The Charter of Rights turns three in 2009

The Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care grew out of consultation with children and young people, carers, social workers and people from government and non-government organisations. The final look of the printed materials drew heavily on the advice of an advisory group of young people who were either in care or who had been in care.

It was officially launched by the then Minister for Families and Communities, Jay Weatherill in a celebration at the Adelaide Zoo on 19 April 2006.

Since then, 42 agencies have endorsed the Charter, committing to apply it in their policy and day-to-day practice. The agencies who have endorsed are diverse including both government and non-government organisations providing a wide range of support in alternative care, youth, aboriginal, disability, education and health services.

The Charter remains central to the Office’s goal of making it work for kids in care. The strategies for implementing and evaluating the impact of the Charter are clearly set out in our Strategic Plan 2007 – 2010.

In 2009 we will be:

  • contacting or renewing contact with the Charter champion in each endorsing agency
  • actively assisting agencies to implement and embed the Charter into their everyday business
  • helping agencies to assess and document how well they are progressing in implementing the Charter and promoting the rights of children and young people in care
  • getting feedback from agencies about their successes and difficulties in implementing the Charter and identifying the way forward
  • hosting a forum focussing on an issue relating to children’s rights
  • making available tools and practical resources to support and promote implementation of the Charter
  • publishing articles on the Charter and children’s rights in our quarterly newsletter.

Resources already in place include posters and brochures explaining and promoting the Charter for children and young people, their carers and to others who work directly with them. The posters and brochures are available in two different styles. The Office also makes available frequently asked questions about the Charter and a series of checklists that endorsing agencies can use and customise to meet their own circumstances on the Charter of Rights page of the Guardian’s website.

To read more about the Charter visit the Guardian’s Charter of Rights page.

If you would like to discuss ways to use and promote the Charter within your agency, please email Nicole [email protected] or phone (08) 8226 8429.

What works best in residential care?

At 30 June 2008, 166 children, or 7.6 per cent, of all children on care and protection orders were in residential care in South Australia. Residential care is where a small group of residents live in a communal setting staffed by paid residential care workers.

The Guardian’s Office in December 2008 wrote a literature review about what works in residential care which was published on the Guardian’s website as What works best in residential care and which can be located in the search panel on the right.

The review revealed that residential care works best when it is seen as a positive choice, an option that offers high quality care that meets residents’ individual needs and as a valuable component of an integrated alternative care system. The purpose of residential care and its place in the broader care and protection system should be clear, understood and supported by all.

The quality of the environment was a key factor. The facility should demonstrate and be proud of providing high quality care and care in which the children are actively involved. Children and young people say that they value having ‘a say about how [a] house is run’ and ‘working together’ with workers who are ‘nice and supportive’.

A residence should be a place where ‘you get love, care and attention’. Residents and staff should feel good about their physical environment. Children and young people say that the best residential care occurs when the environment ‘is like your own home’. Like any home environment, relationships are critical. Children and young people want a place where ‘it is nice and you feel safe’ and where ‘everybody trusts each other’.

Residential care works best when services are provided that are relevant, accessible and tailored to each resident, rather than residents being fitted into the available services. Reporting on a positive experience, one resident says, ‘everyone is an individual really, and they treat us all individual.’

A good residential care facility should encourage and support the child’s education. One resident notes, ‘the best thing is that I can have help on planning my future.’ Another sees ‘the respect that I am given and the help’ as positive elements of residential care.

Finally, residential care works best when it works with communities and families. It should provide a place where residents are assisted to take their place in the broader community. Children and young people say that residential care should offer both ‘support and independence’ and facilitate ‘trust and freedom’. Residents value ‘being close to family and friends’ as well as opportunities for ‘making other friends’.

Comics by and for young people in care

comic 1 coverWhen Our Place and Tyson and Lucy, the two comics for young people in care, went into circulation in January this year it was the culmination of an idea that started almost three years ago.

In 2006 a reference group of young people in care compiled a list of materials that would be useful to children and young people in care including the Being in Care booklet, backpacks, contact cards, Oog key rings and rub-on tattoos, the Oog soft toy and, most ambitious, a comic.

Richard Dall, artist for the comic project, was immediately impressed by the input from the reference group of young people in care who came together to guide the development of the comic.

comic 2 cover‘We knew from the start that it would be important to involve the kids but it was only when we had our first meeting that I realised just how much we would rely on them for the stories and the issues.

‘You start out thinking in terms of your own childhood but when the reference group shared their stories you realise that their experiences of growing up were different in profound ways.’

The project started in mid-2007 with the idea of producing a single comic until things changed, as writer for the project Daniel Watson recalls.

‘We were pretty far down the track with one comic, checking to make sure we had got the language and the tone just right, when some frank feedback by a young man in care caused a major change of direction. With his comments we realised that we would need two comics to capture the range of experiences of kids in care.’

The Office revisited the project and the second comic was born.

Guardian Pam Simmons is grateful to the creative team and the adults who advised the Office and organised and supported the young people to participate and adds high praise to the young people themselves.

‘Their insights and the stories of difficulty and success which they shared so freely with us are the heart of the comics. The success of the comics is their success.’

You can order copies at the Requesting materials page of the website.

Statistics about children in care – December 2008

Statistics about children and young people in care and those in secure detention*

At 31 December 2008, 2,030 children and young people were in the care and guardianship of the Minister for Families and Communities under 12 month or guardianship to 18 years orders.  An additional 27 were on Investigaton and Assessment Orders.  They had the following characteristics:

Type of guardianship (of those on 18 year and 12 month orders)

  • Order to 18 years – 81.4%
  • 12 month Order – 18.6%

Ages (of those on 18 year and 12 month orders)

  • 0 to 1 – 6.7%
  • 2 to 4 – 15.8%
  • 5 to 9 – 29.5%
  • 10 to 14 – 29.7%
  • 15 to 17 – 18.3%

Gender (of those on 18 year and 12 month orders)

  • Male – 51.7%
  • Female – 48.1%
  • Undetermined – 0.2%

Aboriginality (of those on 18 year and 12 month orders)

  • Indigenous – 23.9%
  • Non-Indigenous – 75.2%
  • Undetermined – 0.9 %


At the end of 2008 there were a total of 244 children under guardianship receiving a service from Disability SA and Novita, 12 per cent of the total. (Disability SA)
At Term 1 2007, of the 993 children in care located in the DECS enrolment system, 39 per cent were classified as having a disability.  Their primary disabilities were language and communication (26.6 per cent), intellectual (9.8 percent), physical (1.6 per cent) and sensory – hearing or vision – (1.0 per cent ).  (Department for Education and Children’s Services)

Accommodation arrangements

Of the 1,886 children and young people in alternative care at 31 December 2008, the care arrangements were as follows:

  • Foster care – 49.4%
  • Relative and kinship care – 37.1%
  • Financially assisted adoption – 0.2%
  • Families SA residential care – 5.1%
  • NGO residential care – 2.0%
  • Emergency and short term accommodation – 6.4%

Placement stability

In their passage through the care system, children will generally change placement a number of times.  Of the 1,886 children and young people in alternative care at 31 December 2008, their experiences were:

  • First placement – 4.1%
  • One – 16.4%
  • Two to five – 42.3%
  • Six to ten – 20.3%
  • More than ten – 16.9%

The number of children and young people in the care of the Minister has grown steadily from 1,441 in June 2005 to 2,030 in December 2008.

Secure detention

Children and young people in secure detention in South Australia are housed in either the Magill or Cavan Centres.

In 2007-08 there were 1,030 admissions to secure care representing 525 individual young people and the average daily occupancy of the two secure training centres was 71.95.

For more information contact us at [email protected] or 08 8226 8570.

*The statistics on this page are mainly drawn from Families SA figures on children and young people under the guardianship of the Minister and Australian Insitute of Health and Welfare data on children and young people in alternative care.  Those under guardianship and those under alternative care are overlapping populations; that is most,but not all, children in alternative care are on a custody or guardianship order, and similarly, most, but not all, children under the guardianship of the Minister are in alternative care.  However, the numbers of these two populations are different, and exact comparisons should not be made.

Centres a risk to child safety

The time is long past when we confined destitute, orphaned or stolen children in large institutions, with many children to a room and their daily lives determined by routine, rules and discipline. What we know now, and some knew then from personal experience, is that such institutions foster depersonalised, distant and sometimes abusive relationships between staff and children and between children themselves.

Today, residential care is mostly provided in houses with three, maybe four, children with carers. The court has determined that it is unsafe for these children and young people to live with their families, and other family-like care is unavailable or inappropriate because it struggles to meet their high needs.

However, we also have six larger government-run residential units in metropolitan Adelaide. Each has between eight and 12 young residents.

Over the past 12 months 93 children and young people, one aged only nine, have lived in the units.

I consider these larger units to be closer to institutions than homes. The staff try their best to personalise these places but the simple problem is that the units house too many children. Any parent, teacher or youth worker would know that if you have a child or young person with high needs in your care, particularly serious behaviour and cognitive problems related to previous trauma, he or she needs special attention. That attention is, at the very least, difficult to provide in a household of ten young people with high needs and two or three staff.

Experience and evidence about institutions tells us that the risk of harm is higher when staff have only limited control over the ‘mix’ of residents and when residents’ high needs can make peer relationships threatening or hostile.  In larger residential facilities, these risks are hard to avoid.

Good residential care, in children’s own words, are where ‘it is nice and you feel safe’ and where ‘everybody trusts each other’.

For some time now, advocates for children in South Australia, including the Office of the Guardian, have pointed out the shortcomings of government- run residential facilities and recommended they be replaced with more appropriate models of care.

So it was all the more disappointing that the Government decided in 2007 to increase the numbers of residents in two of the existing units and to build two more 12-bed facilities. This decision is misguided and should be reversed.

The recent Mullighan inquiry report on allegations of sexual abuse of children in state care recommended a maximum of three children in residential facilities.  Many people who gave evidence to the inquiry about their time in institutions indicated that large numbers and the mix of residents contributed to a culture in which abuse could occur and remain hidden, in which goodquality relationships between staff and residents were difficult to establish and which made it harder for children to disclose abuse or be believed if they did.

Why then are decisions being made that fly in the face of the evidence about safety?

I am the first to acknowledge that we have a child protection and alternative care system under enormous pressure, with an average ten per cent annual growth in the numbers of children entering and staying in care. We do not have an equivalent growth in foster-care placements.

But the answer is not to treat children like a queue of people waiting for a bed. We have a responsibility to provide them with good residential care, not just care that is barely adequate.

Pam Simmons

Guardian for Children and Young People

First published in The Advertiser January 3,  2009.

What works best in residential care


In South Australia at 30 June 2008,166 children and young people on care and protection orders were in residential care. This was 7.6 per cent of all children on care and protection orders.

Residential care can be challenging both for children and young people and workers. Positive experiences are more likely when care is based on what we know from research and past experience.

Opinions about what constitutes good residential care will vary depending on who you ask. For our purposes, good care is measured by how children and young people experience it and its contribution to their everyday life and life outcomes.


This short paper provides information to policy makers, managers, social workers and residential care workers on what contributes to a positive residential care experience for children and young people. It is intended to stimulate critical reflection about current practice, including achievements and areas for improvement, and to facilitate practice that demonstrates our commitment to making it work for kids in care.

[to open this article in PDF format select What works best in residential care]

Child-sensitive records checklist

This checklist can help workers and their agencies ensure that case records and reports produced about a child or young person are child-centred and child-sensitive.

It is based on what young people have told the Office of the Guardian  about what information they think should be recorded and how it should be recorded.

The Child-sensitive records checklist can be downloaded as a PDF file from our website or printed copies can be obtained via our requesting materials page.

My first meal – the Youth Advisors confess

Nothing symbolises more the freedom and responsibility of being out on your own than cooking a meal. When food does not appear on the table and take-aways become boring or expensive, there is no escape – as three of our Youth Advisors recall.



I can’t remember the very first thing but it was probably something like spaghetti bolognese and it was probably terrible. My first housemate was a bit better at cooking than me so he did that and I did the cleaning…When it comes to cooking my specialty is gingerbread houses – that and biscuits and cakes generally.



I did a bit of cooking in residential care – helping out in the kitchen. But when it came to living by myself, I just figured it out. You need to say “I can do this.” Mostly it was simple stuff like pasta or fried steak with salad which worked pretty well.   I made a curry once. I put in the usual veggies and some beans and then about eight of these little red chillies. I couldn’t eat it, it was so hot. My Mum and sister managed to eat a bit but not me. I’ve never made a curry since.



I can’t really remember the first thing I ever cooked! But when I first moved out of home, stir fries were the best things that ever happened to me. Just chuck it all in stir it around for a while and eat it! Cheap and healthy… that’s how it was! Here is a cheap, easy as, YUMMY recipe.

Sara’s Fettucini Carbonara

Ok… you need

  • Fettucini
  • 2 onions roughly diced
  • about ½ kilo of bacon roughly chopped
  • 3 mushrooms cut into slices (if you like them)
  • small tub of cream
  • a teaspoon of nutmeg to taste
  • ground black peppercorns to taste

Here we go… Start by preparing the pasta. Fettucini is awesome, cook as per directions on back of packet. Once you have started boiling pasta, start on the sauce.

Fry onion, bacon and mushroom in frypan. Grind black pepper into frypan as cooking. Add a teaspoon of nutmeg and stir.

Once onions and bacon have browned reduce heat to low and add cream to fry pan. Drain pasta from the saucepan, once TOTALLY DRAINED.. put pasta back into the saucepan and add sauce.. mix all around and… EAT