We want your feedback on the draft revised Charter of Rights

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

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

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

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

How to share your feedback

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

What next?

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

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

There’s still time to register to be part of the Charter of Rights review!

cartoon circle of children

Have you registered the children and young people in your care to have a say about their rights? As part of the review of the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care, we want to know what matters most to these young people.

We have a bunch of activities for all ages, from being part of a workshop, chatting to one of our advocates, to sharing their thoughts on our online survey. We also have a fun activity book – filled with colouring-in sheets and puzzles to solve – to educate young children about their rights, and to ask them what makes them feel happy and cared for.

If you would like a copy of the activity book, or to register for any of our other activities, just complete the online Youth participation form by 5pm on Friday 3 July.

Don’t miss the opportunity for the young people in your care to have a say about what matters most to them!

If you would like any more information about the activities or the review project please contact Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au.

Register for children and young people to have a say about their rights

We need your help! We are asking all children and young people in care, or with a care experience to have a say about their rights. What they tell us will help shape the revised Charter of Rights for Children and Young People.

Watch the video of Oog and friends asking for everyone’s help. (Please share this video with the children and young people in your care.)

How can children and young people have their say?

Children and young people can have their say by…

  • being part of a workshop*
  • having fun with an activity book
  • telling us what they think in an online survey
  • speaking to one of our advocates.

What you need to do

To help us determine what activity would best suit the children and young people in your care please complete the Youth participation form. Based on the information you give us, we will help you in deciding the most suitable activity. Please register by completing the form by Friday 3 July.

*If you are interested in running a workshop, an existing relationship with the group of young people or experience as a group facilitator with kids in care would be required. If you are unable to facilitate a workshop but think this would suit your group of children and young people, please let us know and we might be able to assist.​

What happens next?

Once we have received your Youth participation form, we will confirm what activity best suits the children and young people in your care. We will then provide you with the materials needed for the chosen activity. Consultation for feedback of the revised Charter closes on Friday 7 August 2020.

Want more information?

If you would like any more information about the activities or the review project please contact Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au.

Young care leavers tell their story straight up in new podcast

A new podcast made by young care leavers is giving them a space to talk about their life’s experiences and to guide other young people about navigating the world upon leaving care.

With candid conversations covering a variety of topics, from what life has been like during COVID-19, having a child while in care, to a wrap-up of last year’s CREATE Conference, the podcast is aimed at breaking down the social stigma of being in care and creating a community where young people can openly share their stories.

The podcast is part of the GOM Central Project and is led by Relationships Australia South Australia Communication and Development Project Officer Eleanor Goodbourn, backed up by a team of young care leavers.

The podcast team have spent countless hours working through topic ideas, and then finding other young people who are happy to share their stories. With the help of an external consultant, the team has also been getting hands-on learning about the art of making a podcast, from the basic principles of storytelling, to the editing and publishing of the final audio.

Young care leaver Jamie-Lee who has played a large role in the making the podcast said the name Straight Up comes from being as up front as they can be.

“There’s nothing people can’t talk about it. It’s about being real and giving young people the respect to talk about things without being judged,” Jamie-Lee said.

“It’s about young people knowing their rights and us providing resources, breaking down topics, and making the information accessible for them,” Jamie-Lee said.

Jamie-Lee said the podcast enables young people to access information, advice and firsthand stories no matter where they are, especially those people who would prefer to just sit back and listen in the comfort of their own home.

“The podcast is aimed at filling in the information gaps for young people. There was so much we [young people in care] wished we knew,” Jamie-Lee said.

Eleanor agreed that young people often felt they are not provided with enough information to fully understand things, and as a result feel lost and disempowered.

“In care young people are often not given full explanations of things. They feel like they are treated as children with certain topics being avoided [like that of pregnancy and drug use],” Eleanor added.

Eleanor and Jamie-Lee said the project has been a big learning curve, with so much more to learn and explore.

“It’s been great learning about other people’s stories and looking at things from a different perspective,” Eleanor said. “And of course, the process of making podcasts has been a huge lesson.”

Jamie-Lee said the team has only just touched the tip of the iceberg of topics that they can delve into and is looking forwarding to the podcast’s future.

The team are already working on Season 2 which will have a focus on financial wellbeing, and hope that in the near future the podcast will be solely created and produced by the young people themselves.

You can listen to the latest episodes of the Straight Up podcast at the GOM Central website.

If you are a young care leaver or know someone who is and they would like to be part of the next series of the Straight Up podcast, contact the podcast team on 0491 091 702.

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 gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au.

 

Aboriginal children and young people continue to be over-represented in care and detention

The proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care in South Australia has worsened in the last five years, with Aboriginal children and young people now making up 34.2% of all children in care.

Data from the 2020 Report on Government Services shows that this cohort continues to be drawn into the child protection system at an alarming rate. Worse still, many of these young people are likely to remain in care for extended periods of time, and only 62% are living with someone from their family, community or cultural background.

When it comes to youth detention, the over-representation is even worse.  In 2018-19, Aboriginal children and young people made up a daily average of 60.7% of all young people in detention in SA, despite Aboriginal children being detained at their lowest rate since 2014-15. (While the rate of detention of Aboriginal children fell, the detention rate for non-Aboriginal children declined even further.)

Every year the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor takes a ‘snapshot’ of the data from the Report on Government Services to see how it relates to South Australian Aboriginal children and young people in care and/or detention.

Four aspects of the data are particularly noteworthy.

Aboriginal children and young people are still seriously over-represented

  • Despite Aboriginal children and young people making up only 5% of the state’s total population of children and young people, they make up more than a third, 34.2%, of children and young people in care services (as at 30 June 2019).
  • Over four years (2014-15 and 2018-19) the rate of Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds in care services (per 1,000 children in the SA population) increased from 49 to 76.7%. This compares with an increase from 5.6 to 7.4% for non-Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds.
  • 5% of Aboriginal children who are in care have been so for five or more years.

How do Aboriginal children’s placements reflect the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle? 

  • At 30 June 2019, only 62.7% of eligible children (854 of a possible 1,363) were placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.
  • Over the last 10 years, there has been a decline in the proportion of Aboriginal children and young people placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, in out-of-home care in both South Australia, and nationally.

Aboriginal children and young people in residential care

  • At 30 June 2019, 208 Aboriginal children and young people were living in residential care, making up 36.6% of all the children living in that care type. This was higher than the proportion of Aboriginal children living in care services overall (34.2%), meaning that Aboriginal children and young people are more likely to be placed in residential care than non-Aboriginal children.

Aboriginal children and young people in detention

  • 7% of the average daily population in detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre were Aboriginal
  • Aboriginal children and young people are 32 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children and young people in South Australia
  • South Australia spent less, on average, per child aged 10 to 17 years in the SA population, on detention-based youth justice services compared with the national average.
  • The number of Aboriginal 10 to 17 year olds in detention in South Australia during 2018-19 declined to its lowest rate in four years and was lower than the Australian average for the first time since 2014-15.

You can read our full report here.

If you missed our review of SA’s government spending on child protection services, check out our previous blog post.

The future of the Child and Young Person’s visitor scheme

In 2016 Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland made it clear there were serious concerns and risks for the many children and young people living in residential and emergency care in South Australia.

Nyland recommended a community visitor scheme for children in all residential and emergency care facilities to be developed to address these concerns, and so the Child and Young Person’s trial visitor program was born.

Over the two-year trial period we worked towards developing, implementing and reviewing the scheme and how it would work. We visited 99 children and young people (aged from 2-17 years) across 24 individual facilities managed by the Department for Child Protection – some of these facilities we visited several times.

In addition, we conducted serveral group discussions with young people who live or have lived in residential care to find out what life is like for them and how the visiting program would work, as well as what being safe in residential care means.

A big challenge we faced with mapping out the program was the lack of evidence based learnings from similar children and young people visiting schemes, so we spent some time considering the purpose of the scheme, the nature and frequency of visits, the criteria for determining which children, or facilities, should be visited and the expertise required of the visiting advocates.

Ultimately, based on our research and hearing the voices of children and young people, we determined the primary purpose of the scheme was to enhance the safety of the children and young people living in the facilities visited.

Reflections of the trial program

Here are just a few of our reflections from the trial program:

  • The visiting program needs to be flexible and responsive to the needs of individual children and their varying backgrounds and situations.
  • Qualified advocates, including those with training and experience for children and young people living with a disability, would be needed to prepare, carry out the visits and provide post-visit reports and follow ups.
  • Visits were most successful when children and young people were prepared and informed about the role of the program and the advocates.
  • Regular and relatively frequent visits were needed to build connections and trust between the young people and the advocates.

Recommendations

Throughout the trial we presented the Department for Child Protection (DCP) with many recommendations regarding the facilities and residents we visited to address safety issues, individual resident needs, improvements to facilities, support for staff and for staff competencies and training.

The recommendations also addressed systemic issues that affected the residents (particularly those living in the larger units) concerning placement planning and decision making, staff responsiveness for children and young people with disabilities, and the quality, training and management of staff within these facilities.

At the end of the trial program we provided the department with 14 overall recommendations about what the scheme should look like, including, but not limited to:

  • ensuring the scheme’s purpose and principles are clear
  • focusing both on the ‘rights’ and the ‘best interests’ of children and young people, rather than one or the other
  • ensuring facility staff promote and facilitate visits to the facilities
  • allocating sufficient funding for the recruitment of qualified and trained advocates – especially those with experience working with children and young people with a disability – to undertake both pre- and post-visit tasks as well as visits themselves
  • recruiting an appropriate number of Aboriginal staff that reflects the proportion of Aboriginal children in residential and commercial care
  • amending the legislation to provide the Child and Young Person Visitor’s role with the same powers as the roles of the Guardian and the Training Centre Visitor.

In conclusion

Four years on from Commissioner Nyland’s report, the concerns and risks for these young people remain. Our office continues to receive a significant and increasing number of advocacy matters from young people living in residential care who are concerned about their safety, placement matching and their lack of connection to family and culture.

There are now more than 180 residential care facilities in South Australia, and it is evident this form of care is not going away any time soon.

The trial scheme has ended and we are currently awaiting a final decision as to whether funding and support will enable the establishment of a formal visiting scheme in the future.

You can download the final report.

Celebrating Care Day

Today is international Care Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of children and young people with a care experience and helping to break the stigma around being in care.

We sat down with Guardian Penny Wright to talk about the importance of the day and what she hopes to see for the future of children and young people in care.

Happy Care Day!

 

What does being safe mean in residential care?

As part of the Child and Young Person Visitor trial program we asked a group of young people who used to live in residential care what being safe in residential care means to them. Their answers were both expected and surprising.

Together with Relationships Australia South Australia we sat down with these young care leavers to get a better understanding about what young people think constitutes being safe in residential care and how the role of the Child and Young Person Visitor scheme could help in recognising and responding to safety issues.

We discovered that being safe doesn’t just mean living in an environment free from physical harm, but it also means being supported by a network of people who accept you for who you are and help you overcome the challenges that life brings. Trust and feeling in control of your life was also a strong driver in feeling safe.

The findings from what the young people told us were summarised in the Safety in Residential Care report and fell into three distinct themes.

Stability and security

Young people said being safe is not being re-traumatised by sudden changes, unexpected situations or stressful environments. It is knowing what is going to happen in your life, having routines and habits, and having strong and consistent relationships.

“Knowing who will be in the house, kids and workers. And knowing how long you’ll be somewhere.” – Young care leaver, when asked about what safety is. 

Belonging and support

Young care leavers discussed being safe as a sense of belonging to a group, community and/or culture. It meant being welcome, loved and supported, being included, cared for, consoled and celebrated. They said having a comforting and comfortable, personal and homely environment plays an important role in this.

“Carers who actually care.”  – Young care leaver, asked what would have made them feel safer in residential care.

Trust and ownership

According to young care leavers, being safe is being respected and trusted by those who care for them; and having a reasonable degree of freedom and a say in decisions that affect them. This leads to a sense of ownership over their lives and a greater feeling of empowerment, as well as a greater degree of independence and resilience.

“Having a say. Having input. Having control over your life and environment.”  – Young care leaver.

How can the visitor scheme recognise and respond to issues in a residential care facility? 

The young people we spoke to shared a number of ways the visitor scheme could work in recognising and responding to safety issues in residential care facilities.

The visiting advocate should:

  • educate the young people about their rights and where to get help if they need it
  • visit a facility regularly and by the same advocate each time
  • look at the facility itself, how it looks, whether it is maintained, how comfortable and ‘homely’ it is
  • assess the safety of the neighbourhood in which the facility is located
  • not ask directly about whether a young person is safe but ask simple questions that align with the concepts of safety
  • be clear with children and young people about confidentiality in what they have shared
  • talk to the workers to get a feel for the relationship between workers and young people
  • assess the behaviour of the young people, being mindful of trauma responses (eg self-harm)
  • always ask what young people think and what they want to happen.

Download the Safety in Residential Care report.

If you missed last week’s article about young people sharing their view about living in residential care catch up on our blog.

Next week we will look into the trial program’s final report and the formal recommendations we have provided to the Department for Child Protection and the Minister for consideration.

 

Young people share their views about living in residential care

Making residential care facilities more ‘home-like’ with fewer residents, was just one of the many suggestions young people living in residential care made as part of an exploration into what life is like for this cohort of young people.

This article is the first of three which looks into the reports and findings from the Office of the Guardian’s Child and Young Person Visitor trial program which wrapped up late last year.

About the trial program

One of the recommendations that came out of the 2016 Nyland report was to have an independent visitor scheme to promote the best interests of children and young people living in residential care, and so the role of the Child and Young Person’s Visitor was established.

Penny Wright was appointed the inaugural Child and Young Person’s Visitor in 2018 and together with the program’s team went about setting up a two-year trial to investigate how the scheme would work.

As part of the trial, two projects were conducted to seek and incorporate the views and perspective of children and young people living in residential care.

The first project was to conduct a focused literature review and interview young people who currently live or once lived in residential care and to better understand how an independent visitor could make a difference. The second project was to interview young people in residential care to discuss what being safe in residential care looks like.

Findings from both projects were collated in the What Matters to Us report which we will look into further here. Detailed findings from the second project is available in the Safety in Residential Care report which we will explore further in next week’s blog post.

What Matters to Us report

Our office contracted Ulrike Marwitz to carry out the literature review, help conduct interviews with children and young people and prepare the findings in the What Matters to Us report.

Ulrike found that the themes from the four Australian reports she reviewed, were consistent with the feedback gained from the young people she interviewed.

So what did the literature and young people tell us about living in residential care?

  • Contact with adults who show care is important to children and young people living in residential care.
  • Children and young people want residential care facilities to be more home-like.
  • Children and young people with a care experience felt a stronger sense of safety in facilities with smaller numbers of residents.
  • Placement matching (who young people are placed with, and where) impacts young people’s sense of safety and belonging.
  • It is important to acknowledge children and young people living in residential care may have different perspectives or priorities than the adults in their lives.
  • Children and young people showed an awareness of challenges faced by staff, including high caseloads, staff retention and recruitment and budget restraints.
  • Children and young people expressed a desire to be recognised as individuals.

What did young people say they would like from a visiting program?

Here are some of the things young people would like to see from an independent visitor and visiting program:

‘It [visits] should be regular, probably once a week. If it’s a smaller place – not as many incidents, probably once or twice a month.’

‘Consistency is important – unless the child says they want someone else, have the same person who visited do the follow up and do future visits.’

‘Let kids know you are not DCP and what you do.’

‘Some people would want to meet one on one [with the advocate/visitor]; others are more confident in a group with others they know around, especially the first time – it depends on the person.’

‘It’s important to tell kids what will happen with what they have said, if there is going to be follow up tell kids that. Kids need to be reassured that what they’ve said won’t just be told to everyone…. They should be in control of where their information goes.’

‘Reassure them that they won’t get into trouble for anything they have said.’

The future of the Visitor role

While the functions and structure of the Child and Young Person Visitor Scheme have been legislated, the scheme has not yet formally commenced.

The final report of the trial program has now been provided to the Department for Child Protection and the Minister, for consideration.

We hope that the learnings of the trial program and the various reports it generated will contribute to a funded and supported scheme that will make life better for children and young people living in residential care.

Download the full What Matters to Us report. Stay tuned for next week’s blog when we delve into the Safety in Residential Care report.