Advocacy issues for 2019-20 continue to be dominated by safety and stability in placement

For the third consecutive year safety and stability in care continues to be the biggest advocacy issue raised by children and young people in care, as reported in our latest Guardian for Children and Young People Annual Report.

As at 30 June 2020 there were 4,263 children and young people under the guardianship of the Chief Executive through care and protection court orders – an increase of 11.5% from the previous year. The number of Aboriginal children and young people in care also increased by 13% from last year’s numbers, reflecting a nation-wide systemic trend of Aboriginal children and young people being drastically overrepresented in child protection systems.

During the year, our advocates received 442 enquiries, of which 391 were within our mandate. Of these, 137 children and young people in care approached us themselves. Children and young people with disabilities were the subject of 20% of the enquiries received and almost one third of enquiries (32%) related to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

Placement safety and stability was raised as a primary issue by young people who felt unsafe because of the behaviours of other young people. The most commonly reported safety issues were fear of, and risks posed by, co-residents, due to bullying, intimidation, threats of harm, physical assaults, harmful sexual behaviour, verbal abuse, witnessing physical and verbal outbursts resulting in property damage and being pressured/coerced to engage in substance abuse and criminal activity. The majority of young people who reported feeling and/or being unsafe in their living arrangement requested advocacy support for a placement move.

Other advocacy enquiries from children and young people included concerns and issues in relation to their case management (from having difficulties contacting their case manager to not understanding the rationale for case work decisions that affected their lives); and not having contact with their ‘significant others’, most notably their siblings.

The annual report has also raised a number of other issues, including:

– an increasing number of children and young people caught in both the child protection and youth justice systems (described as having ‘dual status’). Since we began receiving data on the rates of admissions to KTYJC in 2018, the proportion of admissions by those in care has jumped from 30.8% to 39.4%. In 2019-20, more than 28.3% of all individuals admitted to Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre (KTYJC) were also in care at the time of their admission.

– serious systemic gaps and failings that interfere with the detection and prevention of harmful sexual behaviour between children and young people in care

– concerns regarding the ongoing, targeted sexual exploitation of children and young people in care by adults in the community.

For more details about these issues, as well as highlights from our office from the year, you can read the report in full here.

Residential care facilities given much needed makeover to support the safety of young people

DCP is currently rolling out a program to ‘make over’ the bedrooms and shared living areas of children and young people in residential care to make them more ‘homelike’. This is a very welcome initiative, with DCP announcing, as part of their MyPlace program, all DCP residential care properties will be transformed, to make them more therapeutic, culturally supportive and responsive to residents’ needs.

The MyPlace program is working with each child and young person directly to help design and create the overall feel of their house and their own bedrooms, so the rooms reflect their personalities and meet their individual needs.

Young people have consistently told us that a ‘homelike’ environment is a key aspect of feeling safe in residential care. By contrast, the institutional look and feel of many residential care facilities was a common theme in the Guardian’s Final Report of the trial Child and Young Person’s Visiting Program, published earlier this year. The report recommended that facilities should be more homelike and personalised and young people should have input into the process and design of the place in which they live.

Having a space where a child or young person can go to and feel a sense of comfort and ownership – not only because they helped create it but also because it reflects who they are as a person – helps promote their feelings of security and wellbeing.

MyPlace is an excellent initiative, which sees the child or young person involved in the whole process, from helping to prepare an image board so they can gain a visual perspective about how their personal space and shared rooms will look, to contributing to design, creation and installation, including unpacking and assembling flat-pack furniture and placing soft furnishings and items in their room. DCP has advised us that specialised staff also work with the team to ensure the fit-outs meet the needs of children and young people who are Aboriginal or from diverse cultural backgrounds or who have disabilities.

So far, feedback from the young people has been very positive. DCP shared some examples with us from a recently refurbished three-bedroom home in the southern suburbs.

Playroom before make over

Playroom after make over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 12-year-old boy said he would like his bedroom to represent his Aboriginal background. Cultural items were sourced and he chose the final design. A current family photo was arranged for both his bedroom wall and family room wall, creating a home-like feel and connection to family and culture. His reaction was, “This is awesome.”

Bedroom before make over

Bedroom after make over

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An 11-year-old explained she was fond of beluga whales. She was involved in deciding the colours and layout of her room as well as textures and the overall theme. A built-in wardrobe was installed to create more space and storage, and other items like a beluga whale quilt cover, throw blanket, pillows, wall hanging, fairy lights, bean bag, rug, lamp, mirror and collage picture frame all complemented the overall look. Her reaction? “Wow, I absolutely love it, it looks amazing.”

We understand that residential care staff have reported that since being part of the program they have noticed a real change in the dynamics of the houses with many children and young people showing an increased sense of social responsibility and choosing to find enjoyment in more communal spaces.

This process of allowing children and young people to express their unique identities, have more influence over the environment they live in and feel acknowledged and heard, can only benefit their development and sense of safety.  It is this understanding that also informs the Australian Childhood Foundation’s Practice Guide: ‘Creating positive social climates and home-like environments in therapeutic care’.

We will be watching with great interest as this program continues to be rolled out to the remaining DCP residential care properties and look forward to hearing more stories of how being directly involved in the creation of attractive and personalised living spaces contributes to children and young people’s wellbeing.

Podcast highlights the importance of connecting to culture

In recognition of NAIDOC Week last week, CREATE Foundation interviewed Isaiah Dawe, a young Aboriginal man who spent 18 years in care, for their latest Voices in Action podcast – a podcast giving voice to young people in care or with a care experience.

In this inspiring and insightful interview, Isaiah shares his story about life in the care system and the importance of being connected to culture and family. This episode addresses a number of issues faced by Aboriginal children and young people in care, including being disconnected to culture and family and having a lack of wholistic support and mentoring services available.

Isaiah says he didn’t know what it meant to be Aboriginal when he was growing up in care, and it wasn’t until he was 18 and left care that he finally reached out to his extended family.

Isaiah talks about the courage it took to connect with his family and community but as a result he now knows who he is and has a bigger direction in life.

“Once you connect with your Aboriginal culture and your family you will truly fill that void that you have in your heart, it will be filled up with all that love and respect… you’ll be able to feel the healing journey,” Isaiah says.

Isaiah is also the CEO and founder of ID. Know Yourself, an organisation supporting young Aboriginal people with a care experience to connect with their culture. Although ID Know Yourself is currently based in NSW, they are looking to expand to provide support to all Aboriginal children and young people in care across Australia.

Check out the podcast of the interview at CREATE Foundation’s website.

A year of reforms and achievements for young people in detention

Humane and respectful reforms for children and young people detained in SA’s only youth detention centre have been highlighted in the Training Centre Visitor’s latest annual report.

In the 2019-20 year, despite considerable stresses and uncertainty in the wake of COVID-19,  the TCV and staff were working hard to provide ongoing advocacy to make positive changes for the young cohort detained in the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre (KTYJC).

“This has been the biggest year yet for the program and my staff,” Training Centre Visitor, Penny Wright said.

“Three years ago, we set about consulting with young people in the centre, then designing and implementing the Training Centre Visitor Program. Today we acknowledge the mammoth efforts my team have made in advancing the interests and rights of the young people in the centre, assisted by the willingness of the Department for Human Services (DHS) and Youth Justice Executive to respond thoughtfully to the issues we have brought to their attention,” Penny said.

“We acknowledge decisions by DHS Youth Justice and KTYJC management to allow our regular, safe face to face contact with the young people throughout the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in SA. This continued contact ensured that the young detainees had ongoing access to our support in what was an extremely difficult time for everyone.”

Here is a snapshot of the TCV annual report.

Overview of children and young people detained

The graphs below indicate the number of individual children and young people admitted to the KTYJC (graph 1) and the number of admissions in total (graph 2).

Highlights of the year

– Use of spit hoods prohibited

– End of (almost all) semi-naked searches

– Greater privacy in bedrooms and toilets

– Respectful access to sanitary products for girls and young women

First formal inspection of the centre carried out, obtaining the voices of the children and young people, and examining whether their rights and needs are being met.

Concerns raised

– Need for more supportive rehabilitation and care that is trauma focussed

– Lack of legal powers under legislation for the TCV to provide oversight and advocacy for children and young people who are outside KTYJC but still detained within the criminal justice system (ie in transit to court or in hospital)

– Increasing number of children and young people under a guardianship order of the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection who end up in detention

– Increasing number of girls and young women being detained

– Cultural needs of Aboriginal children and young people continue to be a high priority

– High numbers of children between the ages of 10-14 admitted to the centre.

You can download the report in full here.

 

 

Nunga Oog is taking shape

The long-awaited safety symbol for Aboriginal children and young people in care, Nunga Oog, is taking shape after our face to face workshops kicked off earlier this month.

A group of Aboriginal children and young people joined artist Sasha Houthuysen during the October school holidays to start designing what Nunga Oog could look like. These sessions came on the back of art boxes we sent to selected residential care facilities in July to invite young people to come up with some initial designs.

After the delay in workshops due to COVID-19, it was great to be able to sit down with the young people and see and hear their ideas in person. They told us that:

Nunga Oog should…

– look different to Oog

– have some black on it

– have the Aboriginal flag on its belly

– have colours of the Aboriginal flag

– be cuddly

– be gender free

– not be so round

– have big ears to listen to children and young people

– tell a story of safety by using symbols

– be brown with symbols and dot work (journey lines).

The workshops also provided opportunities for the children and young people to take away some new-found art skills and learn about Aboriginal symbols and how they can tell stories using these symbols. The young people were keen for us to share their designs with you.

And after the second workshop, the draft outline of Nunga Oog began to take shape…

Workshops will be continuing in the January school holidays to help design Nunga Oog, with sessions being planned across the state in collaboration with Aboriginal artists. If you know an Aboriginal child or young person in care who would like to get involved, please register their interest by emailing Leila at leila.plush@sa.gov.au or Conrad at conrad.morris@sa.gov.au by Friday 13 November.

Launch of our new logos

We are excited to launch our new logos and branding which were inspired by two young people in care/detention.

The Guardian for Children and Young People and the Training Centre Visitor now have their own individual logos. Moving away from the Government of South Australia logo, we wanted to create a brand that young people could connect with, using bright images that tell their story about their relationship with our office.

So how were the logos designed?

You may remember earlier this year we ran an art competition for children and young people in care to help design the logo for the Guardian for Children and Young People. Our office voted on the entries, with the winning artwork given to a designer to create the final logo.

                               
The young person who inspired the logo said she designed this logo because “anywhere you are there will always be an adult to care for all young people. It doesn’t matter who you are we should all have a place to live and be treated fairly”.

The Training Centre Visitor (TCV) logo was inspired by art workshops that we held in the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre in June with the help of Aboriginal artist and youth mentor Shane Cook. The artworks were used to develop a larger art piece to promote the Charter of Rights for youths detained in detention centres as well as the TCV logo. The Aboriginal artwork in the TCV logo represents a journey path.

 

             
Both the logos have a strong Aboriginal theme due to the overwhelming representation of Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention. We wanted them to know our office and our advocates provide a safe place for them where their culture is respected, and their voices are heard.

Penny Wright, Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor said she was grateful to the young people who inspired the logos.

“The voice of children and young people is at the forefront of everything we do so I’m very happy that our logos were inspired by them as that really reflects the values of our office. I hope the young people who inspired the logos feel proud of their contribution,” Penny said.

And although we have a new look, Oog will still be part of our family and we look forward to meeting Nunga Oog in the near future.

We are also working on developing a new website, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

Safeguarding children in care and detention with disability

Last month our office provided feedback on SA’s Safeguarding Taskforce Report – a report that examined and outlined gaps in the oversight and safeguarding for people living with disability. This is a summary of our feedback in relation to our role as an oversight body for children and young people in care and/or detention with disability.

It is estimated that approximately one third of children and young people in care have disability, and a recent study of the residents at Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre indicated that nine out of ten residents assessed had disability or disability-related needs. However, the full extent of these numbers is unknown.

There are currently serious limitations on the ability of the Guardian for Children and Young People and the Training Centre Visitor to oversee the circumstances of these vulnerable young people due to staffing constraints and a shortage of necessary, relevant information. As a result, we generally rely on the children and young people contacting our office to tell us what is happening for them. This excludes those children in care who are too young to contact us or who have communication or other disabilities that impede their ability to seek assistance.

During the two-year pilot program of the Child and Young Person’s Visitor program, which concluded in September 2019 and is currently unfunded, OGCYP staff became aware of the significant number of young people with disability who live in residential care. Historically, this cohort’s issues have been predominant in our individual advocacy work and have indicated that the residential care system gives rise to unacceptable amounts of harm and distress to those living in that environment. We do not have accurate data about how many children and young people with disabilities live in residential care, or where they are placed. Nor do we know the nature of disabilities experienced by these young people and what care and support they are receiving.

From our advocacy and monitoring work, we do know that children and young people living in residential care are at risk of harm when poor ‘matching’ of co-residents occurs.  A child with disability, for instance, may be particularly vulnerable to influence or coercion if placed with another child or children who exhibit harmful sexual or physical behaviours. Poor, or no, placement matching results in cases of injury and sexual harm and this is exacerbated if there are not sufficient staff to mitigate the risk. Without an adequate capacity to visit facilities and oversee these issues, there is a considerable risk that many of these incidents remain hidden from view.

The Training Centre Visitor and staff are aware of significant concerns relating to the adequate care, treatment and control of children and young people with disabilities in the youth justice centre – particularly when behaviours that are considered a threat to security within a detention environment are actually disability-related.  However, it is also heartening to see the recent development of Youth Justice Assessment and Intervention Services and their work to address some of these concerns.

Finally, it is notable that both DHS and DCP staff are often not yet adequately equipped to navigate complex NDIS or other disability systems on behalf of those in their care. This can then result in already socially isolated and institutionalised children and young people leaving the care and/or youth justice systems with little support and limited capacity to navigate adult life.

Our feedback highlighted the need and importance of our office being able to effectively provide oversight and safeguarding measures to lower the real and identifiable risks faced by this vulnerable cohort. With so much stacked up against them, they need to know the adults looking after them are committed to ensuring their individual needs are being met, including their disability needs, so they can thrive in all aspects of their lives.

You can read our full feedback submission here.

Introducing our two new advocates

We are excited to welcome two new advocates to the Guardian for Children and Young People’s advocacy team.

Anneline Gregory has joined our team on a full-time basis for the next 12 months after recently relocating from the UK. Anneline brings 20 years’ experience as a qualified social worker, with a focus on child protection, out of home care and as a children’s guardian in the UK court system.

Joel Georgeson will be working with us part time until the end of the year. Joel brings valuable experience as a teacher and a senior child and youth practitioner within residential care for the Department for Child Protection.

We sat down with our new advocates to find out more about them…

Anneline Gregory

What inspires you to work with children and young people in care?
I feel privileged to work with children and young people in care as I think they are some of the bravest children and young people that I have met.  The opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child or young person who has already been through so much, is something that keeps me going.  To see those children or young people thrive, knowing what they have been through, fills me with joy and admiration for each of them.

How does advocacy/support for young people in care work in the UK?
As soon as a child is placed in care and then every 3-6 months thereafter their needs are monitored through statutory reviews.  The child’s foster carer and case worker advocate on the child’s behalf but the child also has an allocated independent reviewing officer who chairs the review meetings and who would also challenge DCP if tasks on the care plan were outstanding or not in the child’s best interest.  The child will have an opportunity to express their wishes and feelings before and during the review and it is a requirement that these are clearly recorded.

In the UK, the majority of children in out of home care are in foster care placements rather than residential care.  Residential care is only really used for children with complex needs whose needs could not safely be met in a foster placement.

What are three words that best describe you?
Kind, organised and creative.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I love spending time with my family.  Our happy place is at the beach.  Watching the waves roll in, the sun shining, having a little swim, it doesn’t get much better than that.  We also enjoy camping, being outdoors, travelling and discovering new places.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?​ 
‘There is always something to laugh about’. For me, the advice is about maintaining a positive mental attitude and looking for the funny or the positive side of a difficult situation, rather than to allow it to get you down.

Joel Georgeson

What inspires you to work with children and young people in care?
The little moments where I’ve been able to help them achieve their goals, bring joy to their lives and see them experience something new for the first time.

You have worked as a senior youth practitioner in residential care for 5 years What was your biggest learning about the rights and needs of children and young people in care?
The most important thing I learnt is that children and young people deserve a team of people around them who genuinely have their best interests at the centre of all decisions, who will listen and truly understand them. All children and young people have their own amazing personalities and they need people who will listen to them and fight for them and their needs.

How do you think your experience in that role could benefit your new role as an advocate?
I believe my previous role has equipped me with the experience and skills to build trusting relationships with the children and young people who I will be advocating for. It has also provided me with an in-depth understanding of the needs and issues facing young people living in care and how to best support them.

What are three words that best describe you?
Positive, energetic and compassionate.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
When I’m not at work I love to spend time with my wife and three pets, I’m also an avid reader and enjoy finding a comfy spot and losing a few hours in a book.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?​
Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.

Free therapeutic counselling available

A free therapeutic counselling support is available now for people engaging with, or affected by, the Disability Royal Commission. This includes children and young people in care who have disability and have experienced trauma.

Relationships Australia South Australia (RASA) have received funding until 2022 from the Australian Government to provide counselling for people who have a disability (physical, psycho-social, intellectual, or learning) and who have experienced trauma as a result of violence, abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

This service is also open to people who are supporting those affected, such as parents, foster and kinship carers, support workers, siblings, and social workers. The child or support person does not have to be directly engaged with the Royal Commission but may be affected by the Royal Commission.

RASA Counsellor Zoë Dalton said this program addresses a gap in services for children and young people in care, with the services of highly experienced counsellors.

“Essentially, there are gaps in trauma-informed counselling for all people with disabilities. This gap has been particularly noted around the supports and care for children in care, residential care and detention. There just does not appear to be a therapeutic service that wraps around their needs from a disability perspective that is openly available, which is why this service has been established.” Zoë said.

“I have observed a lack of therapeutic support for people working with young people in care with a disability. This can have a flow on effect to the wellbeing and care provided to the young person. Our trauma and disability-informed counsellors can address this area too.”

There are currently five counsellors with capacity to see clients immediately, with no waitlists or delays. Counselling sessions are available at the RASA office in Hindmarsh or at a person’s home, school, or workplace. Sessions are also available via phone and video calls.

To make an appointment call RASA on 1800 577 571 or email drccounselling@rasa.org.au or for more information visit the service page here. You can also find out more about the service and support groups through RASA’s Facebook and Twitter.

We want your feedback on the draft revised Charter of Rights

For the last few months our office has been working with children and young people on revising the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care, and now we want your feedback.

Every five years we are required to review the charter to make sure it is still relevant and reflects what young people in care want and need today. As part of this year’s review nearly 100 children and young people who are in care or who have a care experience told us what is important to them and what they thought their rights should be while in care. They shared their voices through participating in workshops, online surveys, worksheets and activity books.

With the voices of these young people at the centre, the Charter of Rights working group (which included two care leavers) set about collating the responses and drafting a set of rights that reflected what the young cohort said. Based on their feedback, the revised charter has a strong emphasis on being safe, the right to be heard, being respected as an individual, and of connecting to and being part of culture.

The next step in the review process is to get feedback from you – the adults, carers and workers who care for this young cohort. We want to know if you think these new rights reflect the needs and concerns of the children and young people that you work with and care for every day. Remember these rights are for the young people themselves so they should reflect their voices and what they consider to be important.

How to share your feedback

To have your say, read the revised charter and email your feedback to Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au by COB on Wednesday 30 September.

What next?

Once we have your feedback, we will be sharing the final version of the revised charter to a group of children and young people for endorsement during the October school holidays. The updated charter is expected to be legislated in Parliament early next year, with the roll out to begin soon after.

On behalf of our office and the working group we would like to send a big heartfelt thanks to the people who helped facilitate the activities that enabled children and young people to have their say, and to the young people themselves who were willing to share their thoughts and feelings openly about their rights in care.