Ever since South Australian foster care was outsourced in 1997 (see Chapter 3), there has been a strict division of responsibility between the statutory agency, Family and Youth Service (FAYS), that requests placements for its children and the non-government providers of that care. Under the new system, FAYS workers who require a foster placement must now refer the child to the Central Alternative Care Unit (CACU), which processes the referral information without ever actually meeting the child and then contacts one or other of the foster care agencies to negotiate a suitable placement. CACU is an autonomous unit within FAYS, whose role is to exercise some degree of quality control over the information provided to foster care agencies and, through them, to carers. CACU also aims to promote equity in the system by preventing FAYS workers from competing with one another for placements. In fact, verbal communication between FAYS workers and foster care agencies is proscribed until after CACU has secured a placement. The only way that FAYS workers are supposed to convey the placement needs of children to the foster care agencies is by way of a referral form which is provided to CACU.
In this chapter, we report on the experiences of foster care workers and carers under the restructured system as those experiences were communicated to us in the focus group discussions outlined in the previous chapter.
The workers responsible for administering South Australia’s foster care system complained of many problems with the new arrangements, but underlying most of them was the workers’ discomfort with the division between the ‘purchasers’ and ‘providers’ of foster care. Workers also complained of communication problems under the new system and of an overemphasis on paperwork at the expense of case planning and social work practice. Another theme to emerge in our discussions with workers, particularly within