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.

Cultural training project gives young people their voice


Martin Hinton and Travis Thomas

Last week our office celebrated the work of two young people who shared their experiences across the courts, child protection and youth justice systems to better educate Judges and Magistrates when dealing with Aboriginal people who appear before the courts.

The video, featuring the young people who were previously detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre, is part of a bigger project from the Courts Administration Authority (led by Martin Hinton, Director Public Prosecution, formerly Justice Hinton) to improve existing cultural awareness training for Judges and Magistrates. This video aims to provide an insight into what life is like for these young Aboriginal people and the role the courts can play in ensuring their voices are heard.

While only one young person was able to attend our celebration, we wanted to acknowledge both of the amazing young people who were willing to share their stories for this project and tell the courts what they wanted to see changed.

Training Centre Advocate, Travis Thomas, and Advocate, Aboriginal Children, Conrad Morris, supported the young people in the lead-up to and throughout the project.

Conrad noted the planning and workshop that was held prior to the filming was essential in providing the young people with a safe space where they were confident to share their voice. The footage of the two young people was shot in just one take which is a mighty impressive effort!

At our afternoon tea celebration, Martin said he was impressed by all the work Conrad and Travis had done to help pull this video together. He also said how proud he was of the two young people, and how brave they were in sharing their stories.

“If the young people don’t stand up for themselves, then we [Judges and Magistrates] can’t get better,” Martin said.

“That’s the reason I did it [to change the mindset of the courts],” the young person said. The young person called for Judges to ‘listen to what we have to say’ and ‘give us more opportunity to do the right thing’.

The young person also told us that since the making of the video ‘the judge actually talked to me’ when they were last in court.

For privacy reasons, we are unable to share the video but we expect and hope the flow-on effects of the project will be evident when the voices of young people are more vigorously sought and heard during court processes.

Call to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility

boy leaping in the air

Across Australia a child as young as 10 can be locked up in detention for breaking the law. Time in detention is meant to ‘teach them a lesson’ and to change their criminal behaviours, but all the evidence tells us detention does nothing to deter the child from committing future crimes. In fact, the younger the child is to have contact with youth justice, the higher the chances they have of further offending and starting on the path to a life-long involvement in the criminal justice system.

Last financial year, 51 individual children and young people aged between 10 and 13 were admitted to the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC). They were admitted a total of 131 times, meaning that on average, each was detained at the centre more than twice. It is important to note most children held in the AYTC have not even been convicted of committing a crime.

This raises a significant concern that these young children are not getting the right support they need to address their offending behaviours, both in detention and out in the community. Studies show that to help rehabilitate these young children they need access to family, culture, education, support for individual disabilities, and opportunities to promote healing from past trauma that many of this cohort have experienced.

There is a growing momentum in Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14. This is supported by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians and backed up by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child who late last year called for Australia to raise the minimum age. The just released documentary, In My Blood It Runs, is also calling for change.

The Council of Attorneys General has set up a working group looking into the age of criminal responsibility. Last month our office provided feedback into the review, urging the working group to raise the minimum age to 14 as we believe the current practices do not provide the best outcomes for these vulnerable and disadvantaged young children.

Outlined in our submission we stated that the number of children detained disproportionately affects Aboriginal children (for example, in SA during 2017-18, there were 37 Aboriginal 10-13 year olds detained compared to 17 non-Aboriginal 10-13 year olds).

Children with a disability and those in care also made up a disproportionate number of children detained. We know that in 2017-18, almost a quarter of those detained in the AYTC were in care at the time of their admission. What we don’t know is how many of those young people come from a residential or commercial care environment – this is something we will address in our next dual status paper (to be out in the coming months).

In the meantime, we are urging change to protect the rights of these vulnerable young children and to prevent them from entering the youth justice system in the first place.

You can read our full submission to the working group.

The future of the Child and Young Person’s visitor scheme

In 2016 Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland made it clear there were serious concerns and risks for the many children and young people living in residential and emergency care in South Australia.

Nyland recommended a community visitor scheme for children in all residential and emergency care facilities to be developed to address these concerns, and so the Child and Young Person’s trial visitor program was born.

Over the two-year trial period we worked towards developing, implementing and reviewing the scheme and how it would work. We visited 99 children and young people (aged from 2-17 years) across 24 individual facilities managed by the Department for Child Protection – some of these facilities we visited several times.

In addition, we conducted serveral group discussions with young people who live or have lived in residential care to find out what life is like for them and how the visiting program would work, as well as what being safe in residential care means.

A big challenge we faced with mapping out the program was the lack of evidence based learnings from similar children and young people visiting schemes, so we spent some time considering the purpose of the scheme, the nature and frequency of visits, the criteria for determining which children, or facilities, should be visited and the expertise required of the visiting advocates.

Ultimately, based on our research and hearing the voices of children and young people, we determined the primary purpose of the scheme was to enhance the safety of the children and young people living in the facilities visited.

Reflections of the trial program

Here are just a few of our reflections from the trial program:

  • The visiting program needs to be flexible and responsive to the needs of individual children and their varying backgrounds and situations.
  • Qualified advocates, including those with training and experience for children and young people living with a disability, would be needed to prepare, carry out the visits and provide post-visit reports and follow ups.
  • Visits were most successful when children and young people were prepared and informed about the role of the program and the advocates.
  • Regular and relatively frequent visits were needed to build connections and trust between the young people and the advocates.

Recommendations

Throughout the trial we presented the Department for Child Protection (DCP) with many recommendations regarding the facilities and residents we visited to address safety issues, individual resident needs, improvements to facilities, support for staff and for staff competencies and training.

The recommendations also addressed systemic issues that affected the residents (particularly those living in the larger units) concerning placement planning and decision making, staff responsiveness for children and young people with disabilities, and the quality, training and management of staff within these facilities.

At the end of the trial program we provided the department with 14 overall recommendations about what the scheme should look like, including, but not limited to:

  • ensuring the scheme’s purpose and principles are clear
  • focusing both on the ‘rights’ and the ‘best interests’ of children and young people, rather than one or the other
  • ensuring facility staff promote and facilitate visits to the facilities
  • allocating sufficient funding for the recruitment of qualified and trained advocates – especially those with experience working with children and young people with a disability – to undertake both pre- and post-visit tasks as well as visits themselves
  • recruiting an appropriate number of Aboriginal staff that reflects the proportion of Aboriginal children in residential and commercial care
  • amending the legislation to provide the Child and Young Person Visitor’s role with the same powers as the roles of the Guardian and the Training Centre Visitor.

In conclusion

Four years on from Commissioner Nyland’s report, the concerns and risks for these young people remain. Our office continues to receive a significant and increasing number of advocacy matters from young people living in residential care who are concerned about their safety, placement matching and their lack of connection to family and culture.

There are now more than 180 residential care facilities in South Australia, and it is evident this form of care is not going away any time soon.

The trial scheme has ended and we are currently awaiting a final decision as to whether funding and support will enable the establishment of a formal visiting scheme in the future.

You can download the final report.

Celebrating Care Day

Today is international Care Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of children and young people with a care experience and helping to break the stigma around being in care.

We sat down with Guardian Penny Wright to talk about the importance of the day and what she hopes to see for the future of children and young people in care.

Happy Care Day!