Review of rights of young people in care is set to begin

We are excited to announce we will be embarking on a project next month to review the rights of children and young people in care. Every child has rights but children who can’t live with their birth parents are entitled to a special set of rights to ensure their safety, health and wellbeing.

In 2006 our office worked with some children and young people in care – or with a care experience – and relevant stakeholders to develop this special set of rights, outlining what a child in care deserves and needs to live a safe and happy life. And so, the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care was born.

The Charter was tabled in parliament in 2010, with the requirement that every organisation and person who works with children and young people in care applies these rights to their everyday practice and dealings with these young people. The Charter is reviewed every five years to ensure the rights are still as important and relevant to this young cohort today.

Over the next few months we will be asking anyone who is interested, including people who have previously been under guardianship or in care, children and young people who are currently in care and others who have an interest, about their thoughts on the existing Charter.

This will be an opportunity to share any new ideas and thoughts you may have to reflect the rights of young people currently in care. There will be many ways you can have your say so stay tuned to our weekly blogs.

If you would like to receive updates about the review and be part of the project, we would welcome your interest and you can email Mardy McDonald at [email protected]. 

We look forward to working with you all to help shape a brighter life and future for these young people.

Aboriginal children and young people continue to be over-represented in care and detention

The proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care in South Australia has worsened in the last five years, with Aboriginal children and young people now making up 34.2% of all children in care.

Data from the 2020 Report on Government Services shows that this cohort continues to be drawn into the child protection system at an alarming rate. Worse still, many of these young people are likely to remain in care for extended periods of time, and only 62% are living with someone from their family, community or cultural background.

When it comes to youth detention, the over-representation is even worse.  In 2018-19, Aboriginal children and young people made up a daily average of 60.7% of all young people in detention in SA, despite Aboriginal children being detained at their lowest rate since 2014-15. (While the rate of detention of Aboriginal children fell, the detention rate for non-Aboriginal children declined even further.)

Every year the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor takes a ‘snapshot’ of the data from the Report on Government Services to see how it relates to South Australian Aboriginal children and young people in care and/or detention.

Four aspects of the data are particularly noteworthy.

Aboriginal children and young people are still seriously over-represented

  • Despite Aboriginal children and young people making up only 5% of the state’s total population of children and young people, they make up more than a third, 34.2%, of children and young people in care services (as at 30 June 2019).
  • Over four years (2014-15 and 2018-19) the rate of Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds in care services (per 1,000 children in the SA population) increased from 49 to 76.7%. This compares with an increase from 5.6 to 7.4% for non-Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds.
  • 5% of Aboriginal children who are in care have been so for five or more years.

How do Aboriginal children’s placements reflect the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle? 

  • At 30 June 2019, only 62.7% of eligible children (854 of a possible 1,363) were placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.
  • Over the last 10 years, there has been a decline in the proportion of Aboriginal children and young people placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, in out-of-home care in both South Australia, and nationally.

Aboriginal children and young people in residential care

  • At 30 June 2019, 208 Aboriginal children and young people were living in residential care, making up 36.6% of all the children living in that care type. This was higher than the proportion of Aboriginal children living in care services overall (34.2%), meaning that Aboriginal children and young people are more likely to be placed in residential care than non-Aboriginal children.

Aboriginal children and young people in detention

  • 7% of the average daily population in detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre were Aboriginal
  • Aboriginal children and young people are 32 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children and young people in South Australia
  • South Australia spent less, on average, per child aged 10 to 17 years in the SA population, on detention-based youth justice services compared with the national average.
  • The number of Aboriginal 10 to 17 year olds in detention in South Australia during 2018-19 declined to its lowest rate in four years and was lower than the Australian average for the first time since 2014-15.

You can read our full report here.

If you missed our review of SA’s government spending on child protection services, check out our previous blog post.

Story time with Penny Wright

For all the carers out there – in this time of COVID-19 – maybe you’ve been home with little people and you’ve read the same book five times in a row…?

So why not let someone else do the reading?!

Join Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright, as she reads her favourite book: “Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy”!

(And you can hit ‘replay’ as often as you like without uttering a word 😉)

SA the second biggest spender on child protection services

Data from the latest Report on Government Services 2020 which looks at how Australian governments are spending their money, shows that SA spends more on child protection services per child than all other states except the Northern Territory. In fact, in 2018-19, SA’s expenditure on child protection services was 25.1% higher than the national average.

We looked at how SA spends the money, this is what we found:

SA spends more on care services than intervention and family support

  • 6 per cent of all SA’s child protection services expenditure in 2018-19 was committed to care services* rather than intervention and family support services.
  • The national average on family support services per child was 10% higher than the South Australian average, despite SA increasing its expenditure for these services 168% since 2014-15.
  • It is important to note that these intervention and family support services include services managed by the Department for Human Services as well as the Department for Child Protection.

SA spends 87% more on care services per child than in 2014-15

  • SA’s expenditure on care services per child aged 0-17 has increased by 87% from $643.9 per child in 2014-15, to $1,204.4 per child in 2018-19

SA relies on residential care more than any other state/territory

  • South Australia also uses residential care^ at a higher rate than any other Australian jurisdiction, with just over 60% of total expenditure being spent on residential care.
  • SA children living in residential care make up 14.9% (including those in independent living) of children in care, which has decreased since 2018.

Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in care services

  • Once again, Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in care services. At 30 June 2019, 34.2% of children in care services placements were Aboriginal (1363 of 3988), and they comprised 37% of all children and young people in residential care (208 of a total of 568). This will be explored in more detail in a forthcoming companion paper which we will release next month.

You can read our full analysis of SA’s child protection expenditure here.

* Care services refers to the provision of out-of-home care services and other supported placement
^ The term ‘residential care’ in the ROGS report now includes all children in independent living placements as well as residential care and commercial care.

Happy SA Youth Week

Happy SA Youth Week! While this year’s Youth Week might look a little different, we are still celebrating the amazing contribution that young people make to our lives and community.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, we have been reflecting on how social distancing and self-isolation have made us think differently about how we live our lives, from how we spend our time, to how we stay connected to our friends and family. Our team has certainly become more creative in keeping in touch with people and how we spend our weekends!

So this Youth Week, we want to hear from the young people in your care about how they dealing with these tricky times.

We ask you to take a few minutes out of your day to have a chat to the young people in your care to talk about the positives changes and challenges they are facing. Maybe they love wearing their pjs all day or maybe they’re really missing catching up with their loved ones, or for those living in residential care who will soon turn 18, perhaps they are concerned about what this means for them in the current environment.

Here are some questions you could ask:

  • What is your favourite thing about being at home?
  • What do you like least about being at home?
  • How are you staying connected to family and friends?
  • Have you learned something new (maybe a new hobby)?
  • What worries you the most during this time?
  • What is the one thing you wish you could do right now?

Share the voices of the young people via Facebook or email us at [email protected]. (Please supply the child’s age and type of care they are in, and let us know if they are happy for us to publish their thoughts on our Facebook page and website.)

Together we can make sure their voices are heard.

Breaking down communication barriers in youth detention – the real difference “speechies” can make!


Senior Speech Pathologists Melissa Saliba (left) and Larissa Ashton

It is estimated 90% of young people in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) are at risk of having a language difficulty*. A language difficulty is when a person has trouble understanding what is being said to them and is unable to express themselves clearly through their words, sentences and stories. And the effects of such a difficulty can be devastating.

“A person ‘at risk’ of having a language difficulty means if they underwent further detailed assessment, it is quite possible they would be diagnosed as having a language disorder,” according to Senior Speech Pathologist with DHS’s Youth Justice Division, Melissa Saliba.

“When a person cannot communicate and process language well, they can become frustrated, and if they are not supported or their needs are not met, it can result in the downward spiral of disengaging from school and making poor decisions,” Melissa said.

Melissa is one of the speech pathologists working with young people in the youth justice system (including in the AYTC) as part of Youth Justice’s state-wide rehabilitation program. The program aims to give young people access to speech pathologists, psychologists and occupational therapists, to help improve their short- and long-term outcomes.

AYTC Senior Speech Pathologist Larissa Ashton said the biggest problem is that communication difficulties often go undiagnosed.

“A lot of young people don’t know they have a language difficulty and have just ‘survived’. They are also very good at hiding their issues,” Larissa said.

“For others who do know they have difficulties, they often don’t have the necessary supports and opportunities to overcome them. Quite often the first time a young person receives support is once they have been detained at the centre.”

Both Melissa and Larissa have been working alongside the psychologists and occupational therapist who work with the young people, to piece together a young person’s needs and identify what support they need.

“Rather than seeing a young person as misbehaving, we explore the underlining reason for their behaviour and identify what support they might need,” Melissa said.

Once a young person is referred to the speech pathology service, the team then work with the young person, their families, school and other service providers to create an overall picture of what the young person is doing well in, and where they need help.

“Once we have assessed what their communication needs are, we will work with the young person, in the visitor centre, the unit or their classroom, to identify ways to help overcome some of their communication difficulties,” Melissa said. “We aim to work towards a focussed goal – for example, meeting new people.”

“Young people are keen to hear the results of their individual assessment. Knowing they have a language difficulty helps things make sense for them,” Larissa said. “After a session they often ask when we will be back, so our engagement seems to be making an impact.”

The role of the AYTC’s speech pathologists doesn’t just include working with young people. The speech pathology team also works directly with AYTC staff and service providers (both in and outside the centre) who work with the young people, to help them communicate in a way that is accessible and can be understood.

“It can be as simple as adjusting the way they communicate, like by adding more visual context, simplifying their language and checking in with the young person to ask if they understand what is being said,” Melissa said.

Since their time within the centre, both Larissa and Melissa have noticed staff becoming more adept at noticing the signs of language difficulties and have changed the way they communicate with the young people.

In the future, the speech pathology team hopes to review the written policies and consent forms given to residents to ensure they can fully understand their rights and responsibilities while in the centre.

Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions, the speech pathology team – along with AYTC’s other allied health services – is continuing to provide services to the young people via phone. Work is currently underway by the AYTC and the Department for Human Services to obtain the equipment needed to provide these services via video calls.

You can see just what a difference targeted speech pathology made for a particular young person in the NSW youth justice system in this inspiring video.

Identifying communication difficulties

Here are some signs that a young person has communication difficulties:

  • often says “I don’t know” or “I forgot”
  • uses lots of vague words (eg “things” or “stuff”)
  • unable to paraphrase what you have told them
  • cannot follow instructions
  • avoids reading or writing tasks
  • avoids eye contact.

What can you do if you suspect a young person has a communication difficulty?

  • Simplify the language you use when talking to young people – use short sentences, avoid jargon and keep instructions brief
  • Try using images (e.g drawings, pictures, a few written words) when communicating to a young person
  • Check in with the young person to ask if they understand what you have said
  • Seek help from a qualified speech pathologist.

*This 90% figure is based on results from a language screening assessment undertaken as part of the 2019 AYTC screening project to assess the needs of the young people and look at what services they may need.

Making the most of being at home these school holidays

So the school holidays are here, and while we will need to stay at home, there are plenty of ways to have fun and stay connected to our family and friends. It is important that we provide plenty of opportunities for children (especially those in care) to have fun and to just be kids in this stressful time. Staying in touch with family is also important for their mental health and wellbeing.

We have put together a few ideas on what you and the children in your care can do these school holidays: to laugh, connect and enjoy the small things.

The list is endless but here are a few of our favourites:

  • Ensure the child stays connected to their family and friends as much as possible by regular phone calls or video chats.
  • If a child is a clubCREATE member they could win a cool prize pack for sharing what they have been doing/making/creating by entering in CREATE’s Stuck at Home Competition. Entries close 16 April. Check out their website for details.
  • Connect with, or learn about the child’s culture. For Aboriginal children – don’t forget to share photos of connecting to culture with SNAICC on Facebook (include @SNAICC and use the hashtag #KidsConnectedToCulture).
  • Plant seeds or seedlings in a pot or garden and watch them grow. You can even take photos and measure their growth.
  • Have a cooking day (this is a great way to celebrate individual cultures in the house too).
  • Set up your own backyard Olympics – social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t get outside and run around.
  • Read books. A lot of libraries are offering ‘click and collect’ services, while some libraries are offering school holiday programs online – contact your local library for details.
  • Have an Easter egg hunt – we’re pretty sure Easter Bilby is immune to COVID-19 and will still be visiting!

How are you spending the school holidays? Share your photos on our Facebook page.

Don’t forget you can still contact our advocates if you or a child or young person has concerns about their rights and best interests. Call us on 8226 8570, 1800 275 664 (freecall for children and young people only) or email.

Postcards from home

While our team are all working from home we are still here to talk to children and young people living in care and detention, especially in this time of uncertainty and self-isolation.

Here is our team in action!


Penny – I love hearing the birdsong through the window.

 


Merike – Snack time, anytime, with ease of access (nothing ‘fishy’ about this!).

 


Conrad – Although COVID-19 has its restrictions we can still have a yarn over the phone to listen to you and see how we can help you.

 


Leila – I really appreciate the commute from my bedroom to my new office (all 10 metres of it).

 


Sarah – No commute and the tea is always hot.

 


Jess – Writing reports from home is much better with homemade honey crackles! Please note the reality: my neighbours out the back are cranking Hilltop Hoods, and there’s tradies banging around out the front. I’m trying to drown all of it out with my classical music, but they’re winning.

 


Mardy (and Pookie) – WFH means having a really helpful assistant.

 


Courtney (and Gus) – Learning new and fun ways to connect with people, eating lots of snacks and sometimes I borrow my sister’s dog to keep me company.

 


Alan – My productivity has increased immensely now that I am freed from the pressure of remembering how to tie my shoelaces in the morning.

 

Mel (and Taffy) – Working at home means I can deliver professionalism in a Wonder Woman onesie all day long! And my little canine helper makes the job quicker! And what’s not to love about the fact that I can watch half an hour of trashy tv during my lunch break???

 


Bianca – Enjoying my treetop view (and windows that open). Plus, my lunch time walks sure beat pounding the pavement in the CBD.

 


Belinda – And the dogs around the world celebrate us working from home!

Getting to know: our advocates


Our advocates: Conrad Morris, Leila Plush and Sarah Meakin

What is an advocate?

As an advocate for children and young people in care we work with young people to empower them to advocate for themselves. It is about educating them about their rights and giving them the tools they can use to speak up for themselves for what they want and need.

Many children and young people have told us the system they live in often leaves them feeling like they are silenced. We are here to ensure they are being heard.

What are some of the key issues you provide advocacy for?

The main issues we provide advocacy for are:

  • not feeling safe in their placement
  • not enough sibling contact
  • not enough contact with family
  • not going to school and a lack of education programs
  • leaving care at the age of 18 and the plans for their transition out of care.

How do you work with a child or young person to help resolve their issue?

Some children and young people are not natural advocates for themselves or have limited people in their lives who can actively advocate for them. Being an advocate for yourself is a learned process so it takes time to build the skills and confidence. One of the ways they learn is from seeing firsthand what advocacy is and how it works – this can be through watching us when we meet with them and their case worker and talking about what it is they want.

We try to get the young person to stand up and voice their views. Sometimes this isn’t always done in a way that is well received, more often than not because the young person is frustrated with the issue or the system and doesn’t know how to communicate their needs clearly or in a way the case worker can relate to.

We work with the young person to look at things differently; sometimes just a change in the way they approach issues can get a better result. If the young person has tried to advocate for themselves and it didn’t work out, we will talk them through what they did, how they did it and what options there could be going forward. They might need to adjust their expectations of what they want. For example, if the young person wants to see their siblings by themselves and is unable to do so for safety reasons, maybe they can arrange to see their siblings supervised by an adult.

Young people will be encouraged to speak up and stand up for themselves if they can ‘experience success’. If their advocacy results in a good outcome for them they will see that it is worth doing, and can be effective. That can be really empowering for them.

What are some of the ways in which you can help a child/young person needing advocacy?

There are many ways we can help a child/young person, such as:

  • listen to what the child or young person wants and needs – as a first principle, being ‘heard’ is a powerful thing
  • provide tips and ideas on what they can do to advocate for themselves (i.e knowing their rights, being able to communicate why the issue is important to them, and knowing who to speak to are all important)
  • if they have exhausted their other avenues of support, we will advocate on their behalf about their concerns
  • attend meetings alongside them with their case manager
  • talk to the Department for Child Protection on their behalf.

What is the process of providing advocacy to a child/young person?

When a case is referred to us, we like to meet with the young person face to face if they feel this would be ok.

Aboriginal Advocate Conrad Morris said he always offers to meet with children and young people to talk through their concerns and provide them a safe place to talk.

“I also offer for them to bring a support person if this makes them feel safer to talk through their concerns. This works well given their lack of trust of adults and the child protection system,” Conrad said.

“If a child or young person doesn’t want to meet and prefers to speak over the phone this is supported, acknowledging whatever is best for them at the time to talk though their concerns. I have found this approach allows them to be in control.”

As advocates, we will talk to the child or young person to find out what the issue is and what outcome it is they want. We will then talk about what our role is, what their rights are and work out what steps the young person needs to take to work towards this and how we can be of assistance to them.

Throughout the advocacy matter, we will be in contact with the young person regularly (by visiting them or calling) and updating them on the progress, even if there have been no developments. Once the issue is resolved we always seek to deliver the final outcomes and let the young person know that our role in this matter is no longer needed. Of course, we will let them know that we are always here for them if another advocacy matter arises.

How can someone speak with an advocate?

If a child or young person wants to speak with an advocate they can call our office. Initially they will speak with one of our Assessment and Referral Officers who will determine if there is a role for us – sometimes issues can be addressed and resolved by speaking to the young person’s case manager. If there is a need for advocacy we will call the young person to start working towards how we can address their issue together.

Staying connected in the face of COVID-19

We are facing unprecedented times as the reality of COVID-19 begins to change the way we live our lives.

In our office, we are thinking carefully about the implications for the children and young people we work for, and the way we can carry out our work.

The need to limit contact with others and, in some cases, self-isolate is now becoming clear.

But while the concept of ‘social distancing’ may sound simple, we know that it will pose real risks for many vulnerable people in our community, not least children and young people in care and those who are in youth detention. Connection and belonging, human touch and social relationships are crucial for all people to thrive.

For hundreds of children and young people living in residential and commercial care and the youth detention centre, there is the risk that ‘social distancing’ will have mental health impacts. Many already experience a lack of connection to family and community, and there is a possibility that the intense period we are currently experiencing will only magnify this. It is important that we all stay connected and look out for these vulnerable young people as much as possible. That may mean an extra phone call to see how they are doing or looking to provide more positive experiences within the facility.

Our office is in the process of consulting with DCP and Youth Justice about the arrangements they are making, guided by the advice of the Health Department, to manage the health needs and wellbeing of residents. We don’t underestimate the difficulties involved in responding to requirements for quarantine, isolation and social distancing – and understand that these will all be difficult to achieve and maintain, given the close proximity in which the residents live and the nature of rostered staffing. More than ever, DCP staff and those in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre will be called on to carry out work that is essential for protecting and supporting the children and young people in their care. We are grateful for their service at a time of such challenge.

What is our office doing?

At a time like this, when big systems have to swing into action, it is even more important that the needs and interests of the smallest players are not swept aside. Our main priority is to ensure we maintain contact with children and young people who need our support and advocacy.

We know that face-to-face contact is important, if it can be done safely, and visiting children and young people can be a vital way to safeguard their interests and hear from them directly. We will be guided by health advice but will work hard to maintain this contact while it is possible.

We are also actively developing alternatives such as video conferencing and video calls so we can ensure a presence and connection for the children we work for.

Many of our staff will be working from home until further notice but we will still be contactable by phone on 8226 8570, 1800 275 664 (freecall for children and young people only) or email. If you or a young person want to meet with us in our office please call ahead to see if we can accommodate this.

Talking to children and young people about COVID-19

These are stressful times for everyone, particularly for children and young people who may not understand the magnitude of the virus and the need to distance themselves from others. They may experience disruption or changes they don’t understand, feel scared that they will get sick or worry about others they care about.

There are many resources available that we can use to start the conversation with children and young people about how they are feeling.

What we can all do to reduce the spread of infection

We can help to reduce the spread of infection by practising good hygiene and avoiding non-essential contact with others. This is particularly important if we are visiting a residential care facility or the detention centre where self-isolation is harder to maintain.

We must remember to:

  • wash our hands regularly
  • keep a 1.5 metre distance from others
  • avoid large gatherings
  • stay home if we are sick or if we have been in contact with someone who is
  • notify a child’s case worker if a child or young person in our care requires testing of COVID-19. If a child or young person who lives in residential care or youth detention tests positive they will be admitted to hospital for isolation.

Get the latest updates on COVID-19

For the latest updates on COVID-19 go to www.health.gov.au.