An interview with Isabella Daziani from the Department for Child Protection Evaluation Unit
‘In evaluating programs for young people, we think it is fundamental to start with the young people themselves’, says Isabella.
‘If we really want to improve services for young people we must recognise they are the foremost experts in their lives – they know what is working for them and what isn’t.
‘And it must be done genuinely, more than a quick tick and flick to check off the “young people consulted” box.
‘But achieving a genuine, respectful and useful dialogue with young people is not always easy and can be made difficult by the circumstances of the young people. They have a lot of adults coming in and out of their lives and some are understandably reluctant and distrustful of yet another nosey adult. Others may have psychological, intellectual or physical disabilities that we need to acknowledge, and provide them with opportunity to contribute.
‘Some young people may be suspicious of the motives of adults or jaded by consultations that take up their time but produce no follow-up and no change.
‘To talk to young people, you may also need to navigate the attitudes of the adults who care for them. Some adults genuinely believe that young people should be protected from discussing challenging issues. Some believe that only adults can understand and legitimately speak on issues for young people.
‘We have found that many young people are very aware of their circumstances and capable of expressing their insights to a degree that would surprise many adults. They are the experts in their own lives. The young people we have spoken to always surprise and delight us with their insights and their directness.
This is part of a longer interview which includes the views of young people, Isabella’s top tips for consulting and some further reading.
Download the full version of Programs for young people should be evaluated – by them
Community visits to the Adelaide Youth Training Centre will start this month. Back in April we asked groups of residents about what they would like from the visits and what they hoped might result.
These are some of the things they said:
‘Why don’t you have a day when you are here each week – like a program?’
‘Speak to us as a group. We might all have the same problem.’
‘Two weeks between visits is too long – you’ll miss all the lovely stories!’
‘There’s always stuff going on in the centre that we need more support on.’
‘[We need weekly visits because] anything could be happening in here.’
‘We ask the staff to contact you but then we have to wait a few days.’
‘Everyone should have your [phone] number as a pre-set when they come in.’
‘If I’m going through a rough patch or I’m not feeling confident, I won’t talk to you.’
‘Advocacy is making time easier.’
‘After you talk to the bosses, they treat us better.’
Following up from Commissioner Nyland’s recommendation #136 in her August 2016 report on child protection systems in South Australia, the Guardian asked CREATE to ask some young people in residential care what they knew about their rights and how they thought that they could be best protected.
Here are some of the things they said.
19 September 2017
The Guardian’s Office has been auditing the Annual Reviews of children in care for 10 years now. We do this to advocate for the children, to see how well the Reviews work and to identify broader systemic issues.
Annual reviews are an important means of monitoring the quality of services provided and the outcomes being achieved for children in care. They are intended to be more than an administrative process. A good annual review focuses on the quality of the child’s care arrangements as a whole
Although required in legislation, only 63 percent were conducted in 2015-16. The number of Annual Reviews for 2016-17 will be available shortly. Based on 10 years of observations and data we can say:
- Where Annual Reviews are conducted, the quality is very variable. Deficits in the representation of children’s views, the preparation by social workers and the presence of non-Departmental staff lead to inadequate consideration of the child’s circumstances and planning for their needs.
- Up to 80 percent of children were assessed to be in a long-term, stable and appropriate placement.
- Numbers of children are not allocated a social worker and, where a worker is allocated, other circumstances prevent the provision of a quality service to children.
- The cultural needs of many Aboriginal children are not being adequately supported.
- Significant numbers of children remain in unsuitable placements.
- Contact between siblings separated in placement is not always facilitated.
- Life Story Books are implemented for about half of the children.
- The proportion of children with IEPs has not progressed beyond 80 percent and may be declining.
- Of the children who are able to comprehend it, many do not receive information about their rights and the proportion who do appears to be declining.
For the background to this summary, you can download the report Audits of Annual Reviews 2007- 2017- children, systems and practice.
20 June 2017
I recently had the opportunity to speak with the Legislative Council Select Committee on Statutory Child Protection and Care specifically about the Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2017, following my two written submissions in January and February.
All three submissions were about the children and young people whose interests I represent – the almost 3,400 in state care and those detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre.
I would like to share some of the things I said to the Select Committee:
‘Underpinning what we do is the drive to make transparent what is happening for children and young people in state care and to strengthen their voice and capacity to influence what happens in their lives. It is a commitment to the fundamental rights of children and young people.
‘The concepts of safety, best interests and wellbeing of children and young people are not mutually exclusive. It is in a child’s best interests to protect them from harm, protect their rights and promote their development in age, stage and culturally appropriate ways.
‘When children are at risk of harm, or indeed harmed, there must be action to protect and heal. What this looks like should depend on an individual child’s needs in those specific circumstances. Some will need services and supports to maintain them safely within their home and with their parent/s. And it will be in their best interests, and promote their wellbeing, to do so. Sadly, some will need intervention to place them in an alternative environment in order to secure their safety and wellbeing. And it will be in their best interests to do so. We’ve heard that directly from children in care.
‘Legislative reform, including the current Safety Bill, is only a part of the significant change needed to promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in South Australia. It does contribute incremental improvements in this overall context and substantial innovations in specific areas (for example the proposed community visitor scheme for children and young people in residential and emergency care). But, legislation alone will not revolutionise the system that children and young people currently live within.’
‘We all have to look at other crucial factors, especially policy reform and organisational culture.
‘In our advocacy and monitoring work we often see a significant disconnection between policy and implementation.
‘The transformation of our child protection and out of home care requires cooperation and collaboration within government, between government and non-government organisations, with academia and the community … and we all must listen respectfully to those most directly affected – the children and young people who live this.’
This article first appeared in the Guardian’s Newsletter in May 2017.
3 November, 2016
Themes from Nyland #9
The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report. We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work. Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process. The first eight in the series are available. We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 
We would hope for all children that they are safe and settled in a care situation that fulfils all of their needs. Commissioner Nyland describes how this is not always the case for South Australia’s children even from the point at which they enter care.
Once removed, the child’s need for stability and certainty is given insufficient weight. Attempts to reunify children with their parents drag on for far too long, causing instability as well as denying young children the certainty of the attachment relationships crucial for their development…many children taken into care are subsequently reunified with their parents when the issues that undermined their safety in the first place have not been sustainably addressed.
She recommends that formal permanency planning should start with the imposition of the court order that places the child into care and that time limits be set for reunification efforts after which long-term orders should be sought.
The current system fails to assign to every child in care a social worker who regularly visits and this failure raises stability and safety issues for children. Annual reviews of the circumstances of each child in care, also required by legislation, are sometimes not done or done poorly, which removes another level of safety and continuity that should be in place.
South Australia has an extraordinarily high rate of placement instability compared to other Australian jurisdictions…Placements that appear to be in danger of breaking down should be promptly identified. Early therapeutic support would help carers who may be having difficulty in coping with the challenges of caring for children with high or complex needs.
Each time a child changes placement it can inhibit the formation of attachments to people, place and community, undermine formation of healthy identity and disrupt schooling. Children can be further distressed by having little or no say in the decision making, timing and destination of new placements.
A young person’s need for stability and support does not cease when they turn 18. In a later post we will consider how they can be assisted to make a smooth transition to independence and the support they need to continue through further education, entry into the workforce and beyond.
As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:
- Permanency planning for children that commences at the time of an order bringing a child into care.
- Concurrent planning being given greater emphasis in case planning, especially for children while they are forming attachments.
- Annual reviews being universal, independently chaired and subject to revised and more rigorously enforced standards.
- A review of the reasons for the low level of Other Person Guardianship in South Australia.
- All children currently receiving a differential response be assessed for eligibility for Other Person Guardianship.
- Every child in care being allocated a social worker who visits them at regular intervals determined by an assessment of the circumstances and the child’s preference.
- Involvement of the child in discussion about the need for placement change and how and when it will occur.
- The inclusion of the voice of the child in all discussions at which decisions are made about significant matters that affect them.
Please join the discussion via the reply box leaving a name and an email address in the spaces provided. We will remove them from the published post if you request in your reply.
 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,
 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care, Home-based care, Therapeutic care – everywhere. Aboriginal children and Education.
 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary. Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.
26 July 2016
Here are seven things that young people in care told us while discussing ‘Having a Say’ at our youth consultation last week. 1
1. I do need to talk with you. I need to let you know what is important to me, to get what I want and need and to be kept safe.
2. Some ways of communicating with me don’t work:
- suggestion boxes are not private and sometimes nothing happens
- certificates and awards can be nice but I might not like being singled out and paraded in front of everyone
- I’m not going to share my feelings at house meetings if everyone is having a go at each other
3. I have ways of sending messages to you, that you may not understand, for example:
- I may have my earbuds in but this is not always to listen to music. It can also be so I am left alone or so I can avoid joining in before I am ready
- I may be dismissive but that’s because I am still working out what is going on and if I can trust you
- I may be quiet and withdrawn for the same reason
- I may tell you how I am feeling by what I wear
4. I may find it easier to use pictures rather than words:
- pointing at emoticons on cards or posters can tell you how I’m feeling without words
- I can tell you things about myself and my life with my camera
- I can show you things about myself from my Life Story Book
5. I can have a say most easily with people I know and trust and with whom I have a relationship.
6. I am not the same as every other young person in care.
7. I need you to understand where I have come from and how I am dealing with this situation so that you can understand me when I have a say.
Please share your insights and experiences with us in the reply space below.
1 These are not all the exact words of the young people but as respectful and faithful a representation of their intent, as we can make it. Huge thanks to the seven young people who shared and showed us so much last week. Also thanks to the management and staff of HYPA for their help in putting the consultation together.
This item was also published in the August 2016 Guardian’s Newsletter.
I am pleased to hear the Government’s commitment to creating the new Department for Child Protection and I look forward to the Guardian’s Office developing a strong relationship with the new Chief Executive and leadership team.
I welcome Commissioner Nyland’s recommendation that the new Department for Child Protection ‘must be headed by a Chief Executive with established credibility in child protection work…’
The new department will be a solid base from which to work on Commissioner Nyland’s other recommendations which will be contained in her full report due for release early in August.
But creation of a new department will not be sufficient in itself.
The new department will immediately need to undertake long-term planning to ensure better placement options for children in care.
The quality and suitability of out-of-home care and the large numbers of children in emergency placements requires urgent attention.
Collaboration between and among government and non-government agencies will be needed to strengthen family support services to prevent children from coming into care where it is safe for them to remain with their families. Where that’s not possible, we will need to intervene early to protect children and make sure those who come into care do so in a timely and appropriate way.
The new department must ensure there are sufficient numbers of skilled child protection workers with access to regular supervision and support, professional development and information about the latest research promoting best practice.
In these areas and across the whole child protection system we must encourage and support the active voice of children themselves. If we listen, genuinely listen, children will tell us what is happening for them and what the reinvented system needs to provide.