Who is crazy about children in care?

picture of Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw, Guardian

20 June 2016

I write this with rich memories of the Easter long weekend and what I did with my children.

When it comes to holidays, my family has traditions. We have family gatherings, we share meals and we celebrate. Life with my children revolves around sport. We play it. We watch it. So, over the Easter weekend I took my children to Melbourne to a first round game of the AFL season. We did an Easter egg hunt and ate hot cross buns. That’s what I did at Easter when I was growing up.

Holiday’s may mean time spent with significant people, faith, customs and traditions and activities.

Children and young people may come into out-of-home care with some good memories of holidays or a certain sadness when they to do have such memories.  Does an adult with a child in care at Easter know how that child might have experienced holidays before? Did they celebrate? What was their favourite part? What made Easter special for them? Are they surprised about what holidays mean to their carer family and what the carer family does at those times of the year?

It is easy and understandable to get caught up in the functional aspects, in the case planning and in managing the domains of a child’s life and to lose sight of what it means to be a child and to be that child in those circumstances.

We know that caring relationships are central to all aspects of a child’s development. In the words of Urie Bronfenbrenner:

Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last and always.

So we must at some times, set aside the practical; we must take the time to connect with children, to ask and listen to what they tell us about their previous experiences and their views on what’s happening now for them. At least some of the many adults that come into a child in care’s life and have a caring role, must really get to know the child. Someone needs to be crazy about them, to know their views on holidays, what they think is fun, who is important to them, their favourite books, games, TV shows and music. To find out what they dream for themselves and how they see the world around them.

I want to know all of that and more about my children. My boys’ answers to some of these questions change as they get older and have new experiences. So I know I have to keep asking, keep listening and keep learning about who they are.

Basically, I’ll keep being crazy about them.

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This item originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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The Charter of Rights in 2016

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7 June 2016

Ten years on and South Australia’s Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care is getting new face.

And endorsing agencies are getting the chance to renew their commitment to the Charter and to children’s rights.

From May 2016 the 68 agencies that have endorsed the Charter can revisit their commitment via a revised online endorsement tool.

‘During 2015, we asked children and young people about what they would like to see in the Charter,’ said Guardian Amanda Shaw.

‘They made some small but significant changes.

‘They also made many suggestions about the content and design of the Charter materials but he actual changes to the wording of the Charter are minor.

‘Organisations can review whether the Charter is still relevant to them,’ she said.

Charter Coordinator Nicole Pilkington is managing the transition to the revised Charter and re-endorsement.

‘We are aware that endorsement of the Charter is a condition in the funding agreements of many agencies.

‘We are making the process as simple as possible and have spoken with State Government funding bodies to make sure that funded organisations have enough time to re-endorse.

‘We will be updating contact details and lists of Charter Champions too.

‘This will make sure that we can get the new materials to agencies and the hands of the young people as soon as possible.

‘Endorsing agencies can expect to hear from us in May or can go directly to the website to use the endorsement tool.

‘Agencies that no longer wish to endorse the Charter can simply do nothing and their endorsement will lapse on 30 June 2016,’ she said.

‘Some agencies wanted to apply in December to March when endorsement was not available.so we are contacting them to re-commence their endorsement process,’ said Nicole.

The vital work of Charter Champions will still be central.

The Guardian’s Office will contact all Charter Champions about their roles and Charter materials after endorsement finishes in June.

This item originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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What’s Been Done – March to May 2016

24 May 2016

After 10 years the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care has been reviewed and the promotional materials re-designed. The Minister for Education and Child Development confirmed that the revised Charter was tabled and accepted in Parliament. New design work has recently been completed and the Charter was relaunched on May 10.
The Youth Justice Administration Act was passed by Parliament in March. The legislation provides additional sentencing options for young offenders, for a charter of rights for young people in youth justice detention and directs the establishment of an Official Visitor scheme. Paying particular attention to the needs and circumstances of young people in care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and young people with disabilities, the independent Official Visitor is to report on the treatment of residents and the management of the youth training centre..
Significant effort and achievement by those involved, particularly former Guardian Pam Simmons, was also recognised by our interstate and international counterparts, who acknowledged that South Australia originally paved the way for a charter recognising the rights of children in care..
Emphasising the special circumstances for students in out of home care or in the training centre, the Guardian and Senior Policy Officer gave evidence to the Legislative Council Inquiry into Access to the Education System for Students with Disabilities based on our written submission..
A submission was made to the National Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Out of Home Care.
The Office’s annual summary report of child protection expenditure in South Australia was released.
In the four months, January to April, there were 51 requests for intervention about children under guardianship, involving 76 children. The Senior Advocate audited 11 annual reviews for children under long-term orders and the Advocates made 4 official visits to residential and youth justice facilities..
picture of michelle hopkinsThe GCYP welcomed Michelle Hopkins to the staff team as an Advocate and in late March farewelled Melissa Clarke who after five years with the Office has accepted a position with the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement.

This article was first published in the May 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

Download the May 2016 Guardian’s Newsletter now.

The revised Charter of Rights launches today

10 May 2016

For children and young people in care and the people who work directly with them this will mean a slightly different Charter and a completely new range of posters and booklets for teens and pre-teens.

For endorsed organisations it is the opportunity to renew their support for the Charter.

For Charter Champions it is the chance to renew their contact with the Guardian’s Office and ensure the young people they work with are up to speed on their rights and know how they can be supported to exercise them.

‘Throughout 2015 dozens of young people and many government and non-government organisations helped us make sure the text of the Charter reflected the needs of young people and that the way the rights were presented was clear and appealing,’ said Guardian Amanda Shaw.

‘Mostly the Charter still reflected the young people’s concerns with only a few tweaks to the wording but discussion about how to communicate was very animated and produced some creative ideas we will be following up on later,’ she said.

Designers Sue and Chris who created the poster and booklet artwork were directly involved with several of the consultations with young people.

‘As well as being a great experience, it was incredibly valuable to actually meet the young people we were designing for and to get their ideas in a completely unfiltered way,’ they said.

‘It kept the design process very real for us.’

Charter Coordinator, Nicole Pilkington was keen to reassure endorsed organisations that the process of renewing their endorsement would be simple and straightforward.

‘For those organisations for whom endorsement of the Charter is tied to their funding, we have been talking to government funding bodies to make sure there are no hiccups.

‘The revised Charter is very similar to the old one so we are sure there will be no need for organisational policy or procedure changes.

‘We will be contacting all endorsed agencies over the next few weeks to guide them through the re-endorsement process or they can go straight to the re-endorsement tool and get started now.

‘We will also be sending out sample packs of the new materials to residential care houses.

‘Whether organisations have had time to re-endorse or not, the redesigned Charter posters and booklets can now be ordered online and A4 versions can be downloaded in PDF from the resources page on our website.

‘If you have any queries about the Charter and re-endorsement, please contact me by email ([email protected]) or phone (8226 8570) during office hours,’ she said.

This item originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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Read to Me

REad to Me photo Kaurna PlainsThose quiet moments spent reading with a baby or toddler may be more than just a pleasant memory for you both.  Research here and overseas has repeatedly shown that reading with a young child is a powerful predictor of their future success in reading and writing and in education generally.

Raising Literacy Australia has long been in the business of getting books into the hands of young children and their families and their most recent venture, Read to Me, has a special focus on children who are in state care.

Starting October 2015 all children in care from birth to five years have received a package of books carefully selected for their age group and delivered to their door.

‘Families SA has been very supportive while keeping children’s details confidential,’ explains Raising Literacy Australia’s Michelle Littleboy.

‘They let us know the ages of children, and the  number of packs and then coordinated the deliveries to the right addresses.

‘After the first delivery, we then provide a top-up pack every few months and, of course, starter packs to new children coming into care.

‘The next round of deliveries will be in March,’ she said.

Many carers and foster parents have written to express their appreciation.

‘My husband and I are foster parents and today our foster son received a pack of books from yourselves. We just wanted to say thank you and what an awesome initiative. He was delighted to receive them all and immediately sat and read/had them read to him with/by his older brothers. It was lovely to see them all enjoying the new books.’

‘We’ve had many phone calls from grateful carers and foster parents too and even some happy tears,’ said Michelle.

‘The project is funded by the South Australian Government with great support from Variety the Children’s Charity of South Australia and Cochrane’s Transport.  Support from children’s publishers across Australia has helped us to buy books very economically.’

Raising Literacy Australia is confident that they are in this for the long run.

‘We will really see the true benefit of this project when this generation of children are starting to sit down to read with their own children,’ said Michelle.

Raising Literacy Australia is the overarching organisation best known by The Little Big Book Club Program.  Information on its variety of initiatives can be found at its website.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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Art meets rights at Tandanya

29 March 2016

To accompany the revised Charter of Rights to be tabled in Parliament early this year will be a new set of posters and other materials.  Guardian’s Office Advocates, graphic designers and an Indigenous consultant met with a small group of young Aboriginal people in care in January 2016 to discuss what would appeal and get the rights message across.

Passing things on is what culture is about – young people are our future.

Patrick Fergusson, Aboriginal artist

A chance encounter with Adnyamathanha and Pitjantjatjara artist Patrick Fergusson who had an exhibition at Tandanya when the consultation was taking place gave the young people and the designers a the opportunity to speak to a practicing Aboriginal artist. Patrick explained that he works from found native timbers that he turns into traditional artefacts featuring designs handed down to him by his Elders.

desk at Tandanya consultation 2016

Some of the suggestions from the consultation were:

  • handprints with sayings inside of them
  • hand drawn images – they are made by heart, computer generated images are made by nothing
  • circles – maroon, darker and lighter (circles keep on going, squares have stopping points)
  • border in black
  • rainbow serpent around the poster
  • brush strokes in different shades of the same colour
  • strong dark background with white outlines of design to stand out
  • must have animals – Kangaroo, Wombat, Emu, Lizard, Black Swan, Ibis
  • how about using symbols (examples : the Meeting Place, the Sitting Place, Women Gathering, Men Gathering). 
  • use textures like sand, ocean, rock, water, nature

Jodie headshot-circular.

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Huge thanks to the young people for their great ideas and enthusiasm on the day.  Also to Melissa from our office, Tony from CAMHS (Indigenous consultant to the project), designers Sue and Chris and to Patrick.

Jodie Evans, Senior Advocate

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 Guardian’s Newsletter.

New look Charter of Rights for 2016

15 March 2016

At the Charter’s launch at the Adelaide Zoo in 2006, then Minister for Families and Communities, Jay Weatherill congratulated the children and young people, carers and professionals whose work created the Charter.

Children and young people in care ‘need to know they can expect to be treated well and cared for properly while they are under guardianship.

Jay Weatherill

‘It also is crucial for them to know they have options if something goes wrong.

‘The Charter is a great way of telling them this and preventing problems such as abuse,’ he said.

Since the launch, over 60 government, non-government and commercial organisations have endorsed the Charter and applied it in their work. Over 200 Charter Champions within those organisations have taken on the responsibility to promote the Charter and support young people to make their rights a reality.

The Guardian’s office has made the Charter the centre of its monitoring and advocacy and hundreds of posters and thousands of booklets and other items promoting young people’s rights have been distributed.

After ten years, the Charter is due for review and throughout 2015, the team at the Guardian’s office has consulted with young people and adult stakeholders about the content of the Charter and how the messages about rights can best be conveyed.

‘The young people we spoke to were happy with most of the content and wording of the original Charter, but we will be proposing to the Minister some small but significant tweaks based on what they suggested,’ explained Guardian Amanda Shaw.

Advocate Jodie Evans and young people warm up for the Charter of Rights consultation in Port Augusta in April 2015.

‘The new materials that are being developed to coincide with the revised Charter will focus on rights in action and encouraging young people and adults to use the rights to discuss and resolve needs and issues as they arise.

‘The revised Charter will also offer the opportunity for endorsed organisations to review their endorsement of the Charter and to re-commit to it.

‘We are very grateful to the 27 young people who worked with us on the review and to the staff of Key Assets, Families SA in Pt Augusta and Mt Barker and CreateSA who made the consultations happen.

‘The new-look Charter is a tribute to them.’

If the Minister approves of the revised Charter it will be tabled at a sitting of Parliament early in 2016.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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Honouring connection to culture and community of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in residential care

1 March 2016

In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – Article 30

Almost 30 per cent of young people in State care in South Australia are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent, more than ten times the rate of their representation in the general community.  The multiple disadvantages faced by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community translates into particular challenges for providers of residential care and supporting strong cultural and community connections offers a way forward for young people and the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community as a whole.

Focussing on these challenges, the Guardian’s Office recently released the Literature Review – Residential Care for Aboriginal Children and Young People (August 2015).  This flagged the need for a set of qualitative performance indicators to help monitor and evaluate how the care provided supports the right of the young residents to participate in and benefit from their Aboriginal culture and community.

The Guardian’s Office is developing those culture and community indicators now.

The new indicators will help Advocates monitor how residential care services support the right of the young residents to participate in and benefit from their Aboriginal culture and community connections.  They will complement the Office’s current monitoring practice.

They will also be useful for house managers and staff, complementing in a practical way existing policies and activities such as Aboriginal Identity Planning and other standard practices such as annual case reviews.

What the Guardian’s Office and residential care staff learn from applying the new indicators will be included in the reports we provide to houses and Families SA and to advocate for policy and practice developments.

The new Indicators will focus on how a residential service:

  • helps the young person to understand their current situation and supports their involvement in making decisions about their life
  • supports access to their culture and community
  • uses culturally appropriate tools and service methodologies and
  • involves a range of carers and other service providers in meeting the young person’s needs.

Applying the indicators, Advocates will ask young people directly about their contact with culture and community.  They will look at how the house applies the culturally relevant policy and operational expectations of that service provider and the residential care system and they will assess cultural aspects of the house’s physical and social environment.

Focussing on the situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in this way will help the Guardian to meet her statutory obligation to ‘promote the best interests of children under the guardianship, or in the custody, of the Minister, and in particular those in alternative care.’

The Office is discussing aspects of the new indicators with a variety of stakeholders.

The indicators will be included as a part of the information package that accompanies the Residential Care Self-evaluation Survey in June 2016.

For further information about the development of the new Culture and Community Indicators, please contact Alan Fairley, GCYP Senior Policy Officer, at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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What’s been done – September 2015 to February 2016

18 February 2016

The 2014-15 Guardian’s Annual Report was tabled in late October, followed by the release of the Year in Review.

graphic for Audit of Annual ReviewsThe report on what we learnt about the circumstances for children under guardianship of the Minister from the 2014-15 audit of annual reviews was released in September.  This report is a good indication of the circumstances of the group as a whole, the quality of casework practice and systemic strengths and weaknesses.

The Charter of Rights for children and young people in care was reviewed in 2015 and some important changes made to the text, following feedback from children and young people. The revised text will be tabled in Parliament in February.  New graphic designs to accompany the new text will be released in the first half of 2016.

The Charter of Rights Implementation Committee had its final 2015 meeting in November with an informative presentation by Kate Cameron, Churchill Fellow, on out of home care for young people with disabilities

The consultation on a model charter of rights specific to detention facilities was completed in October.  In December, the Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion accepted the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People Detained in Youth Justice Facilities. We will follow its promotion and monitoring in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre.

A written submission was made to the Legislative Council Inquiry into Access to the Education System for Students with Disabilities emphasising the special circumstances for students in out of home care or in detention.

A submission was made to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs inquiry into the educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

In the six months, July to December 2015 there were 64 requests for intervention about children under guardianship, involving 76 children.   The Senior Advocate audited 98 annual reviews for children under long-term orders and Advocates made ten official visits to residential or youth justice facilities.

How would you spend your 100 survey report 2015 graphicA survey of our Information Service subscribers in December drew 358 responses to the question ‘how would you spend extra money on child protection?’   The survey report showed early intervention and family support as the most popular option by a great margin.

This first appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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Child protection in 2016

picture of Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw, Guardian

Only five weeks into my new position as Guardian and already I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked ‘what is your vision?’ Having been with the Office for eight years as the Senior Advocate, working with the remarkable Pam Simmons, it’s probably not surprising that my vision is the same one I have shared with the staff team in that time, that our work continues to be about children and young people in care, for those children and involve their views and experiences.

We want a child protection system that works for each of the very diverse group of children and young people it serves. We want a child protection system that makes decisions based on the child’s needs, rather than what the system is currently capable or willing to provide.

We want to see the active participation by the broadest range of concerned and knowledgeable people in decision-making, planning and action. We need children, families, carers and other agencies such as health, housing, education and disability working collaboratively and sharing the responsibility to achieve the best outcomes for children and young people growing up in care.

Child protection workers provide a critical and significant role for children in care; children and young people have told us so many times. Lack of morale, stress and fatigue amongst child protection and out of home care workers can translate into poor services for young clients. Our best workers are doing good work in spite of high caseloads, increasingly complex cases (and multiple complex cases on the same caseload) and the unallocation of cases due to insufficient resources.

Having Senior Practitioners and Supervisors with case work responsibilities – in effect a caseload – diminishes their ability to support workers, to provide a focus on continuous practice improvement and reflective supervision.

We have heard and seen children and young people thriving in family-based placements yet our state falls back to less satisfactory options like residential and emergency care more than other states in Australia. Why are we unable to attract and retain good foster carers while other states continue to do so?

We need to see a spectrum of placement options so that workers and children together can find a placement that meets the child’s needs. Aboriginal children need dedicated and consistent support to be genuinely connected with their culture and communities.

As this office has done for ten years, we will continue to promote the voice of children and young people in our work and within other agencies. We will continue to monitor what is happening in residential care and the Adelaide Youth Training Centre and audit the annual reviews of children and young people in long-term care. We will continue to find examples of great practice and positive experiences for children and to celebrate the achievements of young people themselves. We need to harness those examples to demonstrate what can be done and share those success stories with others.

In 2016, I’m looking forward to the tabling of the revised Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Parliament in February and rolling it out with a new range of promotional materials. This year Parliament will be deliberating on the Youth Justice Administration Bill which will bring substantial changes. I’m also looking forward to our contribution to Commissioner Nyland’s considerations and ultimately her recommendations on improvements for the child protection system, in particular by contributing the child’s perspective and monitoring progress.

It’s going to a big year!

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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