Monitoring visits to residential care facilities fact sheet

The Guardian has a statutory obligation to monitor the wellbeing of children and young people under guardianship or in the custody of the Minister.  One way the Office does this this is for it’s advocates to visit young people in their residential units.

This new fact sheet talks about the purpose of the visits and how they are usually conducted.  It is hoped that it will help residential care workers to most effectively integrate the visits into the house routine, to understand what the advocates will be doing and to prepare young people for the visit.

Download and read the Monitoring visits to residential care fact sheet, also available in a graphic free version for reproduction on black and white printers.

The Guardian’s Monitoring Framework fact sheet

The Guardian has a statutory obligation to monitor the wellbeing of children and young people under guardianship or in the custody of the Minister.  The Office of the Guardian collects and reports information using 12 quality statements which were distilled from the priorities of children and young people in care as expressed by them in the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care.

The 12 statements are set out and the information gathering process is explained in the Monitoring Framework 12 statements and data collection fact sheet, also available in a graphic free version more suitable for reproduction on black and white printers.

Charter of Rights gets legal status

Pam Simmons Guardian

In late 2009 the Children’s Protection Amendment Bill passed both Houses of Parliament. Most of the attention leading up to this had understandably been on the extension of child safety practices to a wider range of organisations.

In one relatively small part of the amendment bill something important to children in care passed into law, that is that there will be a Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care. The Charter has served us well in promoting rights and raising awareness of needs but it has not, until now, been required by law.

Mentored and led by experienced Youth Parliamentarian David Wilkins, they sat up late into the night preparing their arguments. They presented their Bill to the two Houses of Youth Parliament and won overwhelming support for it. They met with the Minister to argue their case. And just three years on they have made history.

Thank you David Wilkins, Mellita Kimber, Bryston Scarsbrook, Jessica Parker, Nathanael Jefferies, Casey Sheppard, Ed King and Bianca North. You have done good.

A new era for the Charter of Rights

With the Charter of Rights getting recognition in legislation at the end of last year and with its progressive inclusion in service contracts and practice guidelines, the Charter is operating in a changed world.

Since 2006, when the Charter was officially launched, the Office of the Guardian and the Charter of Rights Implementation Committee have worked in partnership with many agencies that serve young people in care to promote and implement the Charter.  To date, 43 agencies have chosen to endorse the Charter, committing to recognise it in their policies and apply it in their day-to-day practice.  These agencies provide a broad range of support to children in care such as alternative care, advocacy, cultural identity, disability, education and health services.

At its last meeting, the Charter  Implementation Committee decided on a major shift of emphasis. Over time, the need to promote the Charter has reduced.  Many young people, carers and workers are now very aware of it. While promotion will continue, the new focus will be on working with agencies to review and measure how well the Charter is being implemented and assess the benefits to young people.

In our statutory role of monitoring the wellbeing of children and young people in care, we already gather some information about the application of the Charter but this applies to a relatively small number of the endorsing agencies.  As agencies increasingly need to identify and measure how the Charter affects the services they provide, there is a great opportunity for the Committee and the Guardian’s Office to work with them.

Understanding how the Charter can most benefit young people in care can only be done in cooperation with those who deliver the services and building this relationship is vital.

Anticipating this new relationship with agencies, the Implementation Committee and the Guardian’s Office has set out some principles to guide its work.  We will:

  • where possible, use already existing processes to gather information
  • gather information from a variety of sources, including managers, workers and young people
  • make information gathering simple and user friendly
  • gather information consistently so that comparisons can be made over time.

We will be engaging with the agencies’ Charter Champions as planning gets under way over the next few months. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to discuss ways to use and promote the Charter within your agency, please email or call Lisa Firth on (08) 8226 8571.

CROC 20th Anniversary

5 November 2009

Twenty years ago the General Assembly of the United Nations formally adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC), defining a comprehensive set of rights for people under eighteen years of age. At the time, this was a landmark event, displacing the idea of children being under the control and authority of adults and giving them the same civil rights and liberties as adults, whilst also recognising the role of parents as providers of support and guidance. Since then 190 nations have signed on to the Convention.

CROC contains 54 individual articles, with the majority of these articles identifying specific rights such as:

Article 12 – You have the right to give your opinion, and for adults to listen and take it seriously.

Article 16 – You have the right to privacy.

Article 20 – You have the right to care and protection if you cannot live with your parents.

Article 28 – You have the right to a good quality education. You should be encouraged to go to school to the highest level you can.

Building on CROC

Building on the aspirations of CROC, the Office of the Guardian recognised that the rights of children and young people in care were not always easy to identify, often hidden within legislation, common law decisions and departmental policy. In 2005, we engaged with children and young people in care, carers and workers to develop the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care. The Charter:

  • informs children and young people about their rights and entitlements in the care system
  • empowers them to seek the best possible care
  • assists them to participate in decisions that affect them
  • documents what they can expect from the care system and
  • documents the commitments made by that care system.

The Charter’s 37 rights, are specific to children and young people in care in South Australia and put particular emphasis on active participation, stressing the young person’s right to express their opinion, know their culture, be treated with respect and be involved in decision making.

Since the Charter was launched in 2006, our advocacy, monitoring, investigative and reporting functions have been guided by the best interests of the child as expressed in the Charter.

Children and young people and their advocates make use of the Charter to safeguard children’s rights and identify issues and agencies make use of it when reviewing policy and practice guidelines.

…children’s rights are an essential part of recognising the inherent dignity and human rights of every human person, and … this is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…

Preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

For further information on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, check out these links:

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

National Children’s and Youth Law Centre

The Council for the Care of Children which has a link to download a child friendly version of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (PDF)

Also see the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People Charter of Rights page.

Participation, disability and the Charter of Rights

Adults’ attitudes towards children and young people with a disability, will impact on how they perceive, respect and act upon children’s rights. Under the medical model of disability the problems are seen to lie with the individual. The individual needs to change and adapt to circumstances (if they can) and there is no suggestion that society needs to change. In contrast, the social model sees disability as a normal aspect of life and that people with impairments are disabled by barriers in society, by its structures and norms.

Consider a boy, Matthew, who cannot hold open a door for long enough to get through due to weakness in his right arm. Under the medical model, Matthew is seen as a victim of his impairment. He may try and get someone else to hold the door open for him but he is not given control of his environment and therefore remains dependent on others. The social model includes Matthew and alters the environment to meet his needs. It sees society as having the knowledge and resources to offer solutions – such as in this instance, an electric or revolving door.

It is the social model that best supports the child’s right to participate. The appropriate degree of participation for an individual child or young person will be determined by the nature of the matter for decision or under discussion, the circumstances and their capacity to participate.

To make it possible for a child or young person with a disability to participate it is critical to find out how they usually communicate. They may use a combination of different communication methods including the use of pointing and gestures, pictures or symbols, spelling, sign language, speech generating devices or direct observation. Involving someone who is trained or familiar with a particular method of communication to encourage, assist or interpret on behalf of the young person can greatly help.

Information should be presented to children and young people with a disability in a way they can understand. Some pictures, photographs or symbols as a visual cue may help a child with a disability understand the types of things that will be discussed during a case planning session. A young person with a disability may choose not be to present at a meeting, but may spend some time with their worker or advocate prior to the meeting to express their preferences. They may complete a ‘What’s important to me’ activity to ensure that their views are accurately represented.

Participation in decision making by children and young people with a disability can be best supported if adults:

  • understand the child or young person’s disability • know how they communicate best
  • collaborate with and learn from specialist disability service providers
  • engage, as needed, the assistance of others with specialised skills
  • prepare and support the child or young person to participate
  • are proactive in identifying opportunities for participation
  • allow time to explore the options to promote planning and inclusion.

 

Amongst Australian children aged up to 14 years of age, approximately one in 12 has a disability and about half of these have a severe or profound disability that affects their ability to do day to day activities.

 

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

At the end of 2008 there were a total of 244 children under guardianship receiving a service from Disability SA and Novita, 12 per cent of the total.

Disability SA

 

 

The Charter of Rights turns three in 2009

The Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care grew out of consultation with children and young people, carers, social workers and people from government and non-government organisations. The final look of the printed materials drew heavily on the advice of an advisory group of young people who were either in care or who had been in care.

It was officially launched by the then Minister for Families and Communities, Jay Weatherill in a celebration at the Adelaide Zoo on 19 April 2006.

Since then, 42 agencies have endorsed the Charter, committing to apply it in their policy and day-to-day practice. The agencies who have endorsed are diverse including both government and non-government organisations providing a wide range of support in alternative care, youth, aboriginal, disability, education and health services.

The Charter remains central to the Office’s goal of making it work for kids in care. The strategies for implementing and evaluating the impact of the Charter are clearly set out in our Strategic Plan 2007 – 2010.

In 2009 we will be:

  • contacting or renewing contact with the Charter champion in each endorsing agency
  • actively assisting agencies to implement and embed the Charter into their everyday business
  • helping agencies to assess and document how well they are progressing in implementing the Charter and promoting the rights of children and young people in care
  • getting feedback from agencies about their successes and difficulties in implementing the Charter and identifying the way forward
  • hosting a forum focussing on an issue relating to children’s rights
  • making available tools and practical resources to support and promote implementation of the Charter
  • publishing articles on the Charter and children’s rights in our quarterly newsletter.

Resources already in place include posters and brochures explaining and promoting the Charter for children and young people, their carers and to others who work directly with them. The posters and brochures are available in two different styles. The Office also makes available frequently asked questions about the Charter and a series of checklists that endorsing agencies can use and customise to meet their own circumstances on the Charter of Rights page of the Guardian’s website.

To read more about the Charter visit the Guardian’s Charter of Rights page.

If you would like to discuss ways to use and promote the Charter within your agency, please email Nicole [email protected] or phone (08) 8226 8429.

Alternatives to ‘safe keeping’

picture of Pam Simmons

Pam Simmons Guardian

I have had the privilege recently of hearing the views of many people with great expertise and wisdom on the topic of safe keeping. Safe keeping is the statutory confinement in a specific location of a child or young person where no offence has been committed but they are detained because their safety and wellbeing is at substantial risk.

There is growing interest in this topic across Australia. Both the Layton Report in 2003 and the Mullighan Report in 2008 recommended a secure therapeutic facility and arrangements in South Australia. The authors were understandably disturbed by the state’s seeming lack of ability to prevent young people from running away from state care and putting themselves at risk of grave exploitation. In June the Office of the Guardian issued a discussion paper on this topic and I thank those of you who responded to it and the participants of the round table discussion.
While listening to diverse opinions I formed the view that the government should not proceed with introducing the legislation and facilities for safe keeping for children. First, in the absence of other intensive therapeutic residential services, I am not convinced that it is necessary to detain children in order to engage them with an intensive service. Second, there is a high likelihood of abuse of purpose of the legal orders and facility because there is limited access to community-based therapeutic services and overdemand on the alternative care system. In other words, if we had tried other intensive therapeutic services first then the argument would be stronger for detaining some children to provide them with a service. But we have not. The therapeutic services for children and young people with high needs are thin on the ground.
Instead I suggest we implement a number of other reforms ahead of introducing safe keeping provisions. They are:
  • Improved intensive therapeutic services for children in existing residential and family-based care, including those in youth training centres.
  • Improved development opportunities and supervision for children in residential care including a higher staff to resident ratio.
  • Protective behaviours training and sexual health education available to all residents of residential facilities.
  • Smaller numbers of children accommodated in the residential facilities, from the 10-12 now to a maximum of six.
  • Greater control over admission to residential facilities to enhance resident cohesion and the therapeutic environment, and clearer definition of purpose of each unit.
  • Introduction of a strategy for assisting children with high and complex needs which recognises the need for intensive and highly-skilled case management and therapeutic care.
  • An outreach service that locates, engages with and supports children who are missing from placement or who are putting themselves at high risk.
  • Amendment to the Summary Procedures Act to restrain adults who exploit children by offering them shelter, drugs, or other goods in return for sexual favours.
There is a lot of support for better addressing the needs of children and young people who run away from their care placements and for whom the available help is not enough. I expect that we will see some changes in the next year that will make progress here. However, it will not be done by practice change and goodwill alone. We need a concerted financial and policy commitment to responding well to children and young people with high and complex needs.

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?

Charter of Rights launched

Charter launch 2006Lions roared, parrots squawked, monkeys howled and the first Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care in Australia was launched.

In a lunchtime ceremony in the Rotunda of the Adelaide Zoo on April 19, young people involved in the development of the Charter explained why they felt that a clear statement of rights for children and young people in care was important.

Reflecting on her time in guardianship, 19 year old Rachel Hopkins said, “Most kids don’t know what to expect when they go into care.

“They want to know why them and what is going to happen next. The Charter will help clear up a lot of those things and make sure they know it’s alright for them to ask questions.”

Eighteen year old David Wilkins who chaired the event said, “Children in care want to feel like any other children – they want to have the same opportunities and support.”

“It’s really important for children in care to know they have rights. For those coming in to the system, this Charter will be able to provide them with information to help them deal with being placed under guardianship.”

Surviving a simian heckling that he said rivalled even that of his parliamentary colleagues, Minister for Families and Communities, Jay Weatherill congratulated the children and young people, carers and the many professionals whose work created the Charter.

“Children and young people are placed under guardianship when they are unable to remain in their family home making them among the most vulnerable,” he said.“They need to know they can expect to be treated well and cared for properly while they are under guardianship. It also is crucial for them to know they have options if something goes wrong. The Charter is a great way of telling them this and preventing problems such as abuse.

“We are going to ask people and organisations providing care to endorse the Charter and build it into their ways of working with children and young people including their performance standards and reporting process,” he said as he officially launched the Charter.

The launch was attended by more than 100 children and young people and about the same number of carers and other interested adults. After the launch they joined the Office of the Guardian staff for a hotdog and gourmet sausage sizzle and were entertained by young DJ Ben and Dr Blot the clown before spending a sunny afternoon at the Zoo.

The Charter and the value of formalising rights for children and young people in care will be promoted strongly over the next few months.

To read the Charter and to view the promotional materials, visit the Charter of Rights page or contact the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People on 8226 8570, email [email protected]