Foster parents may soon be paid a fee for their services - changing a long tradition of volunteering.
A Swedish speaker told the International Foster Care conference in Hamilton yesterday that foster-parents in that country were paid $60 a day plus expenses.
As a result, Fredrik Ingvarsson said, the country had "more [foster] families than we have placements, so we have no problems finding families".
In comparison, Kiwi foster parents get only an expense allowance that will go up on April 1 to between $124 and $162 a week for each child depending on age and there is an increasing shortage of caregivers. But the Government is reviewing those payments.
However, Child, Youth and Family Services care and protection manager Mike Munnelly told the conference this country was "about to embark on the journey" of "looking at" European-style professionalisation of foster parents.
"Professionalisation is not our approach to foster care, with a few exceptions," he said.
"New Zealand has a strong culture of volunteerism. We have 59 family homes which take six children each, or slightly more, and they are entirely staffed by volunteers."
But he said foster parents were ageing as the service was not attracting younger families into fostering, more women were seeking paid work, and there were more blended families "where the space, physical and emotional, for people to take on other people's children is more limited".
Former Massey University academic Jill Worrall, who chaired the debate, said afterwards New Zealand had to look at paying foster parents because the shortage of willing families led to "expedient placements" of children into sometimes inappropriate homes.
"There are some people who think it will take the voluntary goodwill thing out of caregiving, but we have to look at it in the context in which it is set in every country," she said. "In our country, we have a scarcity of caregivers."
The executive officer of the Family and Foster Care Federation, Gaylene Lawrence, said the reality today was that most families needed two incomes and a fee for fostering would allow people to choose that vocation.
But Dingwall Trust chief executive Tracie Shipton was concerned the move might destroy "the essence of what foster-parenting is - communities caring for communities in a natural and uninhibited way, a natural progression of how we have lived for centuries".
South Auckland Caregivers' Association co-ordinator Allysa Carberry supported the idea of more professional training for foster parents but was "in two minds" about whether they should be paid.