey of foster and relative/kinship carers (Research Report). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from: