Foster care families are calling for fairer payments as the cost of living crisis risks the system losing more households that step up to care for kids.
ACT-based parents of foster babies, toddlers and young children receive a fortnightly care allowance of $601.69 while parents in Victoria are paid $427.05.
Victorian foster parents are paid $91 less per week than a NSW family caring for a 6-year-old and they're feeling the crunch.
"One carer explained they are up to $14,000 out of pocket a year while another said they stopped providing care because they couldn't afford to keep covering costs," Foster Care Association of Victoria CEO Samantha Hauge said.
More Victorian carers left the foster system than joined in March 2023 and the state lost 317 households in the year, she said.
A Victorian-based carer said it was "unfair to expect" foster parents to fund placements when they're needed at home with their children.
"We can care [for] and love these children, but to be able to actually provide quality clothing, education and experiences like trips to the zoo, aquarium and holidays, the carer reimbursement needs to be realistic."
A Victorian Government spokesperson said "we appreciate and value the critical and significant role of carers, and the outstanding job they do to support children who can't safely live at home".
Almost $900 million was allocated in the 2023/24 Victorian Budget for the child protection and family services portfolio over four years.
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"We're providing further support to keep families together and protect children," the spokesperson said.
Lighthouse Foundation CEO Dr Eamonn McCarthy said "our sector, particularly here in Victoria, is struggling to recruit and retain foster carers, and we must look at the broader picture as to the pressures these volunteers face".
"The Victorian Care Allowance cost of living indexation for the last 24 months was 2% when annual household inflation was more than 6% in both 2022 and 2023.
"An allowance increase is critical to bring Victorian care conditions to parity with other States, support placements in jeopardy now, keep existing carers in the system and to increase the numbers of would-be carers who are locked out due to costs."