New virtual monitoring program is switched on

Hearing the voices of children and young people in residential care will be the focus of a new monitoring program that has kicked off this week. Our team of GCYP advocates will be conducting virtual meetings with children and young people living in residential facilities to find out what life is like for them, especially in the context of COVID-19. Face-to-face visits will follow once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

The virtual visits will enable children and young people to share their thoughts about how things are going at their placement, from what they like and don’t like about living there, to how their lives have been affected by COVID-19.

“We’re going directly to the voice of young people to find out what life is like for them in residential care,” Principal Advocate Merike Mannik said. “The real benefits of running the virtual visits with children and young people is that their voice is up front and centre.”

Principal Advocate Merike Mannik

“While these virtual meetings will give us the voice of the child, they will also help our advocates to build relationships with children and young people, as well as increasing the profile of our office and the work we do,” Merike said.

“Prior to COVID-19 we had planned to personally visit residential facilities once we had conducted a review of records and staff surveys. However, over the last few months we have re-assessed how we want the program to run, with the main focus being hearing the voices of children and young people. With the additional stresses created in young people’s lives from the pandemic we believed it was vital that we commence visits sooner rather than later and connect with children and young people online, with the plan to meet with them face-to-face in the future,” Merike said.

Choosing which residences to visit will combine a random selection and a more targeted approach based on feedback from young people, the Department for Child Protection and non-government service providers.

Children and young people will be provided with information about the visit and can decide whether or not they would like to participate. There is also the option for them to call our office, before or after the visit, to raise any private or sensitive matters.

If there are children and young people living in a residential facility who you think would particularly benefit from a virtual visit by one of our advocates, please let us know the name of the facility by emailing [email protected]

 

Getting to know: our advocates


Our advocates: Conrad Morris, Leila Plush and Sarah Meakin

What is an advocate?

As an advocate for children and young people in care we work with young people to empower them to advocate for themselves. It is about educating them about their rights and giving them the tools they can use to speak up for themselves for what they want and need.

Many children and young people have told us the system they live in often leaves them feeling like they are silenced. We are here to ensure they are being heard.

What are some of the key issues you provide advocacy for?

The main issues we provide advocacy for are:

  • not feeling safe in their placement
  • not enough sibling contact
  • not enough contact with family
  • not going to school and a lack of education programs
  • leaving care at the age of 18 and the plans for their transition out of care.

How do you work with a child or young person to help resolve their issue?

Some children and young people are not natural advocates for themselves or have limited people in their lives who can actively advocate for them. Being an advocate for yourself is a learned process so it takes time to build the skills and confidence. One of the ways they learn is from seeing firsthand what advocacy is and how it works – this can be through watching us when we meet with them and their case worker and talking about what it is they want.

We try to get the young person to stand up and voice their views. Sometimes this isn’t always done in a way that is well received, more often than not because the young person is frustrated with the issue or the system and doesn’t know how to communicate their needs clearly or in a way the case worker can relate to.

We work with the young person to look at things differently; sometimes just a change in the way they approach issues can get a better result. If the young person has tried to advocate for themselves and it didn’t work out, we will talk them through what they did, how they did it and what options there could be going forward. They might need to adjust their expectations of what they want. For example, if the young person wants to see their siblings by themselves and is unable to do so for safety reasons, maybe they can arrange to see their siblings supervised by an adult.

Young people will be encouraged to speak up and stand up for themselves if they can ‘experience success’. If their advocacy results in a good outcome for them they will see that it is worth doing, and can be effective. That can be really empowering for them.

What are some of the ways in which you can help a child/young person needing advocacy?

There are many ways we can help a child/young person, such as:

  • listen to what the child or young person wants and needs – as a first principle, being ‘heard’ is a powerful thing
  • provide tips and ideas on what they can do to advocate for themselves (i.e knowing their rights, being able to communicate why the issue is important to them, and knowing who to speak to are all important)
  • if they have exhausted their other avenues of support, we will advocate on their behalf about their concerns
  • attend meetings alongside them with their case manager
  • talk to the Department for Child Protection on their behalf.

What is the process of providing advocacy to a child/young person?

When a case is referred to us, we like to meet with the young person face to face if they feel this would be ok.

Aboriginal Advocate Conrad Morris said he always offers to meet with children and young people to talk through their concerns and provide them a safe place to talk.

“I also offer for them to bring a support person if this makes them feel safer to talk through their concerns. This works well given their lack of trust of adults and the child protection system,” Conrad said.

“If a child or young person doesn’t want to meet and prefers to speak over the phone this is supported, acknowledging whatever is best for them at the time to talk though their concerns. I have found this approach allows them to be in control.”

As advocates, we will talk to the child or young person to find out what the issue is and what outcome it is they want. We will then talk about what our role is, what their rights are and work out what steps the young person needs to take to work towards this and how we can be of assistance to them.

Throughout the advocacy matter, we will be in contact with the young person regularly (by visiting them or calling) and updating them on the progress, even if there have been no developments. Once the issue is resolved we always seek to deliver the final outcomes and let the young person know that our role in this matter is no longer needed. Of course, we will let them know that we are always here for them if another advocacy matter arises.

How can someone speak with an advocate?

If a child or young person wants to speak with an advocate they can call our office. Initially they will speak with one of our Assessment and Referral Officers who will determine if there is a role for us – sometimes issues can be addressed and resolved by speaking to the young person’s case manager. If there is a need for advocacy we will call the young person to start working towards how we can address their issue together.

Natural advocacy – how you can empower a young person

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

The right to an advocate

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

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

We call this ‘natural advocacy’.

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

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

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

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

Challenges in advocacy

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

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

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

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

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

What next?

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

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

Getting to know: our Assessment and Referral Officers


Assessment and Referral Officers Courtney Mostert and Sonia Regan

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

What is an Assessment and Referral Officer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some examples of how you can help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterly advocacy report sees rise of in-mandate enquiries

There has been a 58 per cent increase in the number of enquiries within our mandate (i.e. in relation to children and young people in care) received by the Office of the Guardian in the last financial year, compared with the previous financial year.

The Office of the Guardian’s quarterly summary of individual advocacy data from April to June 2019 showed that in the last quarter 115 in-mandate enquiries were received, bringing the total of in-mandate enquiries for the 2018/19 financial year to 406, an increase from 256 from the previous year.

It is difficult to be sure about the reason for the dramatic increase but Assessment and Referral Officer Courtney Mostert said the increased presence of the Office of the Guardian’s staff out in the field and identifying individual needs for advocacy certainly contributed to the rise. The increase of children living in state care could also have been a contributing factor.

Of the 406 enquiries received, the majority of children were aged 10 to 17, lived in residential care and were requesting advocacy support.

The top four issues remained unchanged from the 2017/18 year, with having a secure and stable place to live being the greatest concern. This was followed by issues around having contact with their birth and extended family, not feeling safe, and feeling like they’re not playing an active role in the decision-making process for the issues that affect them.

Training centre report reveals residents’ concerns

The Training Centre Visitor (TCV) is an independent statutory officer set up to promote and protect the rights of children and young people on remand or sentenced to detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC). The Training Centre Visitor Unit (TCVU) reviews the suitability and quality of the environment and facilities via visits, inspections and review of records. The TCVU is legislated in the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 and reports to the Minister for Human Services.

Its report on the 10-week pilot visiting program and subsequent review of records was tabled in Parliament on 4 April. The TCVU visited both of the AYTC campuses—Jonal and Goldsborough—five times each over the course of the pilot. The report identifies issues affecting residents of the Centre including unclothed searches, facilities, privacy and access to cultural programs.

Unclothed searches

For any young person, but particularly one with a history of trauma and abuse, an unclothed search can be distressing.

Residents raised concerns with the visitors about the frequency of unclothed searches. At Goldsborough campus, 65 per cent of searches happened after personal visits from family and others. A number of young people reported that they were less welcoming of personal visits due to anxiety about being unclothed searched.

The TCVU is advocating to ensure the correct method of search is used. According to the Youth Justice Administration Act (2016), the Centre is obliged to conduct partial unclothed searches in a way that ensures that young people are not completely naked at any time during the search. The TCVU is advocating for the consistent use of an ion scanner to avoid excessive unclothed searches after personal visits. It is also continuing to review all search logs to ensure they are meeting legislative requirements.

Cultural programs

The Youth Justice Regulations (2016) reinforce that the individual cultural identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people be recognised and their beliefs and practices be supported, respected and valued.

Current and past residents of AYTC have expressed concern about the lack of Aboriginal staff and Aboriginal cultural programming. This is a particular concern at the Jonal Campus where, although numbers are low, the population can be 60 to 100 per cent Aboriginal young people.

 

Information gathered during the pilot period has influenced the development of the program moving forward. From 2019, the TCVU will run based on quarterly visiting rounds, linked to school terms. There will be five fortnightly visits to each campus per term, with less formal visits between terms. The information gained through these visits, along with quarterly reviews of records, will inform the first formal inspection of the Centre later in 2019.

Download the Training Centre Visitor’s Report.


Who asked for advocacy in 2016-17 and what were the issues?

picture of hands putting together jigsaw pieces1 August 2017

The Guardian’s Office received 292 requests for intervention in the 12 months to 30 June, 2017. Of those, the Office found that 57 were out of the Guardian’s mandate.[1] The remaining 235 in-mandate enquiries represented 321 individual children.[2]  Of the 235 inquiries:

  • 137 were requests for advocacy
  • 43 were consultations about action that could be taken regarding children’s circumstances
  • 35  were complaints that were re-directed
  • 20 were categorised as ‘other’ and included for information only

Some children presenting for advocacy had more than one issue.  The main issues were broadly consistent with those of previous years. They were:

%

Stable and secure placement

19

Safety

15

Contact with significant others

13

Participation in decision making

11

Appropriate care

8

Access to health and disability services

6

Education

5

Understanding their circumstances

5

Nurturing environment

4

Relationship with their case worker

3

Other

11

The major trends are:

  • In-mandate enquiries increased from 145 in 2015-16 to 235 in 2016-17.  This increase (62%) is significantly higher than the increase in numbers of children and young people in state care and detention over the same period.
  • Young people self-referred in the same proportion as the two previous years but the number increased from 41 in 2015-16 to 71 in 2016-17.
  • Enquiries about children and young people in the non home-based care arrangements, (residential care, emergency care and the Adelaide Youth Training Centre) accounted for 53% of the total enquiries.  this was greatly out of proportion to their number in the population in state care and detention.

[1] The Guardian’s mandate is limited to young people in state care and in youth justice detention in South Australia.  Out-of-mandate enquirers were referred, where possible, to appropriate sources of assistance.

2 Some enquiries involve numbers of children.

Four major concerns for children in care and custody

3 May 2016

One of the Guardian’s Office’s functions is to advocate for children and young people in state care and youth justice detention whose issues are not adequately represented elsewhere. Four issues have consistently dominated requests to the Office for advocacy. They are:

  • unsatisfactory placement
  • lack of participation in decision-making
  • being or feeling unsafe
  • lack of contact with significant others

From 1 July 2012 to 31 March 2016, in 578 enquiries concerning 659 young people in care and detention, these four issues have consistently presented as the prime reasons for seeking the Office’s assistance.(1)

Unsatisfactory placement

Children consistently express preference for a small, home-like environment, if not a family then something that is on the scale of a domestic dwelling with a small number of residents and a long-term stable group of carers. Getting along with fellow house members, being included and feeling comfortable and secure seem of most concern.

Lack of participation in decision making

‘Not listening to me’ is a frequent refrain when children and young people seek advocacy. It is often linked to a substantive issue.  But the failure of adults to appear to actively listen and try to understand and then to explain what they will do and keep the child or young person informed sometimes seems even more important to the child or young person than the original issue.

Being or feeling unsafe

Bullying and actual physical violence means that a child or young person is actually unsafe. Children and young persons also report feeling unsafe where there is consistent acrimony and aggressive behaviour, violence and physical restraint going on around them even if they are not directly involved.

Lack of contact with significant others

Failure by adults to support regular contact with siblings, by birth and sometimes those with whom they have lived, with birth family and extended family and even with ex-carers is a regular cause of concern for young people.  In some cases safety or exceptional practical difficulties are the main cause but often, with advocacy, contact can be increased and regularised by planning and consistent effort by families, workers and carers.

(1) The data on which this is based records requests from two populations, those in state care (approximately 3000) and those in youth justice detention (approximately 50). A small number of young people are in both populations. The Office’s monitoring activity in residential care houses and the Adelaide Youth Training Centre mean that those residents are more familiar with our Advocates and so more likely to request advocacy.  In a very small number of instances, the Advocates have themselves initiated advocacy in the child’s best interests and these are in the data from which we draw the conclusions. In some requests for advocacy multiple issues are present. Those have been categorised by the prime presenting issue only.

The Guardian welcomes Re-Engage into the Charter family

pcture of three people signing the Chater

Executive Officer Linda Symons signs the Charter for Re-Engage flanked by Guardian Pam Simmons and Youth Services Manager Kerrie Sellen.

Guardian Pam Simmons presented a Charter of Rights endorsement certificate to a gathering of Re-Engage staff and Board members at a meeting on the 19th of August.

Re-Engage provides a range of programs and services across Adelaide and in Mt Gambier to assist young people to reconnect to education, employment and the community.

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