CREATE – representing the voices of young people in care for 20 years

CREATE Foundation has come a long way from its humble beginnings with its small member base meeting in garages and community halls 20 years ago. Today, the national consumer body which represents the voices of children and young people in care has offices in each state and territory, employs almost 50 staff and has over 19,000 young members.

CREATE was formed with the vision that all children and young people in care can reach their full potential. Its mission is to give children and young people in care the confidence to use their voice, to connect with other young people and to stand up and make change in the care system.

Fabian McPhee, the Community Facilitator at CREATE in South Australia who’s worked with the organisation for four years, said while a lot has changed about the way CREATE thinks about and acts on issues, the founding vision remains.

“The vision, from the beginning, has been the same and that’s been to give every young person the same opportunity that every other young person should have being in care,” said Fabian.

Reflecting on 20 years of CREATE, he says there’s now a lot more engagement with young people in care and a lot more members in South Australia. SA currently engages with its members through its ClubCREATE magazines, connection events, Youth Advisory Groups and the Speak Up empowerment program.

Recently appointed CREATE State Coordinator Amy Duke says they are excited about what the future holds for CREATE in South Australia.

“In SA, I think we have the opportunity to capitalise on some fresh and exciting ideas from other states,” she said.

The Hour of Power is one of these initiatives out of Victoria that allows young people who are no longer in care to stay connected with CREATE. The bi-annual forums provide an avenue for young people with lived care experience to present key issues and share ideas for policy and practice change. The young people set the agenda, facilitate the conversation and share their lived experience with the aim of improving the lives of young people in care and the system itself.

“Having opportunities for those young people to practice the skills and learnings from being part of CREATE will keep them engaged. CREATE provides children and young people with the opportunity to direct our advocacy and have a voice in systemic change,” Amy said.

As for the future of CREATE at a national level, the teams are working towards ensuring the voices of children and young people in care are being heard loud and clear when it comes to being involved in decisions that affect them.

CREATE’s Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Reed noted in the latest annual report that “young people are telling us overwhelmingly that they want to be involved in decisions that affect their lives, and want to have plans for their future that they are involved in developing.”

“Our team are prioritising the need for the sector to plan appropriately, and more importantly to ensure that children and young people’s views are heard during the planning process and reflected in whatever planning documentation is developed,” Jacqui said.

For more information about CREATE visit their website at www.create.org.au.

Natural advocacy – how you can empower a young person

Children and young people in care have not always had the time and support they need to develop the knowledge, skills or confidence to express their views and advocate for themselves. Navigating the child protection system can be a difficult task even for the most seasoned professionals – and much more so for the children and young people who are caught up in it.

The right to an advocate

One of the rights outlined in the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care is that children and young people have the right to speak to someone who can act on their behalf when they cannot do this.

The number of children and young people in care who may need advocacy support far outweighs the resources of the Guardian for Children and Young People. For this reason, children and young people in care need the adults in their existing network (both personal and professional) to advocate for them. Such adults can, and should, act to ensure that the voice and interests of each child and young person in care are represented.

We call this ‘natural advocacy’.

Natural advocacy supports the voice and rights of the child. As well as having their voice heard and their rights addressed, being involved with the advocacy process can allow young people to learn valuable lessons; that they have rights, including the right to be heard, that rights can be negotiated to achieve better outcomes, and the value of persistence.

As a ‘natural advocate’, you can work with a child or young person to help ensure:

  • they have a place to live where they are safe, cared for and respected
  • their views and wishes are asked for, and considered, in planning such as at care team meetings, case conferences or annual reviews
  • they are given the opportunity to participate in decisions that are made about matters such as school changes, placement moves, or family contact
  • they have access to services such as health, housing, mentors, cultural support, recreation and education
  • their interests, aspirations, achievements and strengths are recognised and supported by the adults around them
  • they know about the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care
  • they know how to access a complaints or review process if things aren’t going well for them, or if they disagree with a decision that has been made about their care.

Your advocacy might involve contacting services and decision-makers directly, or supporting the child or young person to do this themselves.

Challenges in advocacy

One of the most significant challenges a natural advocate may face is that advocacy can sometimes be misread by other care team members, colleagues and/or management as disruptive or obstructive to the work of the care team. Natural advocates may also fear that they will not be as powerful as an external, professional, or more senior voice, and so they may not feel empowered to pursue an issue on the child or young person’s behalf.

This is where the Charter can be helpful. The Charter, which has been widely adopted and endorsed by 88 organisations to date, frames the work of an advocate positively, as a legitimate action that focuses attention on the child or young person’s voice and rights. Grounding your advocacy in the Charter can prompt discussion and reflection, which can in turn promote child-focussed decision-making.

There are a few things to remember if you are going to act as a natural advocate for a child or young person:

  • Wherever possible, it is important to seek the child or young person’s consent to act on their behalf (if they have not asked you to do so).
  • Wherever possible, it is important to seek the child or young person’s voice on matters related to their care, so that this can form the basis of your advocacy.
  • Consider, at the outset, whether it is safe for you to advocate for what the child or young person wants (their safety is paramount).
  • Involve the child or young person in the process as much as possible (depending on their age and developmental capacity), or in accordance with their wishes.
  • Role-model positive communication and team work throughout the process.
  • Be careful not to make promises about the outcome or what you can achieve, but reassure the child or young person that you will do your best to help them have a voice in the process.
  • Be mindful of keeping your own views, complaints or frustrations separate from the child or young person’s voice and needs.

If your advocacy is not successful, be honest with the child or young person about the process and outcome. Support the child or young person to reflect on what they might have learned or achieved through the process, and congratulate them for their bravery, confidence and persistence. In some situations, it might be appropriate to explore whether a compromise can be negotiated, and in other situations, it might be appropriate to pursue a formal complaints or review process.

What next?

If you, or the child or young person, continue to hold significant concerns after you have attempted natural advocacy, you can contact us for advice about other options and/or an assessment of whether advocacy is required from our office.

You can phone us on 8226 8570 (adults) or 1800 275 664 (free call for children and young people only).

Inspire our new logo

We need inspiration to help create a logo for the Guardian for Children and Young People.

We are calling on children and young people in care to create a logo or design that represents what the Guardian and our advocates do or mean for them.

The design can use any type of art materials.

The most inspirational idea could help shape what our logo will look like, with the young artist to receive a gift to the value of $50.

Please spread the word to all children and young people in care.

Designs to be submitted by 31 January 2020 by email [email protected] or post to Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People, GPO Box 2281, Adelaide, 5001.

Please supply a contact name and phone number with all submissions.

End of year wrap-up

2019 has been a busy year for our office. While we continued to work hard to promote and monitor the rights of South Australia’s children and young people in care and youth detention, we also finished up the Child and Young Person’s Visitor Scheme and conducted the pilot inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre. Plus, we moved offices and celebrated the dedicated and passionate staff who have left or joined our team.

Here are a few of our favourite photos from the year.

You can read more about the work of the Guardian for Children and Young People in our annual A year in review (a summary of our 2018-19 annual report).

We would like to thank the children and young people who have shared their concerns, thoughts and hopes throughout the year, the carers and workers who have supported us to achieve better outcomes for these young people, and to our faithful readers who read our weekly blogs.

Our team would like to wish you all a safe and merry festive season. We look forward to working with you in 2020 to help make the lives of our vulnerable children and young people better and filled with hope for a brighter future.

*Please note our office will be closed from 5pm on Tuesday 24 December until 9am on Thursday 2 January.

Celebrating great practice

photo of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

As we approach the end of a busy year and a time for festivities and holidays, I am reflecting on the impressive work my staff and I see, every day, among the child protection workforce in South Australia.

In the recent Guardian’s Annual Report I noted that the child protection system in South Australia has been troubled for years, and I named aspects of the system which are in crisis in 2019. But I also recognised that many, many individuals – who are working in the Department for Child Protection and non-government organisations, residential and commercial care facilities and in foster and kinship families – are willing to go above and beyond, day after day, for the children and young people they care for.

This week I have just been completing one of my favourite tasks – writing to practitioners about excellent practice that I’ve become aware of. I’d like to share some of these shining examples, knowing that they represent just a fraction of the good work that is going on, every day of the year.

  • A senior practitioner/case worker who built a strong rapport with a young person and really listened to their voice about being bullied at school. Through the worker’s energetic advocacy, she was able to effect change at the school. She also worked with the young person to help them develop a clear sense of who they were, as a person, through a high-quality case plan that was descriptive, and focused on their strengths. The worker also created a beautiful life story book/album, with many coloured photos of the young person since birth, and their family, copies of awards and certificates and a very moving piece written by the young person about their aspirations.
  • A case manager who supported a 17-year-old young person in their transition towards independence. Her commitment to the young person was clear from her detailed knowledge of the young person’s needs, her weekly contact with the young person and her energetic approach to helping the young person put independent living arrangements into place.
  • A case manager whose good placement matching and strong placement support for a young person in foster care had made a clear and positive difference in her life in the space of just five months. The young person was making great progress in her foster care placement and this worker received very positive feedback from both the foster carer and the agency support worker.
  • A case worker who demonstrated a strong knowledge of a young person of 16, especially regarding who they were and their aspirations. The worker energetically advocated for the young person to support and help them achieve their independent living goals. This same worker also showed great commitment and care for another young person who had complex needs and this work contributed to the progress they had made over the last year (including attending and contributing to their annual review meeting). Among other things, the worker held monthly care team meetings, with the young person attending, and created a case plan which reflected a strengths-perspective for the young person.
  • A case manager who demonstrated a strong, child-centred focus at the annual review for a young person, at which there was a written agenda, including requests from the young person, that the worker had developed with the young person.
  • A case worker who supported young siblings in kinship care. She built rapport and trusting relationships with the carers and the children, while working through placement challenges and complexities in a respectful, supportive and committed way.

Child protection is not a place for the fainthearted. In fact, the system only works at all because of lionhearted people who get out of bed every morning, to meet the day, determined to do what they can to support kids who are in need of love, nurture and a home. Whether in regional offices, in residential care, in the placement area, in working with (or as) carers, or wrangling dollars or policy – there are challenges everywhere and it takes courage to face them.

I am often privileged to receive a response to the emails I send. One of them thanked me and told me, ‘your acknowledgement has come at a time when I have been questioning my ability to make a positive difference in the lives of our young people. You have reminded me of why we are here, with your acknowledgment and how much our passion and dedication to our children enhances their strength and ability to create the best future for themselves with us standing by their side.’

For those of you who do this often rewarding but also extremely challenging work, please know that it is crucial, it is valued and the children and young people within the system absolutely need you.

Thank you!

Report finds children in care overrepresented in youth justice

Almost one quarter of children and young people who are detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre are under the legal guardianship of the state and are likely to be living in large residential care homes, a new report from our office has found.

A PERFECT STORM? Dual status children and young people in South Australia’s child protection and youth justice systems is the first report from a series of papers looking into the disproportionate number of children and young people who enter the youth justice system from residential care.

The report highlights that it’s not that these individual children and young people are inherently ‘criminal’ but that systems make their criminalisation more likely.

This suggests the state’s child protection system is struggling to undertake its core function of keeping children and young people safe – a concern that our office raised last week in the wake of the release of our annual report.

This new report finds that inadequate planning, policy, procedure, and communication across government and non-government systems mean that children and young people in care who need therapeutic support are instead being drawn into the criminal justice system.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recently stated that Australia’s child protection systems are insufficiently resourced, resulting in poorly supported staff, inadequate placement matching, and excessive reliance on police interference and youth justice systems to manage behavioural problems without providing appropriate therapeutic intervention.

Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright states that each of these factors contribute to the overrepresentation of those in care entering the youth justice system.

Ms Wright notes these vulnerable children and young people have been exposed to significant trauma and abuse prior to entering the child protection system and are not being provided with the care and support they need to heal.

“Instead of being provided with the essential therapeutic care they need, these young people are being put into homes and looked after by inadequately supported staff with other young people who come from troubled backgrounds. The young people’s behaviour is ‘managed’ by police and the youth justice system, and then at the end of the day they are taken back to the same environment in which the criminal behaviour took place,” Ms Wright said.

“What these children and young people need is a system that focusses on their safety and well-being first and foremost, keeping in mind the difficult circumstances that brought them into the system in the first place.”

“As one dual status young person eloquently said: ‘They kept putting us in the same situation but expecting a different outcome’.”

Download the first dual status report.

Further reports from this series will be made available in the coming months.

Training Centre Visitor team wraps up pilot inspection

The Training Centre Visitor Unit has wrapped up its pilot inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC).

As November marked the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is timely this inspection – which assesses the conditions and management of the children and young people who are detained there, and ensuring their rights are being upheld – was carried out.

Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright said the inspection is the cultivation of two years of hard work from the TCV Unit staff in establishing the TCV program and building relationships with the residents and staff.

“My dedicated team has worked hard, visiting the training centre every fortnight to advocate for the rights and best interests of the residents. Through this consistent visiting program we have been able to get an accurate picture of what life is like for the children and young people detained in the centre,” Penny said.

“By combining our learnings from the past two years with the voices of residents and staff we have heard during the inspection, we can create a better understanding of how to work together with Youth Justice to ensure the children and young people have a brighter future and have the capacity to reach their full potential.”

As part of the inspection, the TCV Unit staff met with AYTC residents, staff and management to talk about what life is like in the centre, covering topics such as resident safety, health care, cultural rights, respect and dignity, education and training, case planning and access to grievance processes. They also facilitated focus groups and reviewed documents.

Input from residents was enthusiastic and thoughtful and guarantees that our reporting can reflect their voices loudly and clearly.

Here are some of the things the residents told us:

  • ‘The health centre is my favourite place to go – it makes me happy and comfortable.’
  • ‘I like all the staff really’.
  • Respect is ‘talking to me normally and makes me feel good!’
  • ‘I am scared I will lose my grandpa while I am in here – and I am not able to hold his hand.’
  • Respect is ‘being believed and not made to be a liar.’
  • ‘I wanna pass that [year 11] and go do my SACE.’
  • ‘We should get more elders in.’
  • ‘The staff are heaps good. They talk to you in good ways, help you out. They care about you.’
  • ‘I identify myself as a young offender. The kids aren’t proud, they’re scared…’

We would like to thank the children and young people and AYTC staff and management for being part of this inaugural inspection and sharing their thoughts about what life in the centre is like for them.

Findings from the inspection will help shape the way the TCV program and future inspections are run and developed. The inspection also provides valuable experience as we gear up for the imminent introduction in South Australia of the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

A formal Inspection Report will be provided to the Minister for Human Services for presentation to Parliament in early 2020.

Here are some of the artworks the residents created during the inspection.

Inadequate placement matching causing fear among children and young people in care

An overwhelmed system continues to see some children and young people removed from their families but placed in care environments where they are still at significant risk of harm.

The 2018-19 Guardian for Children and Young People’s Annual Report has highlighted concerns about deficiencies in placement allocation and matching for children and young people in care, particularly those living in residential care.

The availability of family-based care falls drastically short of the number of children and young people coming into care. As a result, too many children are being put into temporary and long-term residential and commercial care without adequate planning and/or appropriate matching with other residents, and with inadequate consultation of the children and young people affected.

This results in some children and young people being subject to serious physical and sexual abuse, perpetrated by their co-residents. In other cases, children and young people have sustained emotional and psychological harm from co-resident intimidation, bullying, verbal taunts and threats, and witnessing critical incidents of physical violence and property damage.

“In consideration of the extensive trauma that many of these young people have already experienced, ongoing exposure to trauma and abuse in care creates a significant risk of harm – both immediate and cumulative,” Guardian Penny Wright said in the report.

Data from enquiries received by our office noted that the majority of children and young people who directly initiated contact with us were living in residential care and commercial care arrangements, with the primary presenting issues being safety and stability in care.

A lack of disability-specific therapeutic placements to cater for the needs of children and young people with disabilities and trauma-related behaviours, was also a cause for concern.

Furthermore, the annual report highlighted that some children and young people in care who have been detained at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (known as ‘dual involved’) have elected to remain there because of feeling fearful and unsafe in their primary place of residents in residential or commercial care.

In other instances, young people are being unnecessarily detained for longer periods in the AYTC than would otherwise be the case, due to lack of placement availability and/or challenges in communication across the child protection and youth justice systems.

The additional concerns of these ‘dual involved’ children and young people are a focus for our office, and we are currently preparing a report due to be released next month addressing the issues that these children and young people face.

Read the annual report in full.

Remembering the promise to our children

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

30 years ago, world leaders made a promise to all children. It was a promise that stated that children around the world will not be discriminated against, the decisions that affect them will be in their best interests and they will be provided with opportunities to develop and reach their full potential.

This promise is known as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

For the first time, the UNCRC set out 54 rights for all children, and described how adults and governments should work together to ensure these rights are made available to them. This commitment from world leaders changed the way children were viewed and treated. It gave young people a voice and established that they have basic fundamental rights to survival, development, safety, education, to know or have a relationship with their parents and to express their opinion and be listened to.

This is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. Since it was adopted in 1989, 195 countries have signed up. Only two are yet to ratify: South Sudan and the United States.

Since then, the South Australian parliament has established additional rights for children and young people who are in care, away from their parents, and in detention, locked up in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre. These are the children and young people who fall under my mandate as Guardian and Training Centre Visitor.

Unable to be with their parents, these South Australian citizens have special rights above and beyond the rights outlined in the UNCRC. But thirty years on, what does this all mean for them?

Today, in South Australia we are seriously failing many of the children and young people who need our help the most. The world made a promise but 30 years later children continue to be separated from their family and culture, their identity fractured, moved from placement to placement with little say over the conditions of their lives and excluded from school or locked up from as young as ten for behaviour that is a symptom of their own trauma, neglect, abuse and loss.  Many of these young people have undiagnosed disabilities or trauma-related conditions which go untreated. More than a quarter become entrapped in both the child protection and the youth justice system.

Last month, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child called for Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

The Committee critiqued Australia’s child protection systems and its excessive reliance on police and the youth justice system when dealing with children’s behavioural problems, rather than providing the appropriate therapeutic services or intervention. It also highlighted that Aboriginal children and young people continue to be over-represented in both the child protection and youth justice systems.

In September of this year, a 12-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy, Dujuan, travelled to Geneva and became one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The young star of an acclaimed documentary, In My Blood It Runs, he shared his experiences about the youth justice system and his alienation from school to build support for Aboriginal-led education models that would help prevent youth offending and support their crucial connection to culture and language.

Dujuan’s speech gave voice to the young Aboriginal people who are at risk or have already entered the youth justice system. It highlighted that somewhere along the way we have forgotten the promise we made to our children that we would protect them and put their best interests at the forefront of everything we do.

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC, I call on the government to remember the promise we made 30 years ago and raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age so we stop ‘punishing’ young children when their troubled behaviour clearly tells us what they need most is support, nurture and care.

Getting to know: our Assessment and Referral Officers


Assessment and Referral Officers Courtney Mostert and Sonia Regan

Have you ever wanted to know what happens when a child or young person in care (or an adult from their lives) calls the Guardian for Children and Young People’s office with concerns about the child or young person’s rights and best interests? We sat down with our Assessment and Referral Officers Courtney Mostert and Sonia Regan to find out.

What is an Assessment and Referral Officer?

An Assessment and Referral Officer (ARO) is responsible for assessing all initial enquiries, including gathering information and determining if there is a role for the Guardian for Children and Young People’s (GCYP) Advocates.

What happens when a child or young person calls the GCYP?

When a child or young person first calls the GCYP they will be directed to us. We will gather information including their name and place of residence, their contact information, and the key issues they are concerned about.

We will attempt to determine if the young person is safe and if the Department for Child Protection (DCP) knows where they are. If the child or young person has a current Missing Person Report (MPR), the ARO has a duty of care to let DCP know of their contact with the child or young person. The ARO is also required to report any reasonable suspicion that a child is being abused or neglected to the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL).

Once the information has been gathered from the young person, the ARO, in consultation with the Principal Advocate and the Advocacy Team, will determine whether there is a role for GCYP.

Can an adult call on behalf of a child or young person?

An adult (e.g. carers, teachers, birth parents) who may be concerned about the rights and best interests of children and young people in care can call us. We will explain the role of the GCYP and highlight the office’s focus on the voice and rights of children and young people in care.  We may encourage the adult to support the child or young person to contact GCYP directly, if they are able to.

We will seek information about the child or young person and the adult’s relationship to the young person to determine if the query is ‘in mandate’ and how best to help the individual young person.

What happens if the query/request falls outside the mandate?

GCYP’s role is restricted to advocating for and promoting the rights and best interests of the children and young people who are under the custody or guardianship of the Chief Executive of DCP.

An enquiry is ‘out of mandate’ if it relates to a child or young person who is not under custody or guardianship of the Chief Executive or who is not detained at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (as mandated under the role of our office’s Training Centre Visitor).

The ARO will redirect these enquiries to an alternative service or process that can better respond to the issue.

How do you assess what role the GCYP will take on behalf of the child or young person?

GCYP’s role will look different depending on the presenting issues and the child or young person’s circumstances.

GCYP has a ‘threshold’ for intervention, which helps determine our response to requests for advocacy. The ARO will assess the request against the following threshold:

  • The issue has – or would have – a significant impact on the young person if it is not addressed. This includes where the matter poses an immediate safety risk or the nature of the issue will result in cumulative harm over time.
  • The young person is – or would be – seriously disadvantaged by a decision or a lack of service.
  • The issue has not been – or is unlikely to be – resolvable through other means in a timely way.

Additional consideration is also given to young people from priority groups, including children and young people who:

  • are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
  • are culturally and linguistically diverse
  • have a disability, or
  • have suffered, or are alleged to have suffered, sexual abuse.

What are some examples of how you can help?

  • Talking with the young person about how they can use their own voice to raise the issue with their allocated DCP worker, their worker’s supervisor, or an existing complaints process
  • Helping the young person to identify someone in their own network who can support them to advocate for themselves
  • Talking with the adult enquirer about how they can advocate for the child or young person as a natural advocate and/or member of the care team, or other steps they need to take before GCYP will intervene
  • Making enquiries with DCP, on the young person’s behalf (and with their consent) to try to resolve the issue, before formal advocacy is necessary
  • Obtaining information from DCP to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the presenting issue/s and submitting a formal, written advocacy position to DCP on the young person’s behalf.

Upon initial contact, the ARO may refer the matter to an Advocate immediately, if it looks like the presenting issues will require ongoing advocacy support.

If the young person identifies as Aboriginal, the ARO will offer for them to speak directly with one of GCYP’s Advocates for Aboriginal children.

Do you address systemic issues that affect a larger cohort of children and young people in care?

We welcome contact from children and young people, and adults in the child protection space, in relation to the broader, recurring issues that affect the rights and best interests of children and young people in care.

One of the GCYP’s functions is to inquire and provide advice to the Minister in relation to systemic reform necessary to improve the quality of care provided for children and young people under guardianship.

Systems issues often take time, and persistence, to improve and resolve. GCYP may not be able to directly or immediately pursue a systems issue you raise with us; however, hearing about your concerns will provide us with unique insight into the circumstances and processes that affect children in care, generally, and will help us to prioritise issues for systemic advocacy in the future.