New indicators focus on Aboriginal culture and connection

New indicators to be rolled out by the Guardian’s Office in the last quarter of 2016 will  strengthen and sharpen the focus on Aboriginal[1] culture and community connection in its monitoring of residential care.

In her report last week The Life They Deserve, Commissioner Margaret Nyland recognised the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the child protection system and the significance of maintaining community and culture for them.

Aboriginal children flourish best when they can safely enjoy their land, language, community and culture…

… some Aboriginal children need to reside with non-Aboriginal carers.  Supporting the cultural needs of these children is not tokenistic, but profoundly important…

There is a need to re-focus cultural support in Families SA (…) to ensure that all practitioners have access to advice and support in specific cases, as well as more strategic guidance and training. [2] 

The new indicators have been in development since 2015 when a consultation with young people and the Murraylands community and a review of the literature made clear the importance of maintaining cultural connections in the development of a healthy identity in young Aboriginal people in care.

Senior Policy Officer Alan Fairley said, ‘The indicators align with the Standards of Alternative Care in South Australia which emphasise the right of Aboriginal children in care to know about their cultural identity and their community and to live in a place where people understand and respect their culture.

‘The new Indicators will help us decide whether the care arrangement:

  • makes the child or young person central by helping them understand their current situation and how they can contribute to decision making
  • promotes contact with appropriate people and activities
  • uses appropriate service methodologies and tools
  • enables the effective involvement of a range of carers and other service providers, and
  • has a culturally supportive physical and social environment.

‘And most of all, Advocates will be listening and talking with young people and reporting on how they see their cultural connection being supported.’

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

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[1] We will use the term Aboriginal to include people of Torres Strait Islander descent in this article.

[2] From Chapter 16 of the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission, The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report, Volume 1: Summary and Report (Government of South Australia, 2016) available at http://www.agd.sa.gov.au/child-protection-systems-royal-commission

This item was also published in the August 2016 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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Young people tell the Royal Commission how the care system should be

a group of young people at the Royal Commission consultation.

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Thirty-five young people under, or previously under, the the guardianship of the Minister gave their views of the child protection system in a consultation with the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission on the afternoon of 25 March 2015.  The young people were invited to work through a series of scenarios involving an imaginary family and their children and to speculate what could and should be done to support and protect them.

Guardian Pam Simmons said that she was very pleased with the result.

‘As always the young people amazed us with their thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and generosity and I know that the Royal Commission will benefit from the immediacy and relevance of the young people’s contribution.’

While views differed on some of the detail, one young person summed up for all with, “The children must be heard -in their own words.”

The consultation was a partnership between the Royal Commission, CreateSA and the Guardian’s Office, who will share the outputs from the session, with the support of Red Cross SA who provided an excellent meeting space.

 

New Charter of Rights endorsing tool

Endorsing the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care is now more straightforward and efficient with the introduction of the Guardian’s Office online Charter endorsing tool.

Organisations looking to endorse can enter the tool and browse around to find out what endorsement is all about.  They can leave and come back as they wish and finally proceed all the way to the end by applying for endorsement.

Applicants will be able to enter information more conveniently and make changes more easily than with the old paper application method.  We have also added a couple of additional information fields to allow us to work better with endorsed agencies and updated it to take account of the important role of volunteers in some organisations.

The endorsement tool is part of a completely rewritten and redesigned set of Charter information pages which were launched with the endorsement tool for 2013.

Charter Coordinator Meagan Klapperich is available, as before, to provide advice, group presentations and to help with applicants’ questions at every stage.

The changes were prompted by the increase in the rate of endorsements that saw six new agencies endorse in the latter part of 2012.

Read the latest Charter news via our Twitter feed.

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What’s been done – September to November 2010

The Office has joined the consultation on the 2010 update of South Australia’s Strategic Plan to propose this target specific to children in care:

Exceed the Australian average for wellbeing of children and young people in out of home care, as indicated by educational achievement, stability and successful transition to adulthood.

We are also supporting new targets for healthy child development and prevention of abuse and neglect of children.  Team members have attended consultation workshops, participated in online conversations and prepared a submission, Making our state a better parent.

The Charter of Rights was tabled in Parliament on 30 September 2010. Two additional agencies, Cora Barclay Centre and West Coast Youth Services, have endorsed the Charter, taking the total to 45 agencies. A survey of agencies who have endorsed the Charter closed on 11 October. The response rate was very high and a report on the findings will be finalised in November.

A discussion paper on improving the mental health of children under guardianship was released for consultation on 16 September. Work on this will continue in November.

Advocate Belinda Walker spoke at the ICAN and Mentoring Statewide Conference, Youth development: everybody’s business, on 27 August focussing on the importance of children’s rights and involvement in developing Individual Education Plans.

The Guardian’s Office has released A Community Visitor Program for Children in State Care report on the feasibility of introducing such a program in South Australia. The report includes background research on other community visitor programs, the outcomes from a discussion with South Australian experts and consultation with the Guardian’s Youth Advisors.

In the period August to October staff from the Office audited 57 annual reviews and conducted 21 monitoring visits.

A report on the Office’s audit of annual reviews of children and young people in care has been compiled and provided to the Minister following opportunity for comment from Families SA. A Summary of the 2009-10 Audit of Annual Reviews is available in PDF.

With the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS), the Office continued a series of information sessions for the NGO sector about the Information Sharing Guidelines (ISG) and is receiving positive feedback about the booklet A Guide to Writing an ISG Appendix. We have been working with Anglicare and Community Centres SA, formerly CANH, to promote the ISG.

The selection process for committee members for the Youth Advisory Committee (see the article on page 6) was held in August and September and the first meeting was held on 1 October.

The Guardian’s 2009-2010 Annual Report, was tabled in Parliament on
30 September 2010.

The independent Report on the Review of Performance and Effectiveness of the Office that was commissioned in April has been delivered.  As well as the evaluation, the report contains suggestions about needs and priorities gleaned from a wide range of stakeholders which will  be included in forthcoming strategic planning.

The brochure You and your future: choosing the right path to university has been updated and reissued for 2010-11 with the assistance of the three South Australian universities.  Distribution has started with the help of Families SA offices, the Department of Education and Children’s Services, the universities and YACSA.  Copies of the brochure can be ordered from the materials page of our website and can also be viewed  in a PDF version.

The Office responded to the Department for Families and Communities’ consultation on directions in alternative care which closed on 3 September.  The Response to Directions for alternative care is available in PDF on the Guardian’s website.

Fewer children to rescue – more families to help

Pam Simmons Guardian

Working in human services is rewarding and challenging, and child protection every bit so. I was reminded of this during Child Protection Week when I listened to Justice Robyn Layton talk of the need to combine practice supported by evidence of effectiveness, with personalised and individualised service. This requires a high level of skill and use of professional knowledge. A great deal of satisfaction results when they come together to help and empower someone in need.

At the same time, I was reading Rosemary Kennedy’s book Duty of Care in the Human Services: Mishaps, Misdeeds and the Law. The responsibility sometimes feels overwhelming, not for fear of legal action but for fear of getting it wrong and the harm caused. Ms Kennedy comprehensively argues that, while the costs of mistakes are high, the value placed on human services is relatively low. The low value attributed to human services partly stems from society’s unease about the people we serve and the ambivalence about those considered ‘undeserving’.

This ambivalence is seen at times in implementing policy and planning. Six years ago, when the State Government responded to Justice Layton’s comprehensive review of child protection, the resulting plan, Keeping Them Safe, inspired a collective effort to do better by children. It also resulted in two significant boosts to the budget, the first in 2004-05 and the second in 2006-07. The bit of the plan that suffered under the twin handicaps of low value and ambivalence was family services.

As simplistic as this analysis seems, I think society feels good about rescuing children and, at the same time, feels bad, and angry, about parents’ failure. So the subsequent financial and human investment shifts from the ‘feel bad’ to the ‘feel good’.

Those of us who work in human services often end up overwhelmed, and troubled, by rescuing children while lacking the resources to intervene to prevent harm occurring in the first place. Six years ago, at the release of Keeping Them Safe, there were 4.2 children per thousand on care and protection orders. There are now around seven in a thousand. It is not that children are being brought into care unnecessarily. Far from it. Partly it is that decisions to take action are being made when children are younger. Very likely it is also partly explained by curtailed intervention services for families in crisis.

A similar fate awaits the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. Simon Schrapel, Chief Executive of UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide, drew attention to this in a June 2010 opinion piece Can A National Approach Really Make a Difference?. [Sorry, this link is no longer available] Early action on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of out of home care standards and a common approach to assessment, referral and support, he says, will not revolutionise the way we protect children and young people.

What will make a difference to the growing child protection demand are services to families in high need. Our most vulnerable children live in families grappling with drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness and violence, sometimes compounded by isolation and poverty. Greater focus on family services by federal and state governments will not stop the growth in numbers of children requiring state care but it will slow it down.

Even if South Australia reduced the growth to five per cent instead of the average nine per cent now, that’s 93 children at the end of the 2010-11 year who would not be in state care. The change would not happen in a single year, and probably not two or three, but it would happen. Fewer children to rescue but more families to help. This is a whole lot more satisfying and empowering for all. And working in human services would be that much more satisfying.

Directions in alternative care

The Department of Families and Communities’ consultation on directions in alternative care closed on September 3.

You can now read the Office of the Guardian’s Response to Directions for alternative care in PDF on the website.

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Keeping aspirations high

Pam Simmons Guardian

I have been in the position of Guardian for almost six years, short by many standards but long enough to know the challenges and pit-falls.

Many times I teeter on the edge of lowering my expectations of what can be provided to children to match my knowledge of what is there.

I caught myself doing it the other day while discussing an agreement about sibling access arrangements. In a hurry, I was suggesting compromises before everything had been explored. What was easy for me to treat as a task had big implications for the girls.

I did it again recently, in accepting that siblings would probably be separated and anticipating the justification as moving them to a less expensive placement. I belatedly realised I had thought of the rationale ahead of arguing their best interests. Fortunately it was not too late to return to the decision.

Of course decisions that depend on human and financial resources to implement have to take into account the likelihood of resources being available. The problem comes when we start to constrain before we expand. That is, our thoughts go straight to the justification for not doing something we know is good rather than start with what is good and look for everything we need to make it happen.

It’s the ‘good enough’ or ‘best we can do’ explanations for inadequate care or reduced hours in school or a wait of six months for mental health services that bother me. The reality is that this may be the best in the circumstances here and now but it is not okay to let this lie. The compromise should not become the end.

At a recent CAFWA forum, Nancy Penna, Director of Statewide Services at Families SA, said that in so many ways decisions for children in care are simple because we have to judge them against what we would want for our own children. The standard should be no less. Arguably it should be more, to balance prior disadvantage and loss.

The Rapid Response commitment made by the state government in 2005 and featured in this edition of the newsletter, is an example of public policy that raised expectations of what could be done for children and young people in care. Similarly, the introduction of the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care and the Alternative Care Standards lifted our sights to what was right and proper.

Our aspirations should be high. When the reality doesn’t match we plan for how it can, without blame or arrogance, but with purpose and intent. This child, every child, deserves no less.