In the context of the Office’s Sibling Contact Inquiry Report, Executive Director of Families SA David Waterford accepted our offer to talk about his own views and some Families SA initiatives. David said:
Getting to know and share experiences with siblings is a big part of growing up and important in shaping our identity and we want children in care to have that experience too.
‘Historically, we have given priority to maintaining contact between parents and children. In recent times we have had larger groups of siblings coming into care so contact between siblings has become more of an issue. We also have siblings from dispersed families who have not known each other prior to coming into care who need to be given the chance to develop relationships with their siblings.
‘And all siblings do not necessarily want the same level of contact. Recently an 11 year old boy was very keen to have a relationships with his 15 year old brother but the brother, understandably perhaps, did not feel it was cool to be hanging around with an 11 year old. In the end texting was the answer and the two developed a bond via their mobile phones. Every situation is different and we need to be flexible and creative.
‘Carers mostly take their cue from the children. They will advocate for contact when the child really wants it and will not when the child is ambivalent. Sometimes carers can struggle with the differing rules and expectations in different households which can create tensions too. Making sibling contact happen is not always easy. Finding the time and the resources for carers and children to enable contact can be difficult and at times Families staff will have a lead role.
‘In Famlies we are aware that we do not have a complete grasp of what is happening in sibling contact. Later this year we will be starting to gather data to find out about our current practice, what we’re doing, what is working and what we can do better.
‘There are some changes we know we want to make already. We are thinking about arranging more contact which is based around activities. Trips and holidays with one or several sibling groups could replace some of our less exciting contact activities and locations.
‘We have already made considerable progress in ensuring that the voice of young people is present at care planning meetings and annual reviews but there is still some distance to go. We want to make sure that workers consistently ask and record what young people want in contact and in other areas.
‘I have great hopes for ACASI* which we are rolling out progressively by 2014-15 with support from the federal government. This is a web-based survey tool which will allow children and young people to tell us about their care experiences and that will include contact with their siblings.
*Audio computer assisted self interview (ACASI) is an interview tool shown to give more accurate responses than face to face interviews in socially sensitive areas by providing a high level of confidentiality.
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