Marilyn McHugh

Postgraduate Research

Graduation Year: 2008

Research Area: Care

Research Topic: Costs and consequences: Understanding the impact of fostering on carers
Supervisor: Prof Peter Saunders

Marilyn was also supervised by Dr Deb Oxley.

Description: This thesis reports on a study examining the direct and indirect costs to volunteer carers of providing a fostering service in Australia. The study highlights the current difficulties in carer recruitment and retention, the increases in the challenging and complex needs of the children coming into care, and the growing professionalism of fostering. The study uses a budgetary approach to estimate the direct costs of fostered children. In-depth interviews and focus groups with carers are instrumental in providing a range of perspectives that assist our understanding of how the direct costs of fostered children are different from (higher than) the costs of other children. The study found the costs of fostered children were 40 per cent higher than the costs of children not in care. The thesis indicates that, to maintain and retain a volunteer workforce, an adequate carer remuneration system to meet the direct costs of fostered children is critical. To examine the indirect costs of fostering, the study uses a multi-method approach providing a monetary value of the opportunity costs (foregone earnings model) and time costs (proxy good or market replacement model) for foster carers. The emotional and psychological dimensions of fostering are also examined, though no monetary value is assigned to these costs. Carers’ vivid and contrasting stories from the interviews explain how ‘money’ fits with carer motivation and fostering’s more professional role, how carers perceive the nature of fostering (job or parenting), and whether carers should be paid to foster. Revelations of fostering’s emotional and time dimensions and restricted employment opportunities (indirect costs) highlight the impact fostering has on carers and their families. The study found that the indirect costs of fostered children were around four times the value of the direct costs. In light of the growing professionalism of contemporary foster care, difficulties in carer recruitment/retention, and the demanding nature of fostering, the thesis examines whether carers should be paid for the service they provide (compensation for indirect costs). Using a number of theoretical concepts developed by feminist economists and social theorists on paying for caring labour, the thesis found support for the contention that altruism (‘love’) and carer pay (‘money’) are not incompatible, and ambiguities and tensions for foster mothers around money and love can be resolved. Studies of countries where carers receive a wage component as part of their remuneration package provide insights into wage levels, perceived adequacy of the wage, and the impact of wages on carer recruitment/retention. The study found that, due to the profoundly gendered nature of fostering, the compensatory aspects of remuneration (fee/wage or salary) are generally poor. The implications for government welfare spending of paying Australian carers are discussed, and the savings to governments of using a volunteer workforce are demonstrated.

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