Worksafe ACT is in talks with Barnardos about the way they handle work health and safety complaints from foster carers, following a Fair Work Commission decision where a foster carer was classed as a worker.
At this point, Worksafe has not issued any improvement notices.
Foster carers have not been considered workers for the purposes of work health and safety in the ACT, and until last year, it hadn't been contested.
It meant they couldn't claim workers compensation, couldn't act on complaints of bullying by management, and couldn't claim medical expenses as a result of violent children.
The issue came to a head in September, when foster carer Benjamin Legge took a stop-bullying claim to the Fair Work Commission, contending he was subject to workplace bullying conduct by managers at Barnarndos. The commission had to determine if he was classed as a worker under the Act, and they came to the conclusion that he was.
While the case referred specifically to Mr Legge's circumstances, his circumstances are typical for many foster carers. The ACT Foster Care Association now believes the result can apply to all foster carers.
Barnardos is the lead agency in the ACT Together consortium delivering foster care and out of home care to children in Canberra. During the Fair Work Commission hearing, it denied the claim of bullying. Barnardos also denied that Mr Legge was a worker.
If Worksafe ACT goes one step further and decides to conduct an investigation, or issue notices, it is unclear what impact it would have on Barnardos' ability to deliver services.
A Barnardos spokewoman did not respond to questions but said they were working with the ACT government and Worksafe "in regards to a complaint received from a carer".
ACT Foster Care Association vice president Judy Gleeson is one person who has formally complained about her rights. She's hoping the decision by Worksafe to look into Barnardo's practices improves oversight within the sector.
"It's an absolute feeling of relief for foster carers that there will be some oversight to the amount of stress we're under, and the lack of information and support we're often given," Ms Gleeson said.