‘He wants to be here’

August 13, 2006For many reasons, children in care are excluded from schools at a much higher rate than their peers. Malcolm Downes recently visited a small primary school to distil inspiration and some lessons from their work with a boy we will call Carl.

When 12-year-old Carl joined Rick Whitehead’s year 6-7 class at Gumeracha Primary School at the start of 2006 some things were going to go right for him for a change. But it didn’t seem likely at first. A traumatic personal history and some bad experiences at previous schools had left him perpetually anxious and angry, prone to walk out of class when asked to do school work and colourfully abusive when confronted.

Angela

Rick and Principal Angela Clacherty were not unprepared. They knew something of Carl’s history and just two weeks into the term met with Families SA and Education’s Student Inclusion and Wellbeing and Behaviour Support Coordinator to work out what could be done. A small table in a corner of Angela’s office became a refuge where Carl could safely work out his anger and frustration by pounding plasticine into extreme and sometimes beautiful shapes when tension in the classroom became too much. Fortuitously, Carl shared two of Rick’s passions, sport and music.

Rick

‘His eyes lit up when he saw the drum kit set up at the back of the class,’ Rick recalls.

The start of the football season also saw Carl playing for Gumeracha juniors wearing the same black and white club colours that Rick had worn a few years earlier.

Carl has developed a good relationship with Kassie Wildman, the energetic School Services Officer who works with him as a consequence of that first meeting. The four hours per week of support she provides has enabled him to tackle some tasks and situations that would have previously sent him racing outside.

He is enrolled in the music program, doing guitar on Monday and drums on Wednesday.

‘Occasionally he says he doesn’t want to go to music but after a bit of encouragement he usually does,” observes Rick, ‘but I think he just wants the extra attention.’

Still, Carl’s integration into the school community has not been smooth or easy and is far from complete.

‘Carl has good days and he has bad days and sometimes a bad day will be triggered by something outside of school,’ says Angela.

‘Tomorrow is a new day’ has become something of a mantra for Carl and those working with him, she explains.

The school has an excellent relationship with Carl’s carers, an aunt and uncle who are willing to provide the time and the commitment that he needs. There is trust and a sense of partnership that makes sure that issues that cross the boundary between Carl’s home and school life are supportively addressed.

Talking to Rick and Angela it becomes clear that their own close communication and shared willingness to work creatively and flexibly with Carl is one of his major assets in the school. Angela admits that not all teachers, including some on her own staff, would accept or be comfortable with the latitude that Carl is shown. A photo of Carl proudly holding up a school project beams down from above Angela’s desk and Rick comments on his great sense of humour. They clearly like Carl.

For Carl’s classmates too, these two terms have been a journey.

‘It became clear to them right from the start that Carl was troubled. There were questions and some resentment with a few kids asking why he got favourable treatment, why they had to do work and he didn’t,’ said Rick. He and Angela explain how these questions led to challenging discussions about rules and fairness and also about Carl’s needs and place in the class. Carl is now a part of the class. The minor disruptions are tolerated, his achievements are celebrated and some members of the class even take special pride in looking out for him.

Even with all that has been achieved, the future presents some challenges for Carl and his school. Rick estimates that he is at year three in his school work and admits that, with 24 other children to teach, he cannot put in the one-to-one tutoring that is needed. Carl’s emotional state still limits his ability to concentrate and academic progress is slow.

Next year he will go into year seven and beyond that there is the major challenge of high school.

For the time being, the immense achievement of his teachers, principal, carers classmates and support agencies to date are eloquently summarised by Angela Clacherty when she is able to say of Carl, ‘He wants to be here.’

Social worker checklist

This checklist was developed with the input of children and young people in care to assist workers to provide the child or young person with information about what is happening to them when entering or changing placement.  You can download the Social Worker Checklist from our website.

Doing more than is practicable

Today, I am going to talk about some of the things we can do to equip children and young people in the care system for when they leave our care. In doing so, I am going to begin by referring to a particular section of the Children’s Protection (Miscellaneous) Act 2005, Section 3 part B, where one of the objectives is

To ensure as far as practicable that all children are cared for in a way that allows them to reach their full potential…

This section refers to our obligation to help children and young people achieve their potential, yet, like many other aspects of the legislation, it contains the rider ‘as far as is practicable’ and therefore could suggest minimum standards or just our statutory responsibility.

I want to talk about the importance of doing more than is practicable, of doing more than fulfilling our statutory responsibility, and to emphasise how important it is to proactively work with children and young people so that they can reach their full potential. I shall also discuss the consequences if we do not.

I will therefore be focusing on the things that we need to do to prepare young people for leaving care that I call ‘non-concrete’ or the ‘non-tangibles’ as opposed to the concrete things, like budgeting, using a washing machine, accessing services etc.

Download a PDF pf Angela Andary’s keynote address to the Leaving Care Conference—April 2006 Doing more than is practicable – How can we assist children and young people in care to reach their full potential?


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Charter of Rights launched

Charter launch 2006Lions roared, parrots squawked, monkeys howled and the first Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care in Australia was launched.

In a lunchtime ceremony in the Rotunda of the Adelaide Zoo on April 19, young people involved in the development of the Charter explained why they felt that a clear statement of rights for children and young people in care was important.

Reflecting on her time in guardianship, 19 year old Rachel Hopkins said, “Most kids don’t know what to expect when they go into care.

“They want to know why them and what is going to happen next. The Charter will help clear up a lot of those things and make sure they know it’s alright for them to ask questions.”

Eighteen year old David Wilkins who chaired the event said, “Children in care want to feel like any other children – they want to have the same opportunities and support.”

“It’s really important for children in care to know they have rights. For those coming in to the system, this Charter will be able to provide them with information to help them deal with being placed under guardianship.”

Surviving a simian heckling that he said rivalled even that of his parliamentary colleagues, Minister for Families and Communities, Jay Weatherill congratulated the children and young people, carers and the many professionals whose work created the Charter.

“Children and young people are placed under guardianship when they are unable to remain in their family home making them among the most vulnerable,” he said.“They need to know they can expect to be treated well and cared for properly while they are under guardianship. It also is crucial for them to know they have options if something goes wrong. The Charter is a great way of telling them this and preventing problems such as abuse.

“We are going to ask people and organisations providing care to endorse the Charter and build it into their ways of working with children and young people including their performance standards and reporting process,” he said as he officially launched the Charter.

The launch was attended by more than 100 children and young people and about the same number of carers and other interested adults. After the launch they joined the Office of the Guardian staff for a hotdog and gourmet sausage sizzle and were entertained by young DJ Ben and Dr Blot the clown before spending a sunny afternoon at the Zoo.

The Charter and the value of formalising rights for children and young people in care will be promoted strongly over the next few months.

To read the Charter and to view the promotional materials, visit the Charter of Rights page or contact the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People on 8226 8570, email gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au

Preventing sexual abuse

This information paper is about the sexual abuse of children in care and ways in which it can be prevented.   We provide information for policy makers, professionals, carers, journalists and the public and suggest some ways forward.

In the first section we examine some of the themes emerging from the literature.  In the second we canvass some of the changes that have occurred in child protection in the recent past and look at the child protection system as it operates today.  While there is much in this paper that can be usefully applied to the prevention of other forms of abuse and to the avoidance of abuse of children in the wider population, it is primarily about the prevention of sexual abuse of children and young people in care.

The information paper is based on a longer written submission to a South Australian Commission of Inquiry into the previous sexual abuse of children while in state care.

Responsibility for the contents of the paper rests with the Guardian for Children and Young People.

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