Phone line helps foster parents deal with difficult children

A phone line has been set up to give foster parents immediate support when they're dealing with difficult children.

Until now, they've often had to wait for hours - or sometimes days - to speak to their social worker.

Lesieli is one of almost 4000 caregivers looking after Kiwi kids who can't live with their families. For the past two years, she's cared for two sisters, including a four-year-old nature lover we'll call Bella.

"When the good things come you forget about all the challenges, if that makes sense, because you just appreciate the good ones so much," she says.

But as a law student, full-time worker and a parent to her own son too, it's certainly challenging, especially at the weekends when she has the girls all day.

"Things like running into family members at the supermarket," she says.

It's hard because the girls just want to go home with them.

"If we're at the mall and they see somebody that they recognise and then it's like, okay, well, you've got to come with us now," she says.

The defiant behaviour can be hard to deal with. On the weekend it can be hard to get in touch with social workers, and the only other option Lesieli had was to ring the phone line that's meant for emergencies.

The lack of immediate help has been major problem for caregivers. But now, there's a team of 20 social workers at the end of the line, 24/7, waiting to help.

"Now, we're able to de-escalate the situation, de-escalate often the caregiver, so they can de-escalate the child," says support call centre social worker Lenis Katavich.

There are more than 6000 Kiwi kids in state care, but there's a shortage of foster parents. And the Children's Minister is hoping the new service will help attract more caregivers.

"What we want this to be is - hey, if there's an issue, just ring; we're here for you," says Tracey Martin.

It's already proving popular. In its first day, the centre got 54 calls.