CREATE – representing the voices of young people in care for 20 years

CREATE Foundation has come a long way from its humble beginnings with its small member base meeting in garages and community halls 20 years ago. Today, the national consumer body which represents the voices of children and young people in care has offices in each state and territory, employs almost 50 staff and has over 19,000 young members.

CREATE was formed with the vision that all children and young people in care can reach their full potential. Its mission is to give children and young people in care the confidence to use their voice, to connect with other young people and to stand up and make change in the care system.

Fabian McPhee, the Community Facilitator at CREATE in South Australia who’s worked with the organisation for four years, said while a lot has changed about the way CREATE thinks about and acts on issues, the founding vision remains.

“The vision, from the beginning, has been the same and that’s been to give every young person the same opportunity that every other young person should have being in care,” said Fabian.

Reflecting on 20 years of CREATE, he says there’s now a lot more engagement with young people in care and a lot more members in South Australia. SA currently engages with its members through its ClubCREATE magazines, connection events, Youth Advisory Groups and the Speak Up empowerment program.

Recently appointed CREATE State Coordinator Amy Duke says they are excited about what the future holds for CREATE in South Australia.

“In SA, I think we have the opportunity to capitalise on some fresh and exciting ideas from other states,” she said.

The Hour of Power is one of these initiatives out of Victoria that allows young people who are no longer in care to stay connected with CREATE. The bi-annual forums provide an avenue for young people with lived care experience to present key issues and share ideas for policy and practice change. The young people set the agenda, facilitate the conversation and share their lived experience with the aim of improving the lives of young people in care and the system itself.

“Having opportunities for those young people to practice the skills and learnings from being part of CREATE will keep them engaged. CREATE provides children and young people with the opportunity to direct our advocacy and have a voice in systemic change,” Amy said.

As for the future of CREATE at a national level, the teams are working towards ensuring the voices of children and young people in care are being heard loud and clear when it comes to being involved in decisions that affect them.

CREATE’s Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Reed noted in the latest annual report that “young people are telling us overwhelmingly that they want to be involved in decisions that affect their lives, and want to have plans for their future that they are involved in developing.”

“Our team are prioritising the need for the sector to plan appropriately, and more importantly to ensure that children and young people’s views are heard during the planning process and reflected in whatever planning documentation is developed,” Jacqui said.

For more information about CREATE visit their website at www.create.org.au.

Natural advocacy – how you can empower a young person

Children and young people in care have not always had the time and support they need to develop the knowledge, skills or confidence to express their views and advocate for themselves. Navigating the child protection system can be a difficult task even for the most seasoned professionals – and much more so for the children and young people who are caught up in it.

The right to an advocate

One of the rights outlined in the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care is that children and young people have the right to speak to someone who can act on their behalf when they cannot do this.

The number of children and young people in care who may need advocacy support far outweighs the resources of the Guardian for Children and Young People. For this reason, children and young people in care need the adults in their existing network (both personal and professional) to advocate for them. Such adults can, and should, act to ensure that the voice and interests of each child and young person in care are represented.

We call this ‘natural advocacy’.

Natural advocacy supports the voice and rights of the child. As well as having their voice heard and their rights addressed, being involved with the advocacy process can allow young people to learn valuable lessons; that they have rights, including the right to be heard, that rights can be negotiated to achieve better outcomes, and the value of persistence.

As a ‘natural advocate’, you can work with a child or young person to help ensure:

  • they have a place to live where they are safe, cared for and respected
  • their views and wishes are asked for, and considered, in planning such as at care team meetings, case conferences or annual reviews
  • they are given the opportunity to participate in decisions that are made about matters such as school changes, placement moves, or family contact
  • they have access to services such as health, housing, mentors, cultural support, recreation and education
  • their interests, aspirations, achievements and strengths are recognised and supported by the adults around them
  • they know about the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care
  • they know how to access a complaints or review process if things aren’t going well for them, or if they disagree with a decision that has been made about their care.

Your advocacy might involve contacting services and decision-makers directly, or supporting the child or young person to do this themselves.

Challenges in advocacy

One of the most significant challenges a natural advocate may face is that advocacy can sometimes be misread by other care team members, colleagues and/or management as disruptive or obstructive to the work of the care team. Natural advocates may also fear that they will not be as powerful as an external, professional, or more senior voice, and so they may not feel empowered to pursue an issue on the child or young person’s behalf.

This is where the Charter can be helpful. The Charter, which has been widely adopted and endorsed by 88 organisations to date, frames the work of an advocate positively, as a legitimate action that focuses attention on the child or young person’s voice and rights. Grounding your advocacy in the Charter can prompt discussion and reflection, which can in turn promote child-focussed decision-making.

There are a few things to remember if you are going to act as a natural advocate for a child or young person:

  • Wherever possible, it is important to seek the child or young person’s consent to act on their behalf (if they have not asked you to do so).
  • Wherever possible, it is important to seek the child or young person’s voice on matters related to their care, so that this can form the basis of your advocacy.
  • Consider, at the outset, whether it is safe for you to advocate for what the child or young person wants (their safety is paramount).
  • Involve the child or young person in the process as much as possible (depending on their age and developmental capacity), or in accordance with their wishes.
  • Role-model positive communication and team work throughout the process.
  • Be careful not to make promises about the outcome or what you can achieve, but reassure the child or young person that you will do your best to help them have a voice in the process.
  • Be mindful of keeping your own views, complaints or frustrations separate from the child or young person’s voice and needs.

If your advocacy is not successful, be honest with the child or young person about the process and outcome. Support the child or young person to reflect on what they might have learned or achieved through the process, and congratulate them for their bravery, confidence and persistence. In some situations, it might be appropriate to explore whether a compromise can be negotiated, and in other situations, it might be appropriate to pursue a formal complaints or review process.

What next?

If you, or the child or young person, continue to hold significant concerns after you have attempted natural advocacy, you can contact us for advice about other options and/or an assessment of whether advocacy is required from our office.

You can phone us on 8226 8570 (adults) or 1800 275 664 (free call for children and young people only).

Training Centre Visitor team wraps up pilot inspection

The Training Centre Visitor Unit has wrapped up its pilot inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC).

As November marked the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is timely this inspection – which assesses the conditions and management of the children and young people who are detained there, and ensuring their rights are being upheld – was carried out.

Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright said the inspection is the cultivation of two years of hard work from the TCV Unit staff in establishing the TCV program and building relationships with the residents and staff.

“My dedicated team has worked hard, visiting the training centre every fortnight to advocate for the rights and best interests of the residents. Through this consistent visiting program we have been able to get an accurate picture of what life is like for the children and young people detained in the centre,” Penny said.

“By combining our learnings from the past two years with the voices of residents and staff we have heard during the inspection, we can create a better understanding of how to work together with Youth Justice to ensure the children and young people have a brighter future and have the capacity to reach their full potential.”

As part of the inspection, the TCV Unit staff met with AYTC residents, staff and management to talk about what life is like in the centre, covering topics such as resident safety, health care, cultural rights, respect and dignity, education and training, case planning and access to grievance processes. They also facilitated focus groups and reviewed documents.

Input from residents was enthusiastic and thoughtful and guarantees that our reporting can reflect their voices loudly and clearly.

Here are some of the things the residents told us:

  • ‘The health centre is my favourite place to go – it makes me happy and comfortable.’
  • ‘I like all the staff really’.
  • Respect is ‘talking to me normally and makes me feel good!’
  • ‘I am scared I will lose my grandpa while I am in here – and I am not able to hold his hand.’
  • Respect is ‘being believed and not made to be a liar.’
  • ‘I wanna pass that [year 11] and go do my SACE.’
  • ‘We should get more elders in.’
  • ‘The staff are heaps good. They talk to you in good ways, help you out. They care about you.’
  • ‘I identify myself as a young offender. The kids aren’t proud, they’re scared…’

We would like to thank the children and young people and AYTC staff and management for being part of this inaugural inspection and sharing their thoughts about what life in the centre is like for them.

Findings from the inspection will help shape the way the TCV program and future inspections are run and developed. The inspection also provides valuable experience as we gear up for the imminent introduction in South Australia of the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

A formal Inspection Report will be provided to the Minister for Human Services for presentation to Parliament in early 2020.

Here are some of the artworks the residents created during the inspection.

Quarterly advocacy report sees rise of in-mandate enquiries

There has been a 58 per cent increase in the number of enquiries within our mandate (i.e. in relation to children and young people in care) received by the Office of the Guardian in the last financial year, compared with the previous financial year.

The Office of the Guardian’s quarterly summary of individual advocacy data from April to June 2019 showed that in the last quarter 115 in-mandate enquiries were received, bringing the total of in-mandate enquiries for the 2018/19 financial year to 406, an increase from 256 from the previous year.

It is difficult to be sure about the reason for the dramatic increase but Assessment and Referral Officer Courtney Mostert said the increased presence of the Office of the Guardian’s staff out in the field and identifying individual needs for advocacy certainly contributed to the rise. The increase of children living in state care could also have been a contributing factor.

Of the 406 enquiries received, the majority of children were aged 10 to 17, lived in residential care and were requesting advocacy support.

The top four issues remained unchanged from the 2017/18 year, with having a secure and stable place to live being the greatest concern. This was followed by issues around having contact with their birth and extended family, not feeling safe, and feeling like they’re not playing an active role in the decision-making process for the issues that affect them.

Programs for young people should be evaluated – by them

a group of young people at the Royal Commission consultation
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

What Youth Training Centre residents want from their community visitor

AYTC residents going for a football mark

Young footballers in the AYTC going for a mark at the Reconciliation Week game.

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.’

 

Young people speak about protecting their rights in residential care

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.


You can download the above in text form from this link.

Audits of Annual Reviews 2007 to 2017 – children, systems and practice

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.

Strengthening the voice of young people in state care

Amanda Shaw Guardian

20 June 2017

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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.