Further observations from young people in residential care

In our previous post, we quoted children and young people verbatim about some of their feelings about living in residential care.

It is not always ‘easy listening’ but we are committed to ensuring the voices of children and young people are heard, so that we can really try to understand their experiences as they feel them.

Resi care can be challenging and we know that ensuring safety and protection in residential care can make it hard to make a place feel like ‘home’.

We also know that carers work in wonderful ways with children from a variety of cultural backgrounds and abilities, many of whom have a history of trauma.

So here are some further vignettes, recorded by our Advocates from the Child and Young Person’s Visitor Program while visiting children and young people in residential care facilities.

New resources help children and young people in residential care have a say

graphic from one of the having a say posters

New resources, available today, will give children and young people in residential care information about their right to make a complaint and be heard.

Developed by CREATE Foundation, in conjunction with Office of the Guardian, the resources provide information and tools to assist them raise issues that concern them.

Central to the new feedback process is the the Post Incident Reflection Form, developed with input from young people in residential care.

Also available is a set of posters, brochures and two videos which tell children and young people in residential care about their rights and ways to address issues.

The resources have been developed in response to a recommendation from Commissioner Margaret Nyland’s 2016 report The Life They Deserve.  Recommendation 136 from that report proposed that the Guardian’s Office develop an educational program for children and young people in residential care to explain and promote their rights and give them encouragement and the means necessary to have their voices heard.

The live action video shares the stories of young people who relate some of the incidents they faced while living in residential care. It also advises young people in care why it’s important to understand their rights.

For younger people, an animated video describes the Post Incident Reflection Form and how a child in care has the ability to make a complaint at any time.

If resolving an issue with residential care staff does not work, children and young people are encouraged to fill in a complaints form or phone the Complaints Unit directly on 1800 003 305.

Printable files of the posters can be downloaded now from the Resources page of the Guardian’s website and printed copies of the posters and booklets will be available to be ordered from that page in February.

Some favourite artwork from young people in care

We would like to share with you some of our favorite artworks from young Aboriginal people in residential care that have come to our notice in the past year.  Please click on the thumbnails to see a bigger version.

Security and stability of placement dominates requests for advocacy

picture of suitcase

The Guardian’s Office received a record 96 in-mandate[1] requests for advocacy in the first quarter of the new year, representing 127 children and young people.

This was an increase of 35 per cent in inquiries and a 24 percent increase in the number of children represented compared to the preceding quarter.

Last year the Office averaged 64 in-mandate requests per quarter.  This follows the trend of an increase in the number of requests for advocacy and in the complexity of the issues raised.

The top five people who initiated in-mandate requests in July-September 2018 were:

Adults in the child’s life                                  42

Children and young people themselves      33

Department for Child Protection staff          10

Health, education and youth justice              5

Non-government organisations                     3

The top five presenting issues (by inquiry)[2] were:

Stability and security of placement              29

Safety                                                                21

Participation in decision making                   18

Contact with significant others                      15

Appropriate care                                               24

These are also the top five issues identified in the Guardian’s 2017-18 Annual Report and substantially the same as those reported in previous years.

The 33 children and young people who requested advocacy directly were in the following care arrangements:

Residential care                                             16

Adelaide Youth Training Centre                     5

Relative care                                                    4

Foster care                                                       2

Commercial (emergency) care                       2

Unknown                                                          4

 

[1] The Guardian is mandated by legislation to promote the interests of children and young people below the age of 18 years who are living in out-of-home care.  Another 17 inquiries were determined to be not within the Guardian’s mandate and those callers were assisted to make contact with a more appropriate organisation.

[2] Young people often present with multiple, interrelated issues.  Presenting issues are counted as primary and secondary and these are added to achieve the numbers reported.

Empowering young people – by listening to them

The ability to participate and have their voice heard is an important issue for Australia’s children and young people. This is a key principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and an important aspect of empowering children and young people.

It is also the key principle that underlies the recently released Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Joint Participation Paper 2018.

Children and young people talk about this in their own words:

“All children have a voice and a right to do certain things. We all want out voice to be heard and our opinions to be taken seriously.”

“Talking is important.”

“I do need to talk with you. I need to let you know what is important to me, to get what I want and need and to be kept safe.”

[What makes you feel safe?] “Someone to talk to.”

“It’s important that young people have an opportunity to talk about this stuff but it has to be done safely so, you know, it doesn’t make life worse for them … But I think that even though adults are scared to talk about this stuff because it is uncomfortable, it has to be done if things are going to change.”

“[I] don’t want someone else making the decisions about what I want.”

“How do you know what I want if you don’t ask me? Or don’t listen when I tell you?”

“We have ‘equal thoughts’: don’t just think that adults have the big thoughts. Kids have big thoughts too.”

“A good society values the opinions of young people, even if they are inexperienced.”

“Not just popular kids get a say or participate – everybody is equal.”

“We should all listen respectfully. It does not matter if you are young or old. Your ideas may be very good and are worth listening to… They don’t always have to agree but at least let them be heard.”317

A number of children and young people also expressed concern that their opinions are not respected and their voices go unheard:

“Even if I can get my views out there, I’m not always listened to.”

“Parents don’t care about kids’ opinions because they think kids know nothing.”

“I think that adults think they know what kids need to be safe but I don’t think that they do. They base it on what they remember from when they were kids and the world is different now. So they need to talk to kids and find out what it means to them.”

‘[I] need to be able to communicate – no-one to talk to – need person to talk to.”

There is a treasure trove of comments from young people across Australia about the matters that concern them, from bullying to transport in the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Joint Participation Paper 2018 which you can download here.

Young people speak about protecting their rights in residential care

Following up from Commissioner Nyland’s recommendation #136 in her August 2016 report on child protection systems in South Australia, the Guardian asked CREATE to ask some young people in residential care what they knew about their rights and how they thought that they could be best protected.

Here are some of the things they said.


You can download the above in text form from this link.

It’s all about listening to young people

West Coast Youth and Community Support’s Jo Clark (right) and Angela Perin are convinced that the key to good services is listening and acting on what young people say.

For CEO of West Coast Youth and Community Support (WCYCS), Jo Clark, the key to working with young people is listening to what they have to say and then acting on it.

‘By ignoring what young people say we risk undermining their confidence and their willingness to make decisions, making them more passive and more dependent.

‘Our Youth Advisory Committee sits at the centre of all of the programs and services we provide for young people. From a pool of about 25, we get 8 or 10 young people to weekly meetings where we discuss progress on the projects they are interested in and new ideas and issues they want to raise.

‘When we were setting up our new Youth Hub, over 200 young people responded to a survey asking what they wanted.  Some things, like free Wi-Fi, were expected but others, like a homework study space and tutoring, were also popular and they will be a part of the planning in 2018.’

‘I believe that the rights in the Charter of Rights are important for all of the young people  we work for, not just those in state care, and I particularly like the importance the Charter places on hearing the voices of young people – that is its real strength.’

Next to the Youth Hub is Youthoria, the town’s only cinema, providing valuable work experience otherwise unavailable to vulnerable young people. WCYCS’s Youth Programs Manager Angela Perin explains how, driven by the vision of a passionate group of young people, WCYCS acquired the cinema when it closed.

‘We have run it with young people for the last ten years, and for the last seven at break even or better.  But the real profit is in the training and employment opportunities for Port Lincoln’s young people and its benefits for the community and local community groups.’

Jo Clark explains that, with over 25 per cent youth unemployment and a very few Aboriginal people being employed in local businesses and government offices, she fears that Port Lincoln is storing up some serious social problems for the future.+

‘The local community and services have been able to put together some great collaborative work and Rotary have been fantastic but we have serious issues in homelessness, crime and unemployment and we really need major investment from the other levels of  government.’

Watching the golden children laughing and leaping off the Town Jetty into the Bay in the warm evening sun, you hope that investment is forthcoming.

The ocean is my friend

11 December 2017

The Ocean is My Friend by Gutara, young woman in year 7 They don’t understand When their feet touch the sand Oh, I want to swim in the ocean They don’t know what they have done When they see that you are gone Oh, I want to swim in the ocean In the ocean I feel free Free to be me The waves they taste like tears And they wash away my fears Oh, I want to be in the ocean CHORUS The water is calling me, calling me, calling me The water is calling me, calling me, calling me I have never been quite so deep Have never had so many peeps The ocean she is my friend Me and her until the end Oh, I want to swim in the ocean CHORUS The water is calling me, calling me, calling me The water is calling me, calling me, calling me

This song lyric was offered to one of our advocates for publication by a young woman during a visit to a residential care house.  Thanks to Philip Ellison for the design.

This item first appeared in the November 2017 Guardian’s Newsletter which you can download now.

For abuse to occur, a child’s voice must be silenced

11 July 2017

For abuse of a child to occur, the first necessary condition is that the child remain silent, that their voice not be heard.  This silence may be engineered by the abuser, using their status, fear or shame. It may be engineered by institutions that are passive in protecting children or complicit in covering it up or by adults and peers who are not alert to the signs or do not know how to respond.

A just-released Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) Practice Paper Protection through participation – Involving children in child-safe organisations is a practical guide to how to talk with children about their safety and feelings of safety.  The paper is itself based on the Australian Catholic University’s research into how children understand and experience safety in institutions conducted last year for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.

The paper is an excellent resource suitable both for organisations developing their systems and for individual concerned adults.  It combines general discussion with some specific and practical advice and tools.  It tells us:

  • Children want to be in the know. They want to understand if there are risks or troubling events.  Adults sometimes minimise this information thinking they are protecting the child but, in the words of one young person, ‘They think they should hide that stuff from kids to keep them safe but you feel more scared if you don’t know what’s happening.’
  • Children want to be asked for their views and involved in solutions.  Sometimes group discussions are appropriate but in some situations, where the level of trust is not high or there is likely be shame or embarrassment, anonymous reporting via suggestion boxes or surveys may be a way to start the conversation.  Involving children in decisions about a wide range of issues that affect them is good practice and should be normal in institutions.  It builds confidence in children for when more challenging matters arise for them.
  • Adults need to be skilled and calm.  They need to be informed about the real risks faced by children, the possible signs of abuse and to know how to approach a child or how to respond if approached.  Responses that adults may have heard and learned in their own childhood like ‘just grow up’, ‘walk away’ or  ‘it’s not a big deal’  can close down approaches by children and end conversations about abuse.  Adults must be aware of their own emotional triggers and set them aside to explore a child’s disclosures calmly and reasonably.
  • Adults need to be available.  Children will raise issues more readily with people with whom they have a meaningful relationship and this takes time to build.  Opportunities for discussion can occur at unpredictable times, like doing the dishes or driving somewhere in the car, and the adults who are physically and emotionally present are key to hearing a child’s concerns.
  • Recognise and use the power of peers. The paper says it most succinctly:

‘Young people are more likely to listen to peers and those people who have successfully protected themselves or dealt with situations if they arose. Working in partnership with young people to run workshops, teach classes or initiate conversations were all seen as helpful.’