When Deniliquin carers Barbara and Bill* were asked by CareSouth to take a young boy and girl into their home for emergency respite care they agreed without hesitation.

It was supposed to be a two night stay but the short-term respite lasted nine months. In that time the Smiths were instrumental in reshaping the lives of the two foster children in their care – a young girl and boy who struggled to reach their milestones due to significant delays and medical issues.

While the Smith’s put loving structures and routines in place for the children, Western Region caseworkers determined the best way forward to provide permanent, stable care.

Pru McManus, the manager of CareSouth’s Western Programs, said it was important to find a home where the pair, who are not siblings, could stay together “because the young boy is as protective of the little girl as a big brother would be, they have walked their journey of foster care together, and they are each other’s constant”.

It was decided that long-term foster care was the best option for the children but this was no easy feat according to Pru, as the number of children entering the child protection system is increasing while the number of carers is in decline.

Latest statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) annual child protection report found 47,915 children were in Out-of-Home Care (OOHC) nationally, with more than half in NSW. More than 60 children enter care across NSW every week because they cannot live safely at home and around 660 foster carers are needed to meet this demand.

The government’s Permanency Support Program was introduced in October last year to address this gap. The program will improve safety, permanency and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people who are currently in care or at risk of coming into care. Pru said the move towards permanency makes emergency or short-term carers even more critical while decisions are made about a child or young person’s future.

“We need short-term and respite foster carers like Bill and Barbara who can provide a loving home while the best permanency pathway – restoration, guardianship, adoption or long-term foster care - can be found so children and young people have safe homes,” said Pru.

“The role of short-term respite carers like Bill and Barbara is so important. One of the best things we have seen with this placement is that the carers have given both children the time and intensive care that they needed to thrive.