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Protest planned over ACT government foster care changes

A group of foster carers and families from around Canberra will protest against changes to the ACT foster-care system on Thursday, angry that former provider Marymead has been excluded from a new system.

In November the government announced a consortium of not-for-profit organisations led by Barnardos Australia had won the latest contract for out-of-home care services for children, leaving Marymead surprised and disappointed not to be involved in the services as part of the government's new Step Up for Our Kids strategy.

About a third of the Marymead organisation had previously worked in foster-care services, and the change will result in job losses at the organisation. Some staff have already moved to the new ACT Together consortium, which includes OzChild, Premier Youthworks, the Australian Childhood Foundation and Relationships Australia.

Thursday's protest and an online petition, led by ACT foster-carer couple Chris and Kate Brookes, is asking for the decision to be reversed and for continuum of care services to remain with Marymead, which has more than 25 years' experience.

The online petition has attracted about 400 supporters this week.

The group said its primary concern was for the best interests of children involved in foster care, and if financial considerations were deemed more important than other requirements.


As part of the plans, foster-carer transition arrangements are being developed for changes to come into force from July. The ACT Together services started last month, as part of $16 million in additional funding for the strategy, which will let non-profit agencies take over some government co-ordination of children living in care.

A separate contract for strengthening high-risk-family services was awarded to Uniting NSW and ACT.

Ms Brooks, a foster carer for more than five years, said the decision showed a fundamental lack of understanding of the importance of stability in the lives of traumatised children and a disregard for the quality of Marymead's services and its connections in the Canberra community.

"Honestly for us, the announcement caused disbelief," she said.

"It just seemed so obviously wrong that we were just waiting for some expert or someone to say they didn't know what they were doing.

"It's huge. There are so many different circumstances that people find themselves in with caring but there's no circumstance that I can think of that the change wouldn't be a big deal."

Ms Brookes said Marymead's staff had provided stability and support for children dealing with trauma and dislocation.

"You build very strong personal connections. Our experience is Marymead are the benchmark. They provide an amazing service and there is nothing wrong with their service."

Newly appointed Children and Young People Minister Chris Bourke referred questions to the consortium.

Spokeswoman and Barnardos ACT executive manager Annette Kelly-Egerton said concerns children would be moved or separated from carers were wrong.

"There may well be some variations between providers but Barnardos is a very established service provider and we've been doing foster care for many years.

"I think we will be able to work with the carers and the children to ensure their needs are met," she said.

The change comes amid a new focus on therapeutic care in the ACT.

Ms Kelly-Egerton said she empathised with existing foster carers, especially those who had been with Marymead for long periods.

"I feel that we are able to work with Marymead to help the transition to go as smoothly as possible," she said.

A Community Services Directorate spokesman said Dr Bourke and government representatives were continuing to meet with Marymead and foster carers to discuss the concerns. 

"Change can cause anxiety, but the transition of case management from Marymead to ACT Together will have no impact on care arrangements," the spokesman said.