Young author calls for better mental health training for foster and kinship carers

As we celebrate Foster and Kinship Carer Week, a young woman who has written a book about her foster care experience is calling for carers to receive better trauma and mental health training.

For more than nine years Felicity Graham moved around in the foster care system, looking for a foster home she could call her last, with a family who would accept her for who she is. When she found the one, she finally felt a sense of belonging and knew she was loved and cared for. But when her mental health deteriorated after a year, her carers were not equipped to deal with and provide her with the necessary support and so the placement came to an end.

“During my time with my last foster family, I felt safe enough to let my guard down and express my thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, my family didn’t know how to cope with my mental health and behaviours as a result of this and sadly I had to leave,” Felicity said.

Upon leaving the placement at the age of 16, Felicity decided to write a book to help her process her experiences and to help other young people in foster care know they are not alone.

Not Held Down is my story of life in foster care. It is about letting other kids in care know there are other people experiencing the same thing they are. Often kids in care feel silenced and have no place to turn to. My book aims to help them find their voice, to teach them there are people out there who are willing to listen.”

Felicity’s story also tackles the challenges within the foster care system and what she thinks could make it better.

“The system needs to change,” Felicity said. “It is evident carers need more training and 24/7 support to cope and manage trauma and mental health. They need to understand the trauma many young people have experienced prior to entering their home and how this affects the young person’s life, especially their mental health.”

“We already know there are not enough foster carers for all the kids out there needing a home so this too needs to change. It would also be great if more social workers were available to better support young people in care – just knowing someone is available for us any time we need them would make a world of difference.”

“I don’t need to save the world, but if I can be an advocate for change and help at least one person in care then I will be happy,” Felicity said.

Felicity is looking to finish high school next year and wants to complete further studies to become a youth or social worker. She also aspires to have her book made into a movie, ideally featuring Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock).

Felicity is available to speak to young people, carers and foster care agencies and providers about her story. You can contact her via her website or Facebook.

Not Held Down can be purchased through Amazon or Book Depository.

 

Putting children first this week, and always

By Guardian Penny Wright

‘Putting children first’ is the theme of this year’s Child Protection Week. It is an important principle – but one that can be challenging to achieve. In many ways this is the very reason the Office of the Guardian was established in 2005, after the Layton Review of the Child Protection System.  The review found that children in care were the most vulnerable in South Australia and recommended the Guardian role, to articulate and safeguard their rights. It was a means of putting them first within a large and complex system.

There are now more than 4,000 children and young people living away from their birth families in the child protection system in South Australia. Every day my staff and I witness how difficult it is for those managing these demands to put individual children first, ahead of acute system pressures, however good their intentions. The role for my office has never been more crucial – to stand beside each child or young person who needs our support, one among many, and insist that their individual needs and best interests are respected and met.

Some of the most vulnerable of these children are living in residential care. Prior experiences and their lives within the care system will often mean they have experienced significant trauma, with long lasting effects on their emotional wellbeing and sometimes their behaviour. Responding compassionately and effectively to their needs and behaviours has long been a challenge for the systems in which they find themselves. Too often, in the absence of more effective interventions and therapeutic options, the child protection system responds by invoking another system – the justice system – leading to the police, courts and detention. There are very few effective interventions or therapeutic services in that system either.

In 2016, the Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland recommended that children who were considered to be at risk of harm – to themselves and others – should be sent to a secure therapeutic care facility where they would be detained while undergoing treatment for their behaviours.

Forcibly detaining children and young people for treatment or therapeutic care, although they have not committed an offence, might seem an attractive way to deal with their complex behaviours, especially if they habitually leave the place they are living and end up in trouble or are at risk.

But recently, consistent with previous advice from the (then) Guardian, in 2008, my team and I have advised the government against taking up this recommendation. Providing therapies and support for trauma is essential but detention is a drastic step, especially as research indicates that those affected usually have a history of high levels of mental health and social needs that have not been met.

Evidence of the effectiveness of secure therapeutic care is modest and depends on the quality of therapeutic input, the skill levels of carers and effective follow-up support services. In fact, these are the same factors that lead to the best outcomes for children and young people in care, generally – both residential and family-based.

There is already a widely acknowledged lack of sufficient support and therapeutic services for children and young people who need them, especially in residential care. There is a strong risk that secure therapeutic care would just mask this shortage and see children with troubled behaviours, often arising from their care environment, placed in a locked facility to manage a problem for the system. Instead, my office advised that all residential care should have a properly resourced therapeutic approach and that improved intensive therapeutic services should be available for all those children who need them.

Thankfully, the state government recently rejected the Nyland recommendation, a decision I support. In place of the secure care model, the government has committed to roll out a new program called the “Sanctuary Model” to provide therapeutic care across all residential care facilities. This includes providing Department for Child Protection staff at least two days of training, with a select group receiving more extensive training and development to support their colleagues. Training will also incorporate how to respond to the specific needs of Aboriginal children.

What comes next, including how successful this model will be and how the model will be evaluated, will depend on many factors, including its ongoing implementation and proper resourcing.

Twelve years since the Guardian’s first advice about this issue, a more therapeutic approach is long overdue. My team and I will wait with anticipation and hope that this new model will put children first and provide long lasting benefits for the safety and wellbeing of those who live in residential care.

Acknowledging great practice

Working in out-of-home care is challenging. We know so many of you are working hard every day to care for and support children and young people in care.

Whether you are working for the Department for Child Protection, non-government organisations or are caring for a child in your own home, we all play an important role in making a positive difference to the lives of children and young people in care.

From time to time, we hear some wonderful stories about people who go ‘above and beyond’ in their work to ensure children in care are safe, nurtured and helped to reach their full potential. These workers are strongly committed to meeting children’s care and wellbeing needs, converting into practice the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care.

Here are just a few of the excellent practices we have come across in the last few months.

  • A worker in residential care adapted how they presented at work, to help provide consistency to a young person in their placement. The worker adjusted their own lifestyle while working with the young person by wearing the same five outfits while at work, doing their hair and makeup the same way and even eating the same things at the same time! This had a stabilising effect on the young person, resulting in positive behavioural change and reduced times the young person went missing from their placement.
  • A case worker maintained frequent contact (weekly, and sometimes even several times a week) with a young person’s school, therapists, carers and mentor to ensure they were all on the same page regarding the care and case direction of the young person. The worker also contacted the young person at least every two weeks to ensure they knew what was going on and were given the opportunity to make decisions about their life.
  • A school support worker acted as a great Charter Champion, talking to a young person about their rights as a child in care and how the role of our office could help. The worker supported the young person to make a list of thoughts and worries relating to a number of their rights (including contact with siblings, understanding their circumstances, regular contact with their worker, and space and privacy at placement). With the worker’s help, the young person was able to reach out to our office for assistance.

If you know someone who is going ‘above and beyond’ in their work to support the rights of children and young people in care, please let us know so we can acknowledge their good practice and share their story.

The deadly dreamtime story

Creating art was a popular activity during SA’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially for many of the children and young people living in residential care.

We talked to several of the children and young people about how life has been for them during COVID-19. Many told us they used drawing, telling stories and other creative forms to express their thoughts and feelings during this unprecedented time.

An 11-year-old Aboriginal young person living in an Aboriginal Family Support Services (AFSS) residential care facility was keen to share their dreamtime story with us, along with their artwork, that they created during the peak of the restrictions. It is a privilege we can share this with you.

The deadly dreamtime story

One day there was a mob and they got stuck on a land, because of the white people. While they were on the land they hunted in the afternoon so they could get back in time to produce the food for their family. Their favourite things to do were hunting and looking for different kinds of rocks. They liked hunting for animals to shred the animal skin and use it as clothing. They loved making boomerangs, spears, drums and didgeridoos.

If Aboriginal people get in trouble they get punished. If you’re a human and you get in trouble you can get turned into an animal and if you get in trouble when you’re an animal you turn into an object.

Aboriginal people have strict rules and commands to follow. If they disobey these commands and rules harsh punishments will occur.

They love planting things like seeds, nuts, roots and tubers.

 

Do you have a child or young person in your care who would like to share their artwork with us? Email us at gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au.

 

Routine semi-naked searches to cease at youth justice centre

black ink hand

Last Friday marked a significant milestone for the dignity of children and young people in SA’s youth justice centre with the commencement of the use of full body scanners and the end of routine semi-naked searches.

Over the last two years our office has worked hard to advocate for the end of semi-naked searches, including the controversial use of ‘squat and cough’. These searches were routinely used when a child or young person was admitted to the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre, was returning from court or hospital, after visits from their family and friends, or were suspected of being in possession of an illegal or banned item.

The new scanners will be able to detect a broader range of banned items than previous devices and will limit the use of semi-naked searches to be used only as a last resort, bringing SA’s practices in line with other states and territories.

In our latest report, Great Responsibility: Report on the 2019 Pilot Inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre), data shows that over a 12-month period, approximately 1087 semi-naked searches were conducted, which is an average of three per day. This practice is especially culturally inappropriate for Initiated Aboriginal men.

“As Training Centre Visitor, my staff and I have been working hard to see the use of this humiliating and undignified search method reduced, or abolished,” Penny Wright, Training Centre Visitor and Guardian for Children and Young People said.

“This really is a huge win for the rights and dignity of children and young people detained at Kurlana Tapa,” Penny said.

A young person in detention told us this week it was ‘good news’ semi-naked searches would no longer be routinely undertaken. Some staff also said the new scanners were a positive step in the treatment of the young people. We hope to get more feedback from young people over time as they experience the new technology.

We congratulate the Department of Human Services for introducing the scanners to the justice centre and for having the safety and dignity of the children and young people at the forefront when reviewing the centre’s practices.

Reminder to return Charter of Rights review feedback by next Monday

Thanks to all the children and young people who have been involved in the Charter of Rights review! It has been great to see so many young people having a say about their rights in care.

If you registered children and young people to participate in one of our review activities and have not yet sent their comments and feedback back to us, please remember to do so by next Monday.

Please send feedback using the reply-paid envelopes we sent out with the activity packs. Alternatively you can take photos of the completed activities and email these to Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au.

It’s not too late to have a say!

If you know someone in care who hasn’t had a chance to have their say, we encourage you to get them to participate in our online survey. For children under 16 we do recommend that a carer/worker works with them to complete this.

Take the online survey.

What happens next?

Once we have collected all the feedback from participants, our office will develop the new Charter of Rights. We will be seeking your feedback on the revised Charter in a few months’ time, so stay tuned.

If you have any questions about the review contact Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au.

And remember, all feedback needs to be back to us by Monday 10 August 2020.

Meet our university interns

We are fortunate enough to welcome two passionate university students who will be supporting our team while gaining practical experience in their specialised fields.

Let’s get to know them!

Meet Nirvana

Nirvana is currently studying social work and will be supporting the Training Centre Visitor Unit until later this year. Nirvana will be participating in all aspects of the program, including visiting children and young people in the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre (KTYJC) – be sure to say hi to her if you see her in the centre.

What degree are you doing?

I’m in my first year of Master of Social Work at Southern Cross University. My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Psychological Science.

Why did you want to get into social work?

It has always been my goal to study psychology so when I decided to go to uni I never really looked into any other courses. But about halfway through my undergrad I realised psychology wasn’t for me. I found that the kind of work I wanted to do was more in line with social work. I am glad I studied psychology as I learnt a lot about research, critical thinking, and human development but I really feel a stronger connection to social work and its individual and person-centred approach.

Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work for Skylight Mental Health. I’m a support worker and my role involves supporting people in various ways, such as: 1:1 support, group programs and NDIS applications. I really love my job. I enjoy working with a diverse range of people and that every day is different.

What are you looking forward to the most during your placement with our office?

I’m most looking forward to meeting and hearing the voices and experiences of the children and young people at KTYJC when I go on a visit with the team. I acknowledge what a huge privilege it is to be involved in this aspect of what the TCVU does. I’m also really excited to be able to work and interact with everyone in the office as everyone has so much experience and knowledge that I will be able to take in and learn from.

What are three words that best describe you?

I decided to ask my partner and best friend what 3 words they would use to describe me and they said: ‘authentic, strong and compassionate’.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work/studying/doing placement?

When I’m not working or studying I like to do hot yoga and pilates, going hiking or getting outdoors with my partner, spending time with our cat Marshall and watching Netflix.

Meet Mikeyli

Mikeyli is in her final year of studying law. Mikeyli will spend the next few months working on a project researching the rights of children and young people in care and the most effective legal mechanisms for supporting those.​

“My name is Mikeyli and I am studying a Bachelor of Law and Arts at the University of Adelaide. I am currently in my 4th year and in my final semester of my Arts degree, with a major in politics.

I am an Arrernte woman from Alice Springs, NT and have lived in Adelaide for the past five years for my degree. I have a passion for social justice, human rights and Indigenous issues. Once I graduate, my goal is to practise law and return to my community.”

 

 

Plus, we need a new advocate

We’re looking for an experienced advocate who can help us support the rights and wellbeing of children and young people in state care across South Australia. For more information and a copy of the job description visit the I Work for SA website. Applications close at 5pm this Thursday (30 July).

 

Young people in detention speak out in inaugural inspection report

‘Phase 2’ artwork by young person during the inspection.

The children and young people in South Australia’s youth detention centre have spoken. Bullying, dignity, respect and the need for more cultural programs are some of the topics raised in our just released inspection report: Great Responsibility: Report on the 2019 Pilot Inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (now known as the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre).

The report is the outcome of our first official inspection of the training centre, conducted in November last year. It represents the culmination of two years of hard work from our team in setting up the Training Centre Visitor program.

The voices of young people and the centre’s staff make for an honest account of life in the centre and are explored in detail in the report.

Our findings delve into whether the rights of the detained children and young people are being met and to what extent the centre’s environment contributes to its objectives of rehabilitation and reintegration of these young people back into the community.

The report contains 10 wide-ranging recommendations on how the centre can better provide for the needs of the young people, including a review as to whether there is an appropriate balance between a model based on security and correction on one hand and one that supports rehabilitation and reintegration on the other.

We give our heartfelt thanks to everyone who was involved in the inspection, specifically to the children and young people and staff who shared their personal experiences about what life in the centre is really like.

You can view the report in full.

We have also produced a child-friendly poster and brochure that offers a summary of what the young people told us and the recommendations we made in the report.

The makings of Nunga Oog

Packing up art boxes to inspire what Nunga Oog will look like.

We are excited to announce the much loved Oog is getting a friend!

Just like Oog, who is the safety symbol for children and young people in care, we think the Aboriginal children and young people need their own safety symbol.

With more than one third of children and young people in the care system who are Aboriginal, it is vitally important to create a safety symbol that represents their own imagery and aesthetics to help connect this young cohort with their culture.

We have set up a project working group to collaborate with Aboriginal children and young people, the community and service providers across South Australia to help create Nunga Oog, who we know will be equally important and loved as the original Oog.

Part of the project is about having Aboriginal children and young people design what they think Nunga Oog could look like. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, our plan to facilitate art workshops was put on hold. But with life returning to a new kind of normal, the working group is keen to get young people thinking about the design of Nunga Oog.

To kick things off, we have put together a number of boxes filled with art materials to enable children and young people to create their version of Nunga Oog at home. These art boxes were sent to a group of residential care facilities this week, just in time for the school holidays.

If your residential care facility received a box of art materials, please encourage the children and young people to get involved. All designs need to be submitted to us by 30 August 2020.

For those of you who have Aboriginal children and young people in your care and did not receive a box of art materials, stay tuned for more opportunities to help us design what Nunga Oog will look like!

Latest data shows unacceptable trend continues for young people at school

Despite children and young people in care making up just over 1% of the overall government school population, these students consistently register higher absence rates, significantly lower NAPLAN participation rates, and are more likely to have a learning disability than the overall government school population.

In the latest of our annual education reports, we delved into the data for 2018-2019 to analyse the numbers of children and young people in care who attend government schools, looking at their attendance as well as their performance in literacy and numeracy, as tested by NAPLAN. (It is important to note this data is not currently available for the children and young people in care who attend Independent or Catholic schools.)

Here is a snapshot from the Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2009-2019 report.

Profile of students in care

  • 58.6% of all students in care were enrolled in government schools. The other 41.4% may attend in the non-government school system, or are below school-age, and a small number are non-identifiable for other reasons.
  • Of the 2,223 students enrolled in government schools in 2019 –
    • 1,083 were female (48.7%) and 1,140 male (51.3%)
    • 1,418 were enrolled in primary school (63.8%) and 805 were enrolled in secondary school (36.2%)
    • 865 were enrolled in country schools (38.9%) and 1,418 were enrolled in metropolitan schools (61.1%).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students


(Proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care compared with all Aboriginal students enrolled in Department for Education schools 2009 to 2019)

 

 

 

 

  • In 2019, 35.9% of children and young people in care in government schools identified as Aboriginal, compared to Aboriginal students comprising 6.6% of all government students. This reflects the vast over-representation of Aboriginal children in the care system.
  • There are lower rates of school absence for Aboriginal students in care compared to the overall population of Aboriginal students attending government schools.

Students with disabilities 

 

(Proportion of children and young people in care with a disability compared with all students with a disability enrolled in Department for Education schools, 2009-2019)

 

 

 

  • A greater proportion of all children and young people in care have learning disabilities compared to the overall government school student population, notably in speech and language skills.
  • The proportion of children and young people in care with an intellectual disability is over eight and a half times, and those with complex social/emotional/behavioural needs are nine times higher than the overall government school student population.

Suspensions and exclusions

 

(Rate of suspensions, children and young people in care compared with Department for Education school population, 2009-2019 (Term 2))

 

 

 

  • Children and young people in care enrolled in government schools are over four times more likely to be suspended and eight times more likely to be excluded than the broader government school student cohort. But it is pleasing to see that the suspension numbers have been decreasing since 2017

Literacy and numeracy

 

(Rate of participation in NAPLAN testing, percentage of children and young people in care (of those enrolled in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9) in Department for Education schools, 2019)

 

 

 

 

 

  • Data consistently demonstrates that children and young people in care who are in government schools achieve poorer outcomes on average in relation to performing at or above the NAPLAN National Minimum Standard.
  • There are very high NAPLAN non-participation rates for students in care in government schools. As a result we know very little about the proficiency of half of all Year 9 students and approximately one-quarter of Years 3, 5 students and 7 students in care enrolled in government schools in 2019.
  • Absence, withdrawal, and exemption rates for NAPLAN testing for children and young people in care attending government schools are higher in every year level and testing category than the broader South Australian school cohort. We do not know why the withdrawal rate is so high or the reasons for the withdrawals.

Download the report in full.

Read the Guardian’s comments about this report in InDaily.