Young author calls for better mental health training for foster and kinship carers

As we celebrate Foster and Kinship Carer Week, a young woman who has written a book about her foster care experience is calling for carers to receive better trauma and mental health training.

For more than nine years Felicity Graham moved around in the foster care system, looking for a foster home she could call her last, with a family who would accept her for who she is. When she found the one, she finally felt a sense of belonging and knew she was loved and cared for. But when her mental health deteriorated after a year, her carers were not equipped to deal with and provide her with the necessary support and so the placement came to an end.

“During my time with my last foster family, I felt safe enough to let my guard down and express my thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, my family didn’t know how to cope with my mental health and behaviours as a result of this and sadly I had to leave,” Felicity said.

Upon leaving the placement at the age of 16, Felicity decided to write a book to help her process her experiences and to help other young people in foster care know they are not alone.

Not Held Down is my story of life in foster care. It is about letting other kids in care know there are other people experiencing the same thing they are. Often kids in care feel silenced and have no place to turn to. My book aims to help them find their voice, to teach them there are people out there who are willing to listen.”

Felicity’s story also tackles the challenges within the foster care system and what she thinks could make it better.

“The system needs to change,” Felicity said. “It is evident carers need more training and 24/7 support to cope and manage trauma and mental health. They need to understand the trauma many young people have experienced prior to entering their home and how this affects the young person’s life, especially their mental health.”

“We already know there are not enough foster carers for all the kids out there needing a home so this too needs to change. It would also be great if more social workers were available to better support young people in care – just knowing someone is available for us any time we need them would make a world of difference.”

“I don’t need to save the world, but if I can be an advocate for change and help at least one person in care then I will be happy,” Felicity said.

Felicity is looking to finish high school next year and wants to complete further studies to become a youth or social worker. She also aspires to have her book made into a movie, ideally featuring Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock).

Felicity is available to speak to young people, carers and foster care agencies and providers about her story. You can contact her via her website or Facebook.

Not Held Down can be purchased through Amazon or Book Depository.

 

Latest data shows unacceptable trend continues for young people at school

Despite children and young people in care making up just over 1% of the overall government school population, these students consistently register higher absence rates, significantly lower NAPLAN participation rates, and are more likely to have a learning disability than the overall government school population.

In the latest of our annual education reports, we delved into the data for 2018-2019 to analyse the numbers of children and young people in care who attend government schools, looking at their attendance as well as their performance in literacy and numeracy, as tested by NAPLAN. (It is important to note this data is not currently available for the children and young people in care who attend Independent or Catholic schools.)

Here is a snapshot from the Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2009-2019 report.

Profile of students in care

  • 58.6% of all students in care were enrolled in government schools. The other 41.4% may attend in the non-government school system, or are below school-age, and a small number are non-identifiable for other reasons.
  • Of the 2,223 students enrolled in government schools in 2019 –
    • 1,083 were female (48.7%) and 1,140 male (51.3%)
    • 1,418 were enrolled in primary school (63.8%) and 805 were enrolled in secondary school (36.2%)
    • 865 were enrolled in country schools (38.9%) and 1,418 were enrolled in metropolitan schools (61.1%).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students


(Proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care compared with all Aboriginal students enrolled in Department for Education schools 2009 to 2019)

 

 

 

 

  • In 2019, 35.9% of children and young people in care in government schools identified as Aboriginal, compared to Aboriginal students comprising 6.6% of all government students. This reflects the vast over-representation of Aboriginal children in the care system.
  • There are lower rates of school absence for Aboriginal students in care compared to the overall population of Aboriginal students attending government schools.

Students with disabilities 

 

(Proportion of children and young people in care with a disability compared with all students with a disability enrolled in Department for Education schools, 2009-2019)

 

 

 

  • A greater proportion of all children and young people in care have learning disabilities compared to the overall government school student population, notably in speech and language skills.
  • The proportion of children and young people in care with an intellectual disability is over eight and a half times, and those with complex social/emotional/behavioural needs are nine times higher than the overall government school student population.

Suspensions and exclusions

 

(Rate of suspensions, children and young people in care compared with Department for Education school population, 2009-2019 (Term 2))

 

 

 

  • Children and young people in care enrolled in government schools are over four times more likely to be suspended and eight times more likely to be excluded than the broader government school student cohort. But it is pleasing to see that the suspension numbers have been decreasing since 2017

Literacy and numeracy

 

(Rate of participation in NAPLAN testing, percentage of children and young people in care (of those enrolled in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9) in Department for Education schools, 2019)

 

 

 

 

 

  • Data consistently demonstrates that children and young people in care who are in government schools achieve poorer outcomes on average in relation to performing at or above the NAPLAN National Minimum Standard.
  • There are very high NAPLAN non-participation rates for students in care in government schools. As a result we know very little about the proficiency of half of all Year 9 students and approximately one-quarter of Years 3, 5 students and 7 students in care enrolled in government schools in 2019.
  • Absence, withdrawal, and exemption rates for NAPLAN testing for children and young people in care attending government schools are higher in every year level and testing category than the broader South Australian school cohort. We do not know why the withdrawal rate is so high or the reasons for the withdrawals.

Download the report in full.

Read the Guardian’s comments about this report in InDaily.

Breaking down communication barriers in youth detention – the real difference “speechies” can make!


Senior Speech Pathologists Melissa Saliba (left) and Larissa Ashton

It is estimated 90% of young people in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) are at risk of having a language difficulty*. A language difficulty is when a person has trouble understanding what is being said to them and is unable to express themselves clearly through their words, sentences and stories. And the effects of such a difficulty can be devastating.

“A person ‘at risk’ of having a language difficulty means if they underwent further detailed assessment, it is quite possible they would be diagnosed as having a language disorder,” according to Senior Speech Pathologist with DHS’s Youth Justice Division, Melissa Saliba.

“When a person cannot communicate and process language well, they can become frustrated, and if they are not supported or their needs are not met, it can result in the downward spiral of disengaging from school and making poor decisions,” Melissa said.

Melissa is one of the speech pathologists working with young people in the youth justice system (including in the AYTC) as part of Youth Justice’s state-wide rehabilitation program. The program aims to give young people access to speech pathologists, psychologists and occupational therapists, to help improve their short- and long-term outcomes.

AYTC Senior Speech Pathologist Larissa Ashton said the biggest problem is that communication difficulties often go undiagnosed.

“A lot of young people don’t know they have a language difficulty and have just ‘survived’. They are also very good at hiding their issues,” Larissa said.

“For others who do know they have difficulties, they often don’t have the necessary supports and opportunities to overcome them. Quite often the first time a young person receives support is once they have been detained at the centre.”

Both Melissa and Larissa have been working alongside the psychologists and occupational therapist who work with the young people, to piece together a young person’s needs and identify what support they need.

“Rather than seeing a young person as misbehaving, we explore the underlining reason for their behaviour and identify what support they might need,” Melissa said.

Once a young person is referred to the speech pathology service, the team then work with the young person, their families, school and other service providers to create an overall picture of what the young person is doing well in, and where they need help.

“Once we have assessed what their communication needs are, we will work with the young person, in the visitor centre, the unit or their classroom, to identify ways to help overcome some of their communication difficulties,” Melissa said. “We aim to work towards a focussed goal – for example, meeting new people.”

“Young people are keen to hear the results of their individual assessment. Knowing they have a language difficulty helps things make sense for them,” Larissa said. “After a session they often ask when we will be back, so our engagement seems to be making an impact.”

The role of the AYTC’s speech pathologists doesn’t just include working with young people. The speech pathology team also works directly with AYTC staff and service providers (both in and outside the centre) who work with the young people, to help them communicate in a way that is accessible and can be understood.

“It can be as simple as adjusting the way they communicate, like by adding more visual context, simplifying their language and checking in with the young person to ask if they understand what is being said,” Melissa said.

Since their time within the centre, both Larissa and Melissa have noticed staff becoming more adept at noticing the signs of language difficulties and have changed the way they communicate with the young people.

In the future, the speech pathology team hopes to review the written policies and consent forms given to residents to ensure they can fully understand their rights and responsibilities while in the centre.

Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions, the speech pathology team – along with AYTC’s other allied health services – is continuing to provide services to the young people via phone. Work is currently underway by the AYTC and the Department for Human Services to obtain the equipment needed to provide these services via video calls.

You can see just what a difference targeted speech pathology made for a particular young person in the NSW youth justice system in this inspiring video.

Identifying communication difficulties

Here are some signs that a young person has communication difficulties:

  • often says “I don’t know” or “I forgot”
  • uses lots of vague words (eg “things” or “stuff”)
  • unable to paraphrase what you have told them
  • cannot follow instructions
  • avoids reading or writing tasks
  • avoids eye contact.

What can you do if you suspect a young person has a communication difficulty?

  • Simplify the language you use when talking to young people – use short sentences, avoid jargon and keep instructions brief
  • Try using images (e.g drawings, pictures, a few written words) when communicating to a young person
  • Check in with the young person to ask if they understand what you have said
  • Seek help from a qualified speech pathologist.

*This 90% figure is based on results from a language screening assessment undertaken as part of the 2019 AYTC screening project to assess the needs of the young people and look at what services they may need.

ANZCCG commends documentary ‘In My Blood It Runs’

An upcoming documentary that tells the story of Dujuan, a 10-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy, as he tries to overcome systemic injustices, has been given full support by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG).

As SA Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, Penny Wright is a member of this peak body, which is made up of those entrusted with safeguarding the rights and interests of children and young people in Australia and New Zealand. After watching an advanced screening of ‘In My Blood It Runs’ earlier this year, the ANZCCG have issued a joint statement commending the documentary and highlighting the ‘value and importance of listening to and understanding children’s voices and experiences from their own perspective’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ follows the charismatic young ‘healer,’ Dujuan, and his family as they share their experiences trying to prevent Dujuan from entering the criminal justice system. After becoming increasingly disengaged from school, Dujuan soon comes under the watchful eye of the police and welfare agencies. But through the love and support of his family and community, Dujuan has been able to avoid falling into the justice system and has begun a powerful campaign to raise the awareness of addressing systemic racism that young Aboriginal children too often face.

Dujuan travelled to Geneva earlier this month and gained significant media coverage when he became one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. He shared his experiences about the youth justice system to build support for Aboriginal-led education models that would help prevent youth offending and support their connection to their culture and language. You can watch his speech here.

The ANZCCG encourages all Australians to watch this film and to share its message of ‘children having access to culturally safe, inclusive schools; addressing systemic racism in all our institutions; and preventing the criminalisation of young children like Dujuan, including reforms to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ will be in cinemas in February 2020.

Read the full ANZCCG statement.

The Guardian’s Newsletter – August 2019

In our August 2019 newsletter we explore the importance of education for children and young people in care by reflecting on:

• the importance of individual support in their education
• their rights to education
• the quantity of education provided by state schools.

Plus we celebrate the launch of our office’s artwork murals and share the work that our staff have been involved in over the last few months.

Education of young people in care

For children and young people in care, the benefits of education go far beyond grades—it’s an opportunity to meet friends, learn new things and find a sense of stability. The Guardian’s report, Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2008-2018 looks at how well the system serves their needs and identifies a number of ongoing trends.

In 2018, 60.9 per cent of all students in care were enrolled in South Australian Department for Education (DE) schools, up from 57 per cent in 2017. The remainder may be enrolled in non-government schools, below school age or not enrolled for other reasons.

In the same period, 34.7 per cent of children and young people in care in DE schools identified as Aboriginal, which compared to 6.4 per cent of all students in the DE population.

Absence and attendance

Children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools show a higher rate of absence at 13 per cent, compared to 9.5 per cent for the general school population. Absence rates are higher for students in secondary school than for those in primary school.

The report also finds Aboriginal children in care are more likely to be attending school than Aboriginal children not in care.

Suspension and exclusion

According to the report, suspension and exclusion rates are consistently higher for children and young people in care than the broader cohort. The DE defines suspension as times when the student does not attend school for one to five days and exclusion as when the student does not attend for four to ten weeks, or the rest of the term or semester for students over 16.

Students in care in DE schools are suspended at a rate four times higher than DE students not in care and the report identifies violence and the main reason for suspension.

Learning and intellectual disability

The proportion of children and young people with an identified disability continues to be significantly higher for those in care than the broader school population.

In 2018, 30.3 per cent of students in care in DE schools were classified as having a disability, compared to the state average of 9.8 per cent.

NAPLAN results

Data consistently indicates children and young people in care in DE schools achieve poorer outcomes in NAPLAN in relation to meeting the National Minimum Standard.

Participation rates in NAPLAN testing are low for students in care in DE schools. While many have valid reasons for not participating, this makes tracking the experience of young people in care difficult. For example, only around half of eligible Year 9 students participated in NAPLAN testing in 2018.

Check out the Guardian’s report Children and young people in state care in South Australian Government Schools 2008-18 for further analysis, available below.

How well did children in state care do in the state education system 2016-17?

In South Australia in 2017, 57 per cent of all students in care were enrolled in Department for Education (DE) schools.

The Guardian’s latest report Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2008-2017, is now available.

The report explores how well the state school system is providing for children and young people in care.  It highlights a number of ongoing trends including:

  •  the proportion of children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools who identify as Aboriginal continues to be significantly higher than Aboriginal children and young people as a proportion of all children in DE schools (35.4 compared to 6.4 per cent in 2017).
  • there are lower rates of school absence for Aboriginal students in care compared to the overall population of Aboriginal students attending DE schools.
  • a greater proportion of all children and young people in care have learning disabilities compared to the overall DE student population, notably in speech and language skills.
  • the proportion of children and young people in care with an intellectual disability is nearly seven times, and those with a global developmental delay are almost five times that of the rate of disability in the overall DE student population.
  • children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools are more likely to be suspended or excluded than the broader DE school cohort.
  • students in care from non-English speaking backgrounds have an absence rate almost twice that of students from non-English speaking backgrounds who are not in care.
  • there are very high NAPLAN non-participation rates for students in care in DE schools. We know very little about the proficiency of almost half of Year 9 students, almost one-third of Year 3 students, one-quarter of Year 7 students, and just over one-fifth of Year 5 students in care enrolled in DE schools in 2017.
  • withdrawal rates from NAPLAN testing vary by year level and discipline but are significantly higher for children and young people in care compared to the broader DE student population.

Areas for attention

Data summarised in this report suggests further attention in some areas, including:

  • speech and language delays experienced by children before and on commencement of school
  • access to appropriate disability support services, for example in relation to intellectual disability (including a focus on whether and how the NDIS will contribute to the necessary support)
  • the evidence around the use of disciplinary measures such as school suspension and exclusion and options for alternatives, particularly for younger children
  • monitoring hours of attendance at school so that part-day absences and reduced-hours arrangements are reported and minimised
  • the experience of children and young people in care from non-English speaking backgrounds;
  • developing a better appreciation of the reasons for the high non-participation rate in NAPLAN testing and the implications this has for properly understanding the educational experience of children and young people in care.

You can read the full report on the Guardian’s website now.

Collaboration survey results – staff of Government schools and the DCP

 

 

 

 

 

The results from the survey completed in January 2018 show little change from the June 2017 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the Department for Child Protection (DCP).  However, DCP and DECD workers see things quite differently with DCP workers consistently rating levels of collaboration and cooperation as higher than their education colleagues.

Collaboration between between staff of Government schools and DCP workers
nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn*
June 2017 – all responses71855201246
Jan. 2018 – all responses52058152105
Jan. 2018 – DCP employees0176711618
Jan. 2018 – DECD employees15224122027

*n is the number of respondents who felt competent to comment on this aspect of collaboration and cooperation. Where the numbers are small, one should be careful of drawing more than general conclusions.

Comments by DCP workers**

January is not a normal month as a lot of agencies slow down during the Christmas break and school holidays. Otherwise there is a lot of dialogue with schools and DCP.

There is extreme variation of quality and quantity of collaboration and coordination between individuals and agencies involved in the care and protection of children and young people. In my area, it is of particular concern that there is such poor communication between DCP and other government agencies (principally DECD), as well as the NGO sector with regard to the training and development of DCP staff, workforce planning and aligning practice between DCP and non DCP workers who are charged with similar roles in the child protection system. Not only is this poor management and support of the workforce, it contributes to inconsistencies in knowledge, skills and practice and thus poorer outcomes for children and young people.

Comments by DECD workers**

I feel that DCP needs to open up the lines of communication with DECD/schools. Education needs to be given a greater importance then DCP often give it. Connection to education is linked to future outcomes for students.

Lack of communication from DCP with schools and DECD Student Support services; difficult to get DCP workers to attend case meetings; difficult to get a DCP worker to talk to on the phone about one of their clients (e.g. a guardianship child). DCP don’t always put the required consideration in to what school to enrol a guardianship child. (Please note these are general statements, there can be DCP workers who communicate and interact well).

There are times when there is good information sharing and planning between agencies, but other times not so. Seems somewhat dependent on staff involved.

I am as social worker in a Children’s Centre and we work very well with the Department of Child Protection and other government and non-government agencies in relation to supporting children at risk. I believe the only reason why collaboration is not always available is due to lack of resources in relation to the Department of Child Protection given on the ground workers are always operating at full capacity.

DECD Support Services often makes contact with DCP caseworkers regarding children already in care – often without return contact or reply… I make lots of recommendations in my reports and I rarely hear if any of these have been followed up by DCP. Personally have found DCP staff very difficult to contact. Staffing vacancies in the country most likely contribute to this.

Comment by an NGO worker**

In my limited experience of working with young people in care in the public school system, there is very limited communication between DCP and schools. Incidents such as missing person reports, lack of attendance, mental health and physical health, suicide and self harm risks and many other factors that impact upon a young person’s ability to attend and engage in education have not been clearly communicated with the school. This means that we as educators and school support staff are unable to provide the required support to ensure that the young person’s right to an education is upheld.

**Comments have had minor proofing changes. Some comments have been edited for brevity and to minimise repetition.

Analysis and commentary

Although the number of respondents was fewer than in the 2017 survey, there is little change from the June 2018 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the the Department for Child Protection (DCP). The comments left identify similar issues to those identified in the June 2017 survey.

It is reasonable to expect that cooperation and collaboration should occur ‘always’ or ‘frequently’. By this criterion, DCP respondents, DECD respondents and respondents as a whole give the Government schools-DCP collaboration a substantial ‘fail’.

The  respondents’ comments generally suggest that, as the most significant decision makers and holders of information, DCP should be taking the initiative in promoting this collaboration.

The coordination and collaboration survey – DCP and DECD staff perceptions

18 July 2017

We dig into the data and comments from our June 2017 Coordination and Collaboration Survey,to see how staff in Department of Education and Child Development (DECD) schools and Department for Child Protection (DCP) workers view the prevalence of coordination and collaboration in their relationship. (1)

 C and C occurs…nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalways
%%%%%n
DECD staff2323505022
DCP staff094943047

When asked about how things had changed in the previous six months, perceptions were quite closer, biasing slightly toward the negative.

 C and C is…much worseworsethe samebettermuch better
%%%%% n
DECD staff10156010520
DCP staff7206310041

The comments mostly reflected the statistics and included the following:

Communication between DCP and education has reduced since the separation; there appears to be less support from DECD as previously; [Guardianship] children may have legislative rights to IEP’s however it is more of a tick box with some schools.  DECD regionals need to come along to more… (DCP worker)

One of my observations regarding significant improvements in communication about and services to vulnerable families in my region (Whyalla) is that it has been driven by the Manager of the local DCP office. She has done this in a number of ways: firstly, connecting to the community and engaging in community development activities (she knows her community, engages well with local government and non-government services and actions the philosophy of ‘child protection is everybody’s business’ through this engagement); secondly, she is solution focused and open to innovative practice (she takes the time to explore options); thirdly, she has made a commitment to work-force development (there has been a noticeable increase not only in DCP staff skills but also their ability to engage with clients and other stakeholders). (DECD staff)

As a school counsellor I am frequently involved in reporting child protection matters and supporting children and families with child protection issues. Our school has recently been ‘given’ a part- time Child Protection and Well-being Consultant. She comes to our school once a fortnight, for a day. She is very helpful and knowledgeable. However, I am concerned that the DCP is devolving too much responsibility on these (overworked) consultants. We are finding that some of our cases are closing and that we can also not refer children to Targeted Intervention Services anymore. We think that this is happening because the department is putting too much responsibility on the consultants. (DECD staff)

You can also download the Coordination and Collaboration Survey June 2017 – unfiltered results

(1) Sample numbers are small so data should be taken as broadly indicative only.

How well do children in state care do in the state education system 2015-16?

30 May 2017

In South Australia in 2016, 61.6 per cent of all students in care were enrolled in DECD schools.

The Guardian’s latest report Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2008-2016, is due for release tomorrow.  The report explores how well the state school system is providing for children and young people in care in these and other areas:

disability

  • A greater proportion have learning disabilities, notably in speech and language skills.
  • The proportion with an intellectual disability is nearly seven times the overall DECD student population.
  • The proportion with a speech and language related disability is over three times the overall DECD student population.

absence

  • The absence rate is only slightly higher than that for the overall DECD school population.
  • Aboriginal children in care have lower rates of absence than the overall DECD student population in significant categories.
  • Children and young people in care from non-English speaking backgrounds have over double the absence rate of all DECD enrolled students.

suspension

  • Students in care have higher rates of suspension but only in their primary school years.

NAPLAN

  • Many students in care in DECD schools do not sit the NAPLAN test, categorised as absent, exempt or withdrawn.  For example, for almost half of all Year 9 DECD enrolled students in care there is no information about them in critical areas such as numeracy and reading which may cast doubt on the validity of the reported figures.

You can read the full report on the Guardian’s website now.