Youth Advisors ask ‘What about school?’

cartoon picture of schoolEverybody says ‘if you want to get anywhere, you’ve got to get an education’. And we know that people are telling us we need to go to school.

The Charter of Rights says we have the right to a good education and to get extra support for special education needs and extra support for students with disabilities.

When Sara talked about her own experiences at school at the Opening the Doors to Wellbeing State Conference convened by KidsMatter and MindMatters, it started us talking about what it was really like for children and young people at school.

Read what the Youth Advisors had to say in a PDF file.

Wellbeing of children and young people in care 2008-09

The Guardian for Children and Young People monitors the circumstances of children under the guardianship, or in the custody, of the Minister for Families and Communities. The feedback and findings of monitoring activities are reported directly to the agencies involved and to the Minister.

The Report on the wellbeing of children and young people in care in South Australia – 2008-09 summarises the information in one place and makes the general conclusions available to a wider audience.  We will publish a written response from Families SA in the near future.

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What’s been done – December 2009 to February 2010

Implementation of the Information Sharing Guidelines is going well with Nunkuwarrin Yunti, DECS, DFC, SA Health and UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide in the training and induction phase for staff.  The second stage agencies, Australian Red Cross, Centacare and the government agencies under the umbrella of the Department of Justice, are preparing their procedures.

The Guardian’s 2008-09 Annual Report was tabled in Parliament in late October and the report of the inquiry into the use of physical restraint was released to the public on 13 January.  The restraint report and a report summary are available on the Guardian’s website.

A brochure to encourage young people under guardianship to consider applying to attend university was distributed to all Families SA offices, secondary schools and major universities.

The Office’s Child-sensitive records checklist,is now available as a PDF download

The Being in Care products for children are in demand and some items are now out of stock.  We are delighted that so many children have the products and hear the message that they have the right to be safe.

Sara Bann, one of our Youth Advisors, met the Prime Minister on 20 January and gave him a copy of the book, How Australian Kids See the World, commemorating the 20thanniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We welcome to our team Benita Brinkworth, 15, our newest Youth Advisor.

Universities reach out to young people in care

South Australia’s three universities have combined with DFEEST and the Office of the Guardian to design a brochure to encourage young people under, or recently under, guardianship to actively consider university study.

‘For some time now South Australia’s universities have been attempting to extend the benefits of university study to groups who may not previously have had the opportunity,’ said University of South Australia’s Consultant: Student Equity, Deb Tranter, who coordinated the three universities’ work on the brochure.

‘Following the Bradley Review into Higher Education, government policy is encouraging further effort into attracting and retaining students from diverse backgrounds and this brochure is an important first step in reaching young people in care.’

The brochure describes a range of options for uni entry, ways of funding study, the variety of courses available as well as telling some real-life stories of young people under guardianship who have made the journey to university.

While targeted to young people in their later years at high school, it also aims to influence the attitudes of adults who might support and encourage them.

‘We know that the positive attitudes and active support of foster carers, teachers, school counsellors, social workers and other adults are vital in promoting the educational success of young people in care,’  says Guardian Pam Simmons.

‘Getting the right information into the hands of these significant adults will be an important use of the brochure.’

Contributor to the booklet, Jessica Parker, recalls her route to qualifying for university.

‘Nobody from my immediate family had continued onto further study or considered getting a degree at university… The majority of my friends left about year 10 and only then I became serious about my future.  Support from my Aboriginal Support Worker was great and kept me focussed on success,’ she said.

The brochure will also highlight the different ways young people can access university study.

‘Some people in care will come to uni directly from school but there other routes.  Options after they have left school and even into their adult lives include TAFE, adult re-entry colleges, foundation studies at one of the unis or the Special Tertiary Admission Test,’ says Deb Tranter.

‘Many young people may not know that they are eligible for bonus points to help them qualify if they are on Youth Allowance, ABSTUDY or a Health Care Card, have studied certain subjects or come from some under-represented schools.’

The brochure is distributed to DECS school counsellors, through universities and can be downloaded as a PDF from the Guardian’s website (big file, might take a while!).

Magill photo expo

This photo is just one of the dozens of remarkable images created by the residents of Magill Youth Training Centre in September.

Photographer and tutor Jeremy Watson said the images, produced after only a few hours of tuition and practice, were as good as those produced by some of his other students over many days and weeks.

‘We started out by getting the young people to pick out a couple of photos from a collection I brought and asking them to say why they had picked them and how they made them feel.

‘From the start the interest and enthusiasm were great.’

Very soon the discussion progressed to the genres of portraiture, landscape and close- up and then onto mastering the controls of the digital cameras newly purchased for the project.

‘After shooting we brought all the kids back and they had the chance to look at and evaluate their work on the monitor.’

In the words of some of the young people involved:

Taking pictures, it was fun.

I learnt how to hold steady the camera and how to use macro.

It’s not always about a front on photo, you can take them in all different ways.

It felt like we had freedom and fun with the photos.

I learnt how you can find good photos anywhere.

Program Coordinator at Magill, Julie Wright, said that it was great to be able to introduce a new activity for the residents and one which was so interesting and accessible to all of them.

‘Everything went off without a hitch, and since we bought the cameras staff are finding other ways to use them as part of unit activity and to document events.’

At the end of Child Protection Week, a photo exhibition of prints of selected pictures was staged for all residents, some staff and guests from the Office of the Guardian.

Viewers were very impressed by the originality and technical quality of the images produced by the young photographers while the residents were enthusiastic.

‘Now that it has gone so well’, says Julie, ‘we’ll be trying to organise more photography activities in the future and we are already looking for opportunities for some residents who’ve shown a real interest to continue their photography when they leave juvenile detention..’

View the Magill residents pictures collage in PDF.

 

2008-09 Audit of Annual Reviews

It is required by law in South Australia that there will be a review at least once in each year of the circumstances of each child under the guardianship of the Minister until the child attains 18 years of age (Children’s Protection Act 1993, Section 52 [1]).  The review panel, which is convened by Families SA, must consider whether the existing arrangements for the care and protection of the child are still in the best interests of the child.

The Office of the Guardian attends and audits annual reviews to:

  • provide further external accountability on review panels
  • provide some external scrutiny of case management practice and interagency collaboration
  • advocate for quality outcomes for children and young people.

We aim to attend ten per cent of reviews.  In 2008-09 we attended 93 reviews in total, conducted in 13 District Centres.  This represents 5.7 per cent of the reviews that should have been conducted in the year.

You can download a PDF file of the Audit of Annual Reviews 08-09 summary.

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The Guardian’s field consultation in 2008

picture of Guardian Pam Simmons

Pam Simmons Guardian


I travel the state between September and December each year to ask agencies and workers how well the care system is working for children and young people. The information I collect is the basis of further discussions with key agencies and a report to the Minister. My thanks to the 295 people I met at 27 locations for their participation.

Below is a summary of what I heard.

Stability and security

The consultation indicates that the majority of children are in stable and secure placements but for the estimated one in ten requiring change, the options are few. Demand for emergency placements has substantially increased. There are reported improvements in the quality of care provided by commercial carers and residential care workers in transitional accommodation. The over-crowding in Families SA residential facilities and the consequent risk to residents is of deep concern. See Centres a risk to child safety.

The relationships between carers, social workers and alternative care support workers are generally good. The support to relative carers has improved as has their access to respite services, though the demand for respite still outstrips provision. Specialist training for carers in country areas is sparse.

Family contact and cultural identity

There is reported high compliance with parental contact requirements. There is some concern about whether this meets the needs of children. Reunification services should be readily available to young people who choose to return to families after long separation under state guardianship. Getting a mentor appears to be inconsistent. There is tension and hesitancy about how well knowledge of cultural identity is supported and some concern about delays in placing Aboriginal children with family. There are emerging child protection problems, including adolescents at risk, in refugee communities.

Health and disability services

The benefits of the Rapid Response commitment are still evident in cooperation between agencies, familiarity with the needs of children in state care and improved access to services. Waiting times for therapeutic assistance are growing again and are up to six months in some regions for high-priority referrals. Access to disability services has improved markedly overall although there are persistent issues for young people making the transition to adult disability services.

Education and development

Consistent with the 2007 consultation, participants reported mostly good communication between schools and Families SA, largely attributed to the introduction of Individual Education Plans. There is some indication, though, that momentum had slowed which has already been addressed by DECS and Families SA with refresher training offered. Predictably but regretfully the cooperation comes unstuck over payments to support children who need additional assistance in school. As a result children are disadvantaged by delays in school commencement or fulltime attendance. There was relief that the school retention program will continue in Families SA and that DECS continues to give priority to children and young people under guardianship.

Participation

Families SA workers reported satisfaction with the level of participation of children and young people in decision-making. However other evidence demonstrates there is much more that could be done to involve and empower children and young people in case decisions.

Relationship with case worker

There are reported improvements in case worker responsiveness, professionalism, consistency and communication from 2007. However there are a growing number of ‘unallocated’ cases where contact is minimal.

General

The overall impression is that, despite high demand, workers across agencies are focused on the children for whom they have a duty of care or guardianship. The growing sense of order and professionalism in Families SA continues, as does enhanced inter-agency work. While there is still much progress to be made in realising the benefits for children in respectful ‘care teams’ there are improvements in the day to day interaction between carers, social workers and carer support workers. Services and accommodation for children with high needs and stable placements for 12 to 15 year olds emerged as two significant issues. There was also a rising sense of indignation that collectively the state could not provide what children are entitled to.

2007-08 Audit of annual reviews

It is required by law in South Australia that there will be a review at least once in each year of the circumstances of each child under the guardianship of the Minister until the child attains 18 years of age (Children’s Protection Act 1993, Section 52 [1]). The review panel, which is convened by Families SA, must consider whether the existing arrangements for the care and protection of the child are still in the best interests of the child.

The Office of the Guardian attends and audits annual reviews to:

  • provide further external accountability on review panels
  • provide some external scrutiny of case management practice and interagency collaboration
  • advocate for quality outcomes for children and young people

The Office is committed to attend at least 12 reviews each quarter, arranged directly with the District Centre Manager.  This past year we have attended and reported on almost 24 reviews each quarter (94 in total), conducted in 13 District Centres. This represents 6.6 per cent of the reviews that should have been conducted in the year.

A PDF file of the summary of the Audit of Annual Reviews 07-08 can be downloaded from our website.

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Improving educational outcomes for children and young people under guardianship in South Australia

It is widely acknowledged that children and young people under guardianship are highly disadvantaged in achieving a good education. This does not mean they are not capable, nor that individual educators and carers do not support them. It does mean that we can do more to overcome the significant obstacles the students face with recovering from trauma, changing schools, and early neglect.

In February 2007 we commenced an investigation into improving educational outcomes for students in care. The Office engaged Ms Julie White and Ms Helen Lindstrom to investigate what was available now for children in care and prepare an ‘ideas’ report on additional action required to improve children’s experience of school and learning. In the subsequent months they conducted a review of the literature in Australia and overseas, summarised the strategies currently in place in this state, interviewed children and young people under guardianship or formerly under guardianship and interviewed a range of stakeholders.

Improving educational outcomes for children and young people under guardianship in South Australia and a summary of Improving educational outcomes for children and young people under guardianship in South Australia can be downloaded as  PDF files.

Download the Summary Report here.

Download the Full Report here.