The Year in Review 2014-15

YiR 2014-15 graphic2014-15 in Review – Aiming to do better for children in state care is a concise summary of the year for South Australia’s children and young people in care as seen through the work of the Guardian’s Office. It is based on material which originally appeared in the Guardian’s Annual Report for 2014-15. it is available for download.

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Young people in care got talent

Richard Chew and bandThe power of music to draw young people out of themselves and to draw them together was never more evident than at the Clayton Wesley Church Hall on the afternoon of 30 May.  The musical performances by twelve young people and Richard Chew’s band Working Dog Union were the culmination of eight hours of intensive rehearsal over two weekends.

The workshops were funded with a  grant from the newly-created Karen Fitzgerald Fund which provides young people in care with experiences that would not normally be available to them.

Sue Nicholls who is spokesperson for the fund said ‘We approached the Southern Guardianship Hub at Marion with the idea of a music workshop for young people in care and Manager Adam Reilly was very supportive.

‘Two workers from Marion Meredith DuCain and Tony Satanek helped with finding interested young people and with the organisation and transportation.

‘Our starting group of 15 participants for the first workshop only dropped to 12 for the second one which is a tribute to the respectful and supportive way that Richard and the band members worked with them.

‘Really though, it is a tribute to the young people themselves, not only their talent but also the courage and resilience it takes for some to just get up and perform.’

In the words of some of the young musicians:
“I had a great time. I enjoyed the singing.”
“It was nice to meet new people and join in.”
“I had a wonderful day and it was awesome.  Thank you for letting me come.”

Girl playing guitarThe Fund celebrates the life and work of the late Karen Fitzgerald by, among other things, providing grants of up to $5,000 to support projects that assist the healing and development of individuals or groups of young people under the guardianship of the Minister.

Says Sue Nicholls, ‘We are keen to hear about  projects, especially those that involve cooperation and co-funding so please give me a call on 0432 594 833 so we can talk and provide you with the guidelines and application form.’

If you’d like to comment on this, please join the discussion in the panel below.

Residential care for Aboriginal children and young people

indicators for Indigenous residential careSeptember 15, 2015

Aboriginal children who are removed from their immediate family should, wherever possible, live with their extended family or other Aboriginal families of the same clan.

A short review of the literature about residential care for Aboriginal children and young people was released in August and here are some of the conclusions.

In Australia and elsewhere, the number of Aboriginal children as a percentage of the population in the child protection system has for some time exceeded the capacity of the Aboriginal population  to provide relative and kinship care (Bromfield, Osborn 2007).

There is a growing number of Aboriginal children living in residential care.  There are very few residential care models specifically developed for Aboriginal children (Flynn et al 2005; Bath 2008, Bamblett et al 2014).

One of the strengths of Aboriginal culture is that connection to the family occurs in a community context that has a broad definition of family.  Care of children is usually shared among several adults. This allows for attachment between child and carers to include a wide range of family members and family connections (Bamblett 2014; Iannos 2013; Price Robertson & McDonald 2011; SNAICC 2014; Brend et al 2013).  This is beneficial to providing stability for children in residential care.

However, overcoming historical distrust and trauma associated with past welfare practices (the Stolen Generation) is a significant obstacle for child welfare agencies in engaging the community in supporting placements in out of home care (Higgins et al 2005).

The Australian Aboriginal culture is not homogenous and there are variations among clans and between urban and remote communities which complicate providing culturally appropriate residential services when the children are very likely to come from outside the immediate region. There are also the ‘standard’ practice challenges in residential care of meeting the therapeutic needs of each child, getting the right ‘mix’ of children, maintaining safe family connections, timely assessments and, importantly, ensuring children are engaged in the decisions about them.

Regardless, it is imperative for the security and wellbeing of Aboriginal children that their identity and belonging to their Aboriginal community is strongly supported.  There are very few examples of service models that have been evaluated but the literature does provide some common elements for success.  These include:

  • Integrated connection with culture and extended family for the facility and the child.
  • Qualified staff with demonstrated skills, knowledge and understanding of working across cultures, of historical practices and their adverse impact, and the significance of cultural knowledge to Aboriginal children.
  • Staff who celebrate and integrate cultural practices into their daily interaction and build relationships with children which are steeped in deepening the connection to the child’s community, language and customs.
  • Structured cultural programs, outside of the residence, which promote connection and identity.
  • Support for transition from residential care to the child’s community and family, wherever possible.

The literature review is published on this website as Literature Review – Residential Care for Aboriginal Children and Young People

If you’d like to comment on this, please join the discussion in the panel below.


Bamblett, M., Long, M.,Frederico, M.,& Salamone, C. 2014 ‘Building an Aboriginal Cultural Model of Therapeutic Residential Care: The Experience of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency’ Children Australia 39 (4) 206 -210

Bath, H., 2008 ‘Residential care in Australia, Part 1. Service Trends, the young people in care, and needs based responses. Part 2. A review of recent literature and emerging themes to inform service development’ Children Australia, 33 (2)

Brend, D., Fletcher, K., & Nutton, J. 2013 ‘With Laura: Attachment and the Healing Potential of Substute Caregivers within Cross-cultural Child Welfare Practice’ First Peoples Child and Family Review; 7, 2, pp 43 -59.

Bromfield, L.M.,& Osborne, A., 2007 Kinship Care. Research Brief, no. 10 Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family studies, National Child Protection Clearing House

Flynn, C., Ludowici, S., Scott, E.,& Spence, N., 2005 Residential care in NSW, OOHC development Report. Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies. NSW

Higgins, D.J., Bromfield L.M.,& Richardson, N, 2005 Enhancing out-of-home care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family studies, National Child Protection Clearing House.

Iannos, M., McLean, S., McDougall, S.,Arney, F., 2013 ‘Maintaining connectedness: Family contact for children in statutory residential care in South Australia’. Communities, Children and Families Australia, 7, 1

Price-Robertson, R.,&  McDonald, M., 2011 Working with Indigenous children, families and communities – Lessons from Practice. CAFCA practice sheet, Communities and Families Clearinghouse Australia

SNAICC, 2014 Family Matters  – Kids safe in culture, not in care. South Australia Issues Paper


The Charter of Rights and spiritual and cultural identity

Charter graphic - Aboriginal flagAboriginal children and young people in care have the right to know about their cultural and spiritual identity and their community.

(Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care)

The best evidence of how well this right is supported comes through our audits of  the annual reviews of the situation of young people in care and the voice of young people themselves.  In 2014-2015, GCYP audited 203 annual reviews. Eighty of those were for Aboriginal children and young people, 65 of whom were case managed by regional Families SA offices.

Placement within the Aboriginal community

It is widely accepted and enshrined in the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle that knowledge of and connection to culture and community is best supported by a placement within an Aboriginal family and community.  In 2014-15 the audit found:

  • Seventy-two per cent of Aboriginal children resided within their extended family (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) or in Aboriginal foster placements.
  • Twenty-one per cent of Aboriginal children resided in non-Aboriginal foster care or residential care placements.
  • One Aboriginal child resided in residential care for Aboriginal children.
  • Four Aboriginal young people lived independently as they prepared to leave care.

Support for cultural heritage and engagement

Audits of the annual reviews of the circumstances of Aboriginal children and young people also collect information about cultural heritage and engagement in activities to promote cultural identity and connection.

In 2014-2015:

  • Families SA offices reported in 51 of the 80 cases that workers had documented sufficient information about the child’s cultural heritage to share with the child. This included the child’s clan group, a detailed cultural genogram and information that could be used to inform a cultural identity plan. In most cases, cultural identity plans had not been developed.
  • Thirty-six of the 80 Aboriginal children and young people had opportunities to engage in activities to promote their cultural identity and connection with family, culture and land. Such activities were mostly generic (such as NAIDOC and Reconciliation Weeks) rather than clan-specific.
  • Thirty-four of the 80 Aboriginal children and young people whose cases were reviewed had a culturally specific Life Story Book in development.

What young Aboriginal people have said

In February and March this year the Office interviewed five young Aboriginal people about their views and experiences of growing up in care .  All wanted to know more about their family and culture and most said they found the company of other Aboriginal people enjoyable and affirming.

“Me growing up I knew very little about my Aboriginal history and heritage… My [foster] mother and my foster father at the time … said ‘we want to protect him … he might not want to know that, we don’t want to take the risk’”

“My social worker and Families SA could organise more community events…and programs for Aboriginal children to go out…. It would be really good to get a social worker, one who doesn’t know anything, … and she will learn along the way.”

“I think that parents [of Aboriginal children in care] should talk to the social worker and to the school and put in plans to strengthen their knowledge about who they are as a person and an Aboriginal as well.”

There is sustained effort in our state’s care system to place Aboriginal children and young people within an Aboriginal environment. However, young people’s experience,  and this is confirmed by our audits of annual reviews, is that support for cultural heritage identity and connection is patchy and the use of identity plans is not common. and, in the mandated requirement for cultural identity plans, are very lacking.

The 2014-15 report on our audits of annual reviews will be published in September. A video of some of the interviews with young Aboriginal people has just been released.

If you’d like to comment on this, please join the discussion in the panel below.

Supporting the culture and identity of Aboriginal children in state care

picture of Guardian Pam Simmons

Pam Simmons Guardian

I write this letter having just returned from a discussion with Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people from organisations in the Murraylands. Our invitation to the gathering asked them to share views and ideas about ways to bring children who are separated from family and culture back to a healthy connection with their identity as Aboriginal people.

Almost one in three of the children who are subjects of care and protection orders in SA are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children. A declining proportion of them are placed with Aboriginal carers. A growing proportion are in residential care, often at some distance from their communities.

There are obvious questions to be answered about how better to support families to care for their children.  The questions though that we sought views on, in addition to family support, were what can be done when children have been removed from their immediate family to build and strengthen their belonging to their clan and family.

The range of views and experience was vast.  At the heart of it was the imperative to build in the child the “sense and knowledge that they belong to us” said one Aboriginal Elder.  This means going back to important places, spending more time with their Aboriginal community, knowing who their aunts and uncles are, and being taught their language.  It also means working on what is inside a child, their view of their place in the world and who they are connected to. The lament though was that the practice is not embedded in organisations or systems. Some children have strong cultural knowledge and support, some have it sometimes, and some miss out altogether.

We learned from discussion, and from service models that work and in the literature, that what is needed is strong integration of the organisation and its program with the local Aboriginal community including governance where possible, qualified staff with high competency in working across cultures, and structured programs which build life skills in an Aboriginal context.

The sorts of things that you might look for in assessing cultural inclusiveness and support would be: care or case plans that are specific to the contact required with a child’s own clan and family; maps that identify the key relationships and children can name these people and talk of recent contact; staff who can tell you the clan groups of the children they work with and something about the land and language; and visits to community Elders on a frequent basis.

One of the obstacles to doing this well is fear of getting it wrong.  I have lost count of the number of times I have ‘got it wrong’, often in my rush to see something done, but I have never regretted trying.  Today was one of those days of trying and learning, and being grateful for the opportunity.

If you’d like to comment on this, please join the discussion in the panel below.

What’s been done – June to August 2015

The video of young Aboriginal people talking about the significance of culture to them, especially when they are separated from their family, was launched at the Guardian’s community discussion about Aboriginal children in care held recently in Murray Bridge.  It is now available as Aboriginal Young People Speak on YouTube.

The discussion in Murray Bridge was part of the Office’s ongoing program of listening to Aboriginal organisations and people about how the child protection system can better connect Aboriginal children in care with their family and community.(See the letter from the Guardian on p 2.)

Also released in this quarter was an updated infographic on Aboriginal children in state care.

The 2014 consultation with children on the topic of respect resulted in a booklet which is now available from our website’s online ordering page.

The Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care is being reviewed.  A small number of children have provided their views on the content, design and promotion of the Charter in workshops in Adelaide, Mt Barker and Pt Augusta.  Meetings with other stakeholders are planned in August.  The revised version of the Charter is due to be endorsed by young people later in 2015 and a new suite of communications products will be developed with the assistance of young people and released in 2016.

Two agencies have recently received their certificates for endorsement of the Charter of Rights:  Inclusive Directions in June (pictured) and Re-engage Youth Services in August.

Jodie learns handballConsultation continues on the Model Charter of Rights for Children and Young People detained in Youth Justice Facilities.  Workshops with young people will be held in October, but in the meantime, 127 staff and service providers have joined in the discussion about the charter and shared views about its implementation.

In the 2014-15 year there were 129 requests for intervention about children under guardianship, involving 171 children.  The Senior Advocate audited 203 annual reviews for children under long-term orders and the Advocates made 34 official visits to residential or youth justice facilities.  There will be more detail in the reports on monitoring of residential care to be released later in the year and the Guardian’s 2014-15 Annual Report to be published in October.

Child Protection Systems Royal Commission speaks to young people

Image of RC consultationThe Child Protection Systems Royal Commission will result in recommendations to strengthen the state’s response to children and families in crisis and to children in state care. Judging by the number of written submissions (331) there is optimism about what will be achieved.

The Office of the Guardian (GCYP) emphasised what children and young people have said about their experience and children’s views about what works best for them. The submission covers three broad areas of family support, out of home care and opportunities for children in care.

These areas were replicated in the GCYP and Create consultation with 35 children and young people for the Commission staff to hear directly from young people about their views. One young person echoed what many had to say, with “the children must be heard – in their own words.”

The GCYP submission suggests strengthening the legislative requirement for participation of children in making decisions, with an over-arching section in the Act.

The submission on out of home care leads off with the view: If my family cannot safely care for me, find me a second family, not as a replacement but to give me that loving home. The growth in numbers of children requiring guardianship services and out of home care has tested and thwarted the best intentions of everyone working in this area. The out of home care system is not working as it should, evidenced by the expansion of residential care for children of all ages and the high use of interim placements. No matter the quality of the care, these are not replacements for loving families and homes.

Consistent with recommendations made previously, the Guardian suggested:

  • An out of home care plan to ensure that supply better matches demand and anticipates changes.
  • An accompanying plan for workforce development, quality improvement and independent monitoring.
  • Closure of the remaining six large residential facilities.
  • Growth in therapeutic foster care to reduce the use of residential care.
  • Social workers supported to visit children every month, which will require workload analysis in the first instance and probable consequent changes to distribution of resources.
  • A community visiting program for children in the first few years of being in care, when instability is at its highest.

It is easy to stand on the sidelines and see what needs to be done. It is a hundred times harder to change the game plan in the midst of such pressure. The focus though on what can be done, rather than on what has gone wrong, is the tone of discussion needed now.

For other related topics and ideas see GCYP Submission to SA Royal Commission Child Protection Systems.

Workshop at Key Assets kicks off the Charter review

Image of Key Assets consultationThe Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care was launched nine years ago and the legislation requires that it now be reviewed. The idea behind the Charter was to have a statement for children and the adults who care for them that would address the rights of children in their particular circumstances. The 37 rights in the 2006 Charter are a single reference point, a touchstone by which the community, the child protection system, workers and the children themselves can judge how well they are being looked after.

But after nine years are all of the rights still relevant? Should some be added and others removed or the emphasis changed? And are the various publications and products we use to communicate the rights messages still relevant and effective?

The Guardian put these questions to a small panel of young people at a workshop on 15 April. Working through the rights one at a time, the group agreed that most were clear and still very relevant.

I have the right to live in a place where things are fair

was criticised for being too vague and in need of rewording ; what did ‘fair’ mean and was it the same as ‘equal’.

I have the right to add information to my personal file

caused discomfort for some participants, mostly around the idea of there being a file with all of their personal information that people could read without their knowledge or approval.

‘That makes me feel weird. There would be things in there I don’t know,’ said one young man while another promised ‘I’m going to tell them to burn mine when I turn 18’.

I have the right to know and be confident that personal information about me will not be shared without good reason

Discussion of this right led to the expression of some similar concerns to those above and the feeling among some young people that it should be reworded to make it more specific.

‘It was a great morning meeting the young people at the consultation,’ said Guardian Pam Simmons.

‘Their discussion of the rights raised some important issues and prepared us to hear from other groups of young people later in the year.

‘Thanks to our partners Key Assets who arranged for the young people to attend and lent us their meeting room and their active support during the workshop.’

What’s been done March – May 2015

Image of Aboriginal Children in Care in the Murraylands Facebook pageThe consultation with children and young people has ramped up in these three months. We have hosted consultations on child protection systems and the Charter of Rights, and interviewed five young Aboriginal people for a new video about being in care and culture. The book of children’s views on the topic of respect, from the 2014 consultation, is at the printers.

Available now are updated reports on expenditure in child protection and trends in educational attainment for children in government schools.

If you missed the releases in February, there are new reports on the use of interim emergency care and reports on the conditions for children in smaller residential care and larger residential care. The Guardian’s submission to the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission is also now available, as is the response to the proposals for adoption law reform.

To support our face-to-face meetings with Aboriginal communities in the Murraylands we have a second Facebook account.

In the first quarter of 2015 there were 35 requests for intervention about children under guardianship, involving 49 children. The Senior Advocate audited 56 annual reviews and the Advocates made five official visits to residential or youth justice units.

The Guardian has met with over 120 people so far to introduce the new Charter of Rights for children and young people detained in youth justice facilities.