Who is crazy about children in care?

picture of Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw, Guardian

20 June 2016

I write this with rich memories of the Easter long weekend and what I did with my children.

When it comes to holidays, my family has traditions. We have family gatherings, we share meals and we celebrate. Life with my children revolves around sport. We play it. We watch it. So, over the Easter weekend I took my children to Melbourne to a first round game of the AFL season. We did an Easter egg hunt and ate hot cross buns. That’s what I did at Easter when I was growing up.

Holiday’s may mean time spent with significant people, faith, customs and traditions and activities.

Children and young people may come into out-of-home care with some good memories of holidays or a certain sadness when they to do have such memories.  Does an adult with a child in care at Easter know how that child might have experienced holidays before? Did they celebrate? What was their favourite part? What made Easter special for them? Are they surprised about what holidays mean to their carer family and what the carer family does at those times of the year?

It is easy and understandable to get caught up in the functional aspects, in the case planning and in managing the domains of a child’s life and to lose sight of what it means to be a child and to be that child in those circumstances.

We know that caring relationships are central to all aspects of a child’s development. In the words of Urie Bronfenbrenner:

Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last and always.

So we must at some times, set aside the practical; we must take the time to connect with children, to ask and listen to what they tell us about their previous experiences and their views on what’s happening now for them. At least some of the many adults that come into a child in care’s life and have a caring role, must really get to know the child. Someone needs to be crazy about them, to know their views on holidays, what they think is fun, who is important to them, their favourite books, games, TV shows and music. To find out what they dream for themselves and how they see the world around them.

I want to know all of that and more about my children. My boys’ answers to some of these questions change as they get older and have new experiences. So I know I have to keep asking, keep listening and keep learning about who they are.

Basically, I’ll keep being crazy about them.

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This item originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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Healing developmental trauma

graphic for trauma article9 February 2015

Many children coming into care will do so carrying the burden of traumatic experiences yet sometimes they reject the very warm, supportive and predictable relationships that adults caring for them are only too willing to offer.

This article, written by Advocate Sarah Bishop who has made a study of developmental trauma, looks at its deep and long-lasting effects.  The article helps to find the meaning behind the behaviour of traumatised children and discusses how a team can build a supportive environment to aid the child’s healing.

Children in care and contact with their siblings – literature review

Siblings are extremely important for children and young people in care and the situations surrounding these relationships are often highly complex.  Who children view as their siblings can differ remarkably from traditional definitions, adding to the complexity faced by people making placement decisions.

During 2011 we will inquire: What children in care say about contact with their siblings and the impact sibling contact has on wellbeing.

Children in care and contact with their siblings – literature review looks at what authors have said about keeping siblings together, the complexities of defining ‘siblings’,  the variety of relationships between siblings and uncovers the relative lack of research about the experiences and opinions of children and young people themselves.

Download the Sibling-Contact-Literature-Review-2011 now.

 

The right to be loved

In 2005, a group of South Australian children and young people in care selected 37 important rights to go into their Charter of Rights. When the Office of the Guardian came to distil the essence of these rights into a few succinct quality statements for it’s monitoring framework, one of the last to be added was ‘This child is loved’.

It was not that we denied the importance of love but among the other precise and objectively verifiable statements it looked ambiguous and elusive. In the end, its claim to a place in the 12 quality statements could not be denied.

The benefits of being loved have been captured in Celebrating Success: What Helps Looked After Children Succeed published by the Scottish Government in June 2008. In a survey of young people in care, 23 of the 32 participants, when asked what helped them to be successful, immediately identified a person who cared about them.

I’ve got a good relationship with [my foster parents] – they treat me like their own child so I return it, you know?

Ross

Anne, foster mother of Daniel, says ‘He’s one of our own, always has been and always will be’ and her daughter Celia says ‘He feels like a proper brother and always will be’.

But beyond reciprocal affection, feelings of nurture, warmth and safety are implied by, and imply, a caring relationship. To a young person, being loved can mean…

Having nice things and not being dirty and cold and hungry all the time. And not having to do work all the time, being at some adult’s beck and call … having privacy, having your own room, having simple things that others take for granted, like deodorant and sanitary towels when you needed them.

Claire

The comments of the Scottish young people also demonstrate that being loved can open the way into a world of other positive connections and experiences.

They don’t leave you out or nothing … you feel like you are part of the family. They just treat us the way they treat their own son … my foster sister, who’s the same age as me, she’s actually got a daughter and when I see them, whenever I see my nieces and nephews it’s like ‘uncle Liam’ and it’s cool.

Liam

We were always involved…going along with my foster mother to dances and stuff like that which was actually great fun and a big treat … and there were holidays … it was a family situation.

Shona

Being loved gives fundamental lessons about how positive relationships work and sends powerful messages that go to the heart of one’s worth as a human being.

I think the most folk need is trust. If you can see that somebody trusts you it makes you feel happier, it makes you feel as though you want to get it right in your life. It makes you want to get your life sorted out and basically get on with it.

Darren

My foster carers trust me, and they love me like I was their own daughter.

Tanya

The benefits of being loved are profound. The bonds of love are enduring, sometimes persisting through the experience of neglect and abuse. The bonds are diverse in form ranging from the robust affection of the workplace, the obligations and connections of a clan group, to the passionate singular attachment to a parent, sibling or partner. In all forms, the healthy loving relationships of children and young people in care are worthy of our closest attention. Can the child in care who you know name people who love her? Does the child you know have people who talk of their love for him?

Doing more than is practicable

Today, I am going to talk about some of the things we can do to equip children and young people in the care system for when they leave our care. In doing so, I am going to begin by referring to a particular section of the Children’s Protection (Miscellaneous) Act 2005, Section 3 part B, where one of the objectives is

To ensure as far as practicable that all children are cared for in a way that allows them to reach their full potential…

This section refers to our obligation to help children and young people achieve their potential, yet, like many other aspects of the legislation, it contains the rider ‘as far as is practicable’ and therefore could suggest minimum standards or just our statutory responsibility.

I want to talk about the importance of doing more than is practicable, of doing more than fulfilling our statutory responsibility, and to emphasise how important it is to proactively work with children and young people so that they can reach their full potential. I shall also discuss the consequences if we do not.

I will therefore be focusing on the things that we need to do to prepare young people for leaving care that I call ‘non-concrete’ or the ‘non-tangibles’ as opposed to the concrete things, like budgeting, using a washing machine, accessing services etc.

Download a PDF pf Angela Andary’s keynote address to the Leaving Care Conference—April 2006 Doing more than is practicable – How can we assist children and young people in care to reach their full potential?


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