Foster care has been used in modern times to describe a home-based service provided to children and young people up to 18 years of age who are temporarily or permanently unable to live with their families of origin.Throughout the 20th century, the Acts which governed child welfare practices directed whether or not a person providing foster care had to be licensed by the Department responsible for children in out of home care in Western Australia. For most of this time, foster care could be delivered in institutional settings as well as in private homes.
Foster care was known in the early part of the twentieth century as boarding out, although boarding out could also refer to institutional care. A foster mother was defined in the State Children Act 1907 (s.4) as a 'female having the care, charge, or custody of a child under three years of age to adopt, rear, nurse, or otherwise maintain such child' who was not a near relative. Institutions which housed children under the age of 3 years were also foster-mothers. This essentially extended the provisions made in the Health Act 1898, in Part 7 'Infant Life Protection', where s.99 had required that no person could receive a fee for 'nursing or maintaining' an infant under the age of 2 years for longer than 24 hours without being registered by a Board of Health.
The State Children Act also (s.4) defined a foster-parent as 'any person to or with whom a State child is apprenticed or placed out'. This means that young people placed out at service under an agreement with an employer or within a Children's Home were, in law, fostered.
The State Children Act Amendment Act 1919 (s.3.ii) required people housing children under 6 years to become licensed foster-mothers.
The annual report of the Child Welfare Department (CWD) in 1953 showed that these two different types of foster-care, both of which could be delivered by institutions, continued into the 1950s: 'Foster-mothers are persons other than a near relative who are licensed by the Department to care for children (not Wards), under six years of age…Foster-parents are approved to care for wards of the Department or migrant children'.
The annual report of the CWD in 1970 described the legislation as it was at that time. While the definition of a foster mother specifically defined her as a woman, the Act retained the basic definitions that had persisted since 1907 and retained the role of the Department in terms of licensing carers: 'A foster mother is defined in the Child Welfare Act as a female having the care or custody of a child under the age of six years to adopt, rear, nurse or otherwise maintain such child apart from his or her parent, and not being a near relative of such child. It is an offence for any person except a near relative of the child to act as a foster mother without being licensed by the Department for the purpose.' Limitations were also placed on the ability of institutions to care for the under-sixes: 'no person shall keep, use, or manage any house, room, or place for the purpose of receiving or keeping in his care, charge or custody, two or more children under the age of six years, in order to rear, nurse, or otherwise maintain such children, apart from their respective parents, except pursuant to a license granted for the purpose by the Director.'
By the 1960s, authorities were becoming aware that children should remain with their families of origin wherever possible and short-term placements aimed at returning children to their families became a mode of practice. The CWD implemented its first emergency foster care scheme in 1967, and foster care began to replace institutional care as the preferred placement model.
By the 1980s, many of the larger children's Homes were closing and children were routinely placed in foster care. However, it became apparent to authorities that children were experiencing multiple foster placements. 'Children in Limbo', a research study which was published in 1981, found that there was a need to introduce permanency planning principles into child placement. The study also found that there were many Aboriginal children in the foster care system and that the placement principles for these children were not only culturally inappropriate but didn't meet the children's needs. The Aboriginal Child Care Agency was established in 1980 and by 1985 there were specific placement principles governing the placement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in foster care.
In 1994, the Disability Services Commission embarked on its first significant program to support foster care options for children with disabilities who could not live at home.
Foster care continues as a preferred model of out of home care into the twenty first century. The definitions of foster parent and foster mother were not brought forward into the Children and Community Services Act 2004. The Act defines the principles that are to be observed in making placement decisions for non-Aboriginal (Division 2) and Aboriginal children (Divisions 2-3), and includes (s.10) the child's participation in placement decisions.
26 September 2023
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00446
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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