Connecting Foster & Kinship Carers’ first birthday – 20 years on

Connecting Foster and Kinship Carers’ CEO, Fiona Endacott

Twenty years ago Connecting Foster Carers was a small self-help group of carers who met to exchange support and information in each other’s homes. Recently, Connecting Foster & Kinship Carers – SA celebrated it’s first year as a funded Carer Advocacy Service with it’s own offices and paid staff.

In her 2016 report The Life They Deserve Commissioner Margaret Nyland heard the calls from foster and kinship carers for an organisation that could advocate for them and her recommendation for a funded body was supported by the government.

‘Winning the funding meant we could expand what we do but we are still very much a grass roots organisation that focusses on the realities of carers,’ said Connecting Foster and Kinship Carers – SA Chief Executive Officer Fiona Endacott.

‘Carers can call us on our 1800 number seven days a week and if we are not there we guarantee to call back within 48 hours.  We provide helpful advice and support and, if it is needed, we advocate with and for them within the Out of Home Care system.

‘It’s important that we advocate firmly and respectfully so that we get matters resolved but also maintain good relationships with stakeholders within the system so we can work with them in the future.

‘Sometimes being a carer can be very isolating and the best thing we can do is to connect a carer with somebody in our Peer Support Network who understands what it means to be a carer and share their experiences.

‘The other important need for foster and kinship carers is information that is reliable and presented in a way that is useful to them.  We provide some basic information on our website but where we see a need we develop specific packages around important topics and run morning teas where we invite guests from government and non-government organisations to talk with carers.

‘We survey our members, now more than 800, every year.  In our last survey, understanding and managing children’s behaviour and helping young people to reach their potential were the top two issues.

‘Family based care provided by foster and kinship carers is still by far the best option for children who come into state care but each month the number of calls we get increases and so does the complexity of the matters that carers raise.

‘There is clearly still a lot of work for all of us to do,’ concluded Fiona.

You can find out more at the CF&KC-SA website, become a member or follow them on Facebook.

Email at [email protected] or phone 1800 732 272.

New mural celebrates the talent of young people in care and detention

Some of the creators of the Office of the Guardian’s new foyer mural got to see it in place for the first time at a special party. Guardian Penny Wright complimented the young artists in care and in detention on their work and thanked artist Fran Callen and the many others in child protection and youth detention who helped bring the project to fruition over the last eight months.

Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention

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The Guardian’s Newsletter – May 2019

Check out the May 2019 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter:

  • young artists making a final contribution to the mural celebrating young people in state care
  • a new focus on family in child protection brings opportunities and challenges
  • a Charter of Rights for Children and Young People Detained in Training Centres
  • and more…


A new focus on family

By Guardian Penny Wright and Malcolm Downes

The State Government’s newly announced strategy An Intensive Support System for South Australia’s children and families promises a more sustained and holistic response to child protection by shifting the focus to families.  Under the strategy the Child and Family Assessment and Referral Networks (CFARNs), the Child Wellbeing Practitioner and Strong Start programs will be brought together in a new Intensive Support Unit to be formed in the Department for Human Services.

The family, in its many styles and structures, remains at the core of human society.  It is how we care for each other, a basic economic unit, a basis for our sense of who we are, a psychological comfort and a vehicle for raising our children.  It is also the site of some of our greatest problems, of violence, abuse and neglect.  Over generations it can perpetuate our noblest aspirations but also nurture our darkest failings.  For some families, problems with poverty, debt, unemployment, drug misuse, mental illness, family violence, insecure housing and contact with the justice system combine to create major barriers to the enjoyment of the relative wellbeing and wealth that our community has to offer.

Informed by the research commissioned on the back of the Nyland Royal Commission into the Child Protection System in SA, the Department’s planned Intensive Support Unit promises to focus squarely on the families with the most entrenched and challenging issues.  It aims to work with families to identify issues they face and coordinate the services and supports they need in sustained way.  In the past we have striven to ‘rehabilitate’ the individual young offender or ‘cure’ the person with a mental illness without regard for the social circumstances they came from and to which, in all likelihood, they will return.  The Department’s new strategy will refocus the bulk of the family support, domestic violence and children’s support services that it provides and contracts on these families.

‘Troubled Families’

The rationale and structure resembles the Troubled Families program that has been in place in the United Kingdom since 2012. The program recently released its National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015-2020: Findings Evaluation overview policy reportIn the UK program, intervention is based on a keyworker who builds an understanding of problems and of the individual family dynamics. They look at the totality of what’s going on and use what the report calls ‘a persistent and assertive approach establishing a relationship with the family and working closely with them to make sure the family resolve their problems’. The keyworker agrees on a plan with the family and local services so that interventions are sequenced and coordinated and there is a shared ownership of outcomes among service providers.

The evaluation report shows some headline gains including an almost one-third reduction in children being taken into care after a 19-24 month intervention and a one-quarter reduction in young people receiving custodial sentences.  The economic benefits and net budget savings modeled in the report make a strong argument for the UK Government to persist with the program.

We should anticipate that the South Australian strategy, like Troubled Families, will encounter some challenges as it is rolled out.  Services will need to adapt their practice, data collection and information sharing to a family-based way of working – and being funded.  We can look to the NDIS as an example of the difficulties a change of service and funding model can produce for clients and providers if not well managed, no matter how well intended. The shift to a payment-by-results model can produce distortions in the provision of services and a gaming of the system if not well-conceived and managed from the outset.

Aboriginal families

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new strategy will be how well it addresses the outcomes for Aboriginal families. The last Closing the Gap report confirmed that, after more than ten years of investment, we still struggle to provide services to the Aboriginal community that are culturally safe, trusted and effective.  If we shift the focus to families we will have to understand and embrace an Aboriginal concept of family which is very different in how it operates to the white European model on which much of our current system is based.  On top of that we will have to translate what words like ‘disadvantaged’, ‘troubled’, ‘struggling’, ‘complex’, and the many other policy terms governments use, mean to Aboriginal families. It will need to develop an understanding of how Aboriginal families define their needs and what success means to them.

To its credit, the new DHS strategy explicitly acknowledges the necessity for serious Aboriginal involvement in the design and governance of the new system and in the decisions that affect the lives of Aboriginal families and children.  Getting this right for Aboriginal families will be a touchstone for the success of the strategy as a whole and its ability to serve the very diverse set of groupings and relationships that we call ‘family’ in the 21st Century.

Rights concerns over Youth Treatment Order Bill

Penny Wright – Guardian for Children and Young People

We know that substance misuse can have terrible consequences for children and young people.  Their developing brains can be seriously harmed by the use of legally available substances like alcohol and solvents, as well as cannabis and a growing array of other drugs.

Substance abuse can lead to reduced intellectual capacity, permanent behaviour changes and long-term, debilitating mental health problems. It can also exacerbate or be associated with other dangers, risky behaviour, criminal associations and vulnerability to exploitation.

Occasionally the consequences are very public and are reflected in tragic headlines. We want to protect children and young people and we want to protect the community.

My office and I give credit to the Government for acknowledging and trying to address this difficult issue, with the introduction of the Controlled Substances (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill into Parliament last year. However, in providing for the detention of young people for up to 12 months for compulsory treatment, the Bill raises many serious concerns.

Deprivation of liberty

Our community is rightly cautious about depriving anyone of liberty who has not been convicted of committing an offence.  Our legal system and international treaties to which we are a signatory protect the right of people, including young people, to their freedom.  We deprive people of their liberty only under exceptional, very specific circumstances and with the assumption that their rights will be protected in relevant legal processes.

There is a danger when the legal deprivation of liberty might be misused by a community to dispose of people who are inconvenient. So, as a community we must be wary about any solution that creates a ‘too hard basket’ into which inconvenient and hard to deal with young people can be relegated.

Human rights

These concerns are backed up in a submission from the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University, which was released in February. It argues that the Bill poses a significant risk to a number of human rights and also reiterates that detention should only be used as a last resort and for the shortest period of time.

The submission raises further issues around international human rights laws concerning the protection of people with disability from forced medical intervention. The Bill, at present, has no specific protections for children and young people with disabilities.

Will this ‘solution’ work?

The second question about the proposed treatment orders is their efficacy.  The Bill was introduced with scant consultation with the many government and non-government agencies that have long     involvement and experience with young people affected by substance misuse.  It also seems to have been drafted with little regard for the experience of other similar jurisdictions in Australia and overseas and for the considerable body of research that points to the complexity of the problem but also provides some valuable ways forward.

A significant number of the young people who come into state care become involved in substance misuse.  The range of circumstances—physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and neglect—that bring them into state care also leave many deeply affected by trauma.  Self-medicating with legal and illegal substances can become for them a viable way to cope with the pain of that trauma in the absence of other treatments.  For others, deprived of secure family and community attachments, the community of drug users can provide a much-needed family and identity not provided elsewhere.

Young people in care and detention

This particular group of young people is well known to those of us at the Office of the Guardian.  They do not define the extent of the problem but do give an indication of the complex reasons why young people turn to substance abuse. Our experience shows the diversity and complexity of the solutions we need to offer if we are going to be effective.  There is already a serious shortfall in the provision of drug rehabilitation services for young people who actually want them. Government responses that assume ready access to non-existent services or new programs that are not properly planned and resourced, are doomed to fail.

If there is a case for the involuntary detention of some drug-affected young people for short periods, that evidence must be mustered. But informed opinion agrees that effective rehabilitation will be achieved only by long-term, evidence-based programs that address the individual causes and in conjunction with the family and community that surrounds them. Treatment needs to be health focussed, rather than treated as a legal issue.

The Youth Treatment Orders Bill, which is again due for debate in the Legislative Council this week, should be withdrawn in its current form. Let us make use of the knowledge and experience in our community, alongside the considerable body of research to craft a response, and voluntary services, that offer genuine hope of assisting children and young people with a substance abuse problem, while still safeguarding their freedom.

New mural to celebrate the creativity of young people in care and detention

A dozen young people who live in residential care, their carers and artist Fran Callen got together last week in the latest stage of  a mural project to celebrate the creativity of young people in state care and in youth detention.  The completed mural will  dominate the entrance space in the new offices of the Guardian for Children and Young People.

Young people in foster care and from the Adelaide Youth Training Centre will soon be adding their paint before the final artwork takes its place on the wall.  Watch this space…

In the meantime, here is is a video featuring the residential care artists at work.

 

The Guardian’s Newsletter – February 2019

In this edition:

  • why Parliament needs to take deep breath and start again on Youth Treatment Orders
  • how we can make children feel safe and secure in residential care
  • what the children we spoke to said about their experiences in residential care

…and much more in the February 2019 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.


The Guardian’s Office has moved

picture of boxes with Oog

The Guardian’s Office relocated to Level 3, 111 Gawler Place on Tuesday February 5, 2019.

Phone numbers and email addresses have not changed.

All of the Office’s advocacy services for children and young people in state care and youth detention and all of the related programs are operating from the new premises.

We are ensuring that no child or young person is disadvantaged during the transition and working to minimise any inconvenience for our colleagues and contacts.

The resources ordering service has resumed after the move.