Nunga Oog is taking shape

The long-awaited safety symbol for Aboriginal children and young people in care, Nunga Oog, is taking shape after our face to face workshops kicked off earlier this month.

A group of Aboriginal children and young people joined artist Sasha Houthuysen during the October school holidays to start designing what Nunga Oog could look like. These sessions came on the back of art boxes we sent to selected residential care facilities in July to invite young people to come up with some initial designs.

After the delay in workshops due to COVID-19, it was great to be able to sit down with the young people and see and hear their ideas in person. They told us that:

Nunga Oog should…

– look different to Oog

– have some black on it

– have the Aboriginal flag on its belly

– have colours of the Aboriginal flag

– be cuddly

– be gender free

– not be so round

– have big ears to listen to children and young people

– tell a story of safety by using symbols

– be brown with symbols and dot work (journey lines).

The workshops also provided opportunities for the children and young people to take away some new-found art skills and learn about Aboriginal symbols and how they can tell stories using these symbols. The young people were keen for us to share their designs with you.

And after the second workshop, the draft outline of Nunga Oog began to take shape…

Workshops will be continuing in the January school holidays to help design Nunga Oog, with sessions being planned across the state in collaboration with Aboriginal artists. If you know an Aboriginal child or young person in care who would like to get involved, please register their interest by emailing Leila at leila.plush@sa.gov.au or Conrad at conrad.morris@sa.gov.au by Friday 13 November.

Launch of our new logos

We are excited to launch our new logos and branding which were inspired by two young people in care/detention.

The Guardian for Children and Young People and the Training Centre Visitor now have their own individual logos. Moving away from the Government of South Australia logo, we wanted to create a brand that young people could connect with, using bright images that tell their story about their relationship with our office.

So how were the logos designed?

You may remember earlier this year we ran an art competition for children and young people in care to help design the logo for the Guardian for Children and Young People. Our office voted on the entries, with the winning artwork given to a designer to create the final logo.

                               
The young person who inspired the logo said she designed this logo because “anywhere you are there will always be an adult to care for all young people. It doesn’t matter who you are we should all have a place to live and be treated fairly”.

The Training Centre Visitor (TCV) logo was inspired by art workshops that we held in the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre in June with the help of Aboriginal artist and youth mentor Shane Cook. The artworks were used to develop a larger art piece to promote the Charter of Rights for youths detained in detention centres as well as the TCV logo. The Aboriginal artwork in the TCV logo represents a journey path.

 

             
Both the logos have a strong Aboriginal theme due to the overwhelming representation of Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention. We wanted them to know our office and our advocates provide a safe place for them where their culture is respected, and their voices are heard.

Penny Wright, Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor said she was grateful to the young people who inspired the logos.

“The voice of children and young people is at the forefront of everything we do so I’m very happy that our logos were inspired by them as that really reflects the values of our office. I hope the young people who inspired the logos feel proud of their contribution,” Penny said.

And although we have a new look, Oog will still be part of our family and we look forward to meeting Nunga Oog in the near future.

We are also working on developing a new website, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

Safeguarding children in care and detention with disability

Last month our office provided feedback on SA’s Safeguarding Taskforce Report – a report that examined and outlined gaps in the oversight and safeguarding for people living with disability. This is a summary of our feedback in relation to our role as an oversight body for children and young people in care and/or detention with disability.

It is estimated that approximately one third of children and young people in care have disability, and a recent study of the residents at Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre indicated that nine out of ten residents assessed had disability or disability-related needs. However, the full extent of these numbers is unknown.

There are currently serious limitations on the ability of the Guardian for Children and Young People and the Training Centre Visitor to oversee the circumstances of these vulnerable young people due to staffing constraints and a shortage of necessary, relevant information. As a result, we generally rely on the children and young people contacting our office to tell us what is happening for them. This excludes those children in care who are too young to contact us or who have communication or other disabilities that impede their ability to seek assistance.

During the two-year pilot program of the Child and Young Person’s Visitor program, which concluded in September 2019 and is currently unfunded, OGCYP staff became aware of the significant number of young people with disability who live in residential care. Historically, this cohort’s issues have been predominant in our individual advocacy work and have indicated that the residential care system gives rise to unacceptable amounts of harm and distress to those living in that environment. We do not have accurate data about how many children and young people with disabilities live in residential care, or where they are placed. Nor do we know the nature of disabilities experienced by these young people and what care and support they are receiving.

From our advocacy and monitoring work, we do know that children and young people living in residential care are at risk of harm when poor ‘matching’ of co-residents occurs.  A child with disability, for instance, may be particularly vulnerable to influence or coercion if placed with another child or children who exhibit harmful sexual or physical behaviours. Poor, or no, placement matching results in cases of injury and sexual harm and this is exacerbated if there are not sufficient staff to mitigate the risk. Without an adequate capacity to visit facilities and oversee these issues, there is a considerable risk that many of these incidents remain hidden from view.

The Training Centre Visitor and staff are aware of significant concerns relating to the adequate care, treatment and control of children and young people with disabilities in the youth justice centre – particularly when behaviours that are considered a threat to security within a detention environment are actually disability-related.  However, it is also heartening to see the recent development of Youth Justice Assessment and Intervention Services and their work to address some of these concerns.

Finally, it is notable that both DHS and DCP staff are often not yet adequately equipped to navigate complex NDIS or other disability systems on behalf of those in their care. This can then result in already socially isolated and institutionalised children and young people leaving the care and/or youth justice systems with little support and limited capacity to navigate adult life.

Our feedback highlighted the need and importance of our office being able to effectively provide oversight and safeguarding measures to lower the real and identifiable risks faced by this vulnerable cohort. With so much stacked up against them, they need to know the adults looking after them are committed to ensuring their individual needs are being met, including their disability needs, so they can thrive in all aspects of their lives.

You can read our full feedback submission here.

Introducing our two new advocates

We are excited to welcome two new advocates to the Guardian for Children and Young People’s advocacy team.

Anneline Gregory has joined our team on a full-time basis for the next 12 months after recently relocating from the UK. Anneline brings 20 years’ experience as a qualified social worker, with a focus on child protection, out of home care and as a children’s guardian in the UK court system.

Joel Georgeson will be working with us part time until the end of the year. Joel brings valuable experience as a teacher and a senior child and youth practitioner within residential care for the Department for Child Protection.

We sat down with our new advocates to find out more about them…

Anneline Gregory

What inspires you to work with children and young people in care?
I feel privileged to work with children and young people in care as I think they are some of the bravest children and young people that I have met.  The opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child or young person who has already been through so much, is something that keeps me going.  To see those children or young people thrive, knowing what they have been through, fills me with joy and admiration for each of them.

How does advocacy/support for young people in care work in the UK?
As soon as a child is placed in care and then every 3-6 months thereafter their needs are monitored through statutory reviews.  The child’s foster carer and case worker advocate on the child’s behalf but the child also has an allocated independent reviewing officer who chairs the review meetings and who would also challenge DCP if tasks on the care plan were outstanding or not in the child’s best interest.  The child will have an opportunity to express their wishes and feelings before and during the review and it is a requirement that these are clearly recorded.

In the UK, the majority of children in out of home care are in foster care placements rather than residential care.  Residential care is only really used for children with complex needs whose needs could not safely be met in a foster placement.

What are three words that best describe you?
Kind, organised and creative.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I love spending time with my family.  Our happy place is at the beach.  Watching the waves roll in, the sun shining, having a little swim, it doesn’t get much better than that.  We also enjoy camping, being outdoors, travelling and discovering new places.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?​ 
‘There is always something to laugh about’. For me, the advice is about maintaining a positive mental attitude and looking for the funny or the positive side of a difficult situation, rather than to allow it to get you down.

Joel Georgeson

What inspires you to work with children and young people in care?
The little moments where I’ve been able to help them achieve their goals, bring joy to their lives and see them experience something new for the first time.

You have worked as a senior youth practitioner in residential care for 5 years What was your biggest learning about the rights and needs of children and young people in care?
The most important thing I learnt is that children and young people deserve a team of people around them who genuinely have their best interests at the centre of all decisions, who will listen and truly understand them. All children and young people have their own amazing personalities and they need people who will listen to them and fight for them and their needs.

How do you think your experience in that role could benefit your new role as an advocate?
I believe my previous role has equipped me with the experience and skills to build trusting relationships with the children and young people who I will be advocating for. It has also provided me with an in-depth understanding of the needs and issues facing young people living in care and how to best support them.

What are three words that best describe you?
Positive, energetic and compassionate.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
When I’m not at work I love to spend time with my wife and three pets, I’m also an avid reader and enjoy finding a comfy spot and losing a few hours in a book.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?​
Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.

Free therapeutic counselling available

A free therapeutic counselling support is available now for people engaging with, or affected by, the Disability Royal Commission. This includes children and young people in care who have disability and have experienced trauma.

Relationships Australia South Australia (RASA) have received funding until 2022 from the Australian Government to provide counselling for people who have a disability (physical, psycho-social, intellectual, or learning) and who have experienced trauma as a result of violence, abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

This service is also open to people who are supporting those affected, such as parents, foster and kinship carers, support workers, siblings, and social workers. The child or support person does not have to be directly engaged with the Royal Commission but may be affected by the Royal Commission.

RASA Counsellor Zoë Dalton said this program addresses a gap in services for children and young people in care, with the services of highly experienced counsellors.

“Essentially, there are gaps in trauma-informed counselling for all people with disabilities. This gap has been particularly noted around the supports and care for children in care, residential care and detention. There just does not appear to be a therapeutic service that wraps around their needs from a disability perspective that is openly available, which is why this service has been established.” Zoë said.

“I have observed a lack of therapeutic support for people working with young people in care with a disability. This can have a flow on effect to the wellbeing and care provided to the young person. Our trauma and disability-informed counsellors can address this area too.”

There are currently five counsellors with capacity to see clients immediately, with no waitlists or delays. Counselling sessions are available at the RASA office in Hindmarsh or at a person’s home, school, or workplace. Sessions are also available via phone and video calls.

To make an appointment call RASA on 1800 577 571 or email drccounselling@rasa.org.au or for more information visit the service page here. You can also find out more about the service and support groups through RASA’s Facebook and Twitter.

We want your feedback on the draft revised Charter of Rights

For the last few months our office has been working with children and young people on revising the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care, and now we want your feedback.

Every five years we are required to review the charter to make sure it is still relevant and reflects what young people in care want and need today. As part of this year’s review nearly 100 children and young people who are in care or who have a care experience told us what is important to them and what they thought their rights should be while in care. They shared their voices through participating in workshops, online surveys, worksheets and activity books.

With the voices of these young people at the centre, the Charter of Rights working group (which included two care leavers) set about collating the responses and drafting a set of rights that reflected what the young cohort said. Based on their feedback, the revised charter has a strong emphasis on being safe, the right to be heard, being respected as an individual, and of connecting to and being part of culture.

The next step in the review process is to get feedback from you – the adults, carers and workers who care for this young cohort. We want to know if you think these new rights reflect the needs and concerns of the children and young people that you work with and care for every day. Remember these rights are for the young people themselves so they should reflect their voices and what they consider to be important.

How to share your feedback

To have your say, read the revised charter and email your feedback to Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au by COB on Wednesday 30 September.

What next?

Once we have your feedback, we will be sharing the final version of the revised charter to a group of children and young people for endorsement during the October school holidays. The updated charter is expected to be legislated in Parliament early next year, with the roll out to begin soon after.

On behalf of our office and the working group we would like to send a big heartfelt thanks to the people who helped facilitate the activities that enabled children and young people to have their say, and to the young people themselves who were willing to share their thoughts and feelings openly about their rights in care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Putting children first this week, and always

By Guardian Penny Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledging great practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

The deadly dreamtime story

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

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

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

The deadly dreamtime story

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

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

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

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

 

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