NSW Government announces urgent action to repair broken foster care system


The NSW Government will establish an urgent review of the foster care system following a damning report that details the first-hand experiences of the state’s most vulnerable young people in emergency accommodation.

The review will examine the overreliance on emergency accommodation and investigate how taxpayer money is being spent by non-government providers.

The report by the Advocate for Children and Young People (ACYP) is a compilation of confronting first-hand stories from young people placed in hotels and motels and other High-Cost Emergency Arrangements (HCEAs) after being removed from their families.

The ACYP conducted 19 private hearings across the state in areas including Bathurst, Dubbo, Forbes, Northern Rivers, Central Coast, Wollongong, Western Sydney and the Inner West. Young people described a system where they were left alone in emergency accommodation in extremely unsafe situations.

One young person describes their experience in emergency accommodation as making them feel like a “dog being moved from cage to cage”.

“It was just me on my own around… full-grown adults on drugs, homeless people, people with mental illnesses… it was disgusting,” said one young person.

Another described being in emergency care from the age of 10 or 12, “just in motels, caravan parks, whatever they can find.…it’s pretty bad. I was put in $99 a night rooms, and I’d be in one room and then the workers would be 10 rooms down.”

Another said, “After a little while I started to play with my Lego again but that took about maybe a month and a half before I started to do anything other than just sit there and cry.”

These stories are shocking examples of a system where the use of emergency arrangements has skyrocketed, resulting in a spiralling out-of-home care budget crisis combined with worsening outcomes for vulnerable children and young people.

HCEAs can cost upwards of $2 million a year for each child, costing taxpayers more than $38,000 a week. By comparison, a child in foster care costs the state the maximum of $74,000 annually, or just over $1400 a week.

The NSW Government has begun work to tackle the cost of emergency accommodation through a dedicated team that moves children from HCEAs to more suitable arrangements. This has resulted in a 16% decrease in the number of children in HCEAs, from 506 children on 2 November 2023 to 427 on 31 March 2024.

The ACYP’s report, titled Moving Cage to Cage: An interim report of the Special Inquiry into children and young people in alternative care arrangements, will be released today with the Special Inquiry’s final findings expected to be tabled in NSW Parliament mid-2024.

Minister for Families and Communities, Kate Washington said:

“This report is heartbreaking; these kids’ stories are harrowing.

“As the Minister and as a mum I’m horrified to hear that there are children in the child protection system who feel like they’re animals, being moved from cage to cage.

“But it’s important that we hear the voices of these children, that we listen, and we act.

“Under the former government, the use of hotels and motels for vulnerable children skyrocketed, and the child protection system was left to spiral out of control.

“We have begun the work to repair the system, but we have a long road to travel to make sure we deliver the best outcomes for young people and taxpayers.

“Our urgent review will uncover ways we can give vulnerable kids the future they deserve, starting with a stable, loving home instead of hotels and motels with rotating shift workers.”

The Advocate for Children and Young People, Zoë Robinson said:

“As the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People, I look forward to working with the NSW Government and community, to ensure that all children and young people in care settings are given every opportunity to thrive – in safe, caring environments.

“Today’s response by the NSW Government recognises the power of listening to children and young people and understanding how decisions impact their lives.

“The children and young people who have shared their stories with the Special Inquiry want stability and care. The evidence received to date highlights that high-cost arrangements and alternative care arrangements are clearly falling well short of that.

“I believe that ongoing work is required to ensure the voices of children and young people in care are included in policy and lifted to government, and I will continue engaging with children and young people until the final report of the Special Inquiry is tabled in NSW Parliament later this year.”

/Public Release. View in full here.