By Guardian Penny Wright
As we approach the end of a busy year and a time for festivities and holidays, I am reflecting on the impressive work my staff and I see, every day, among the child protection workforce in South Australia.
In the recent Guardian’s Annual Report I noted that the child protection system in South Australia has been troubled for years, and I named aspects of the system which are in crisis in 2019. But I also recognised that many, many individuals – who are working in the Department for Child Protection and non-government organisations, residential and commercial care facilities and in foster and kinship families – are willing to go above and beyond, day after day, for the children and young people they care for.
This week I have just been completing one of my favourite tasks – writing to practitioners about excellent practice that I’ve become aware of. I’d like to share some of these shining examples, knowing that they represent just a fraction of the good work that is going on, every day of the year.
- A senior practitioner/case worker who built a strong rapport with a young person and really listened to their voice about being bullied at school. Through the worker’s energetic advocacy, she was able to effect change at the school. She also worked with the young person to help them develop a clear sense of who they were, as a person, through a high-quality case plan that was descriptive, and focused on their strengths. The worker also created a beautiful life story book/album, with many coloured photos of the young person since birth, and their family, copies of awards and certificates and a very moving piece written by the young person about their aspirations.
- A case manager who supported a 17-year-old young person in their transition towards independence. Her commitment to the young person was clear from her detailed knowledge of the young person’s needs, her weekly contact with the young person and her energetic approach to helping the young person put independent living arrangements into place.
- A case manager whose good placement matching and strong placement support for a young person in foster care had made a clear and positive difference in her life in the space of just five months. The young person was making great progress in her foster care placement and this worker received very positive feedback from both the foster carer and the agency support worker.
- A case worker who demonstrated a strong knowledge of a young person of 16, especially regarding who they were and their aspirations. The worker energetically advocated for the young person to support and help them achieve their independent living goals. This same worker also showed great commitment and care for another young person who had complex needs and this work contributed to the progress they had made over the last year (including attending and contributing to their annual review meeting). Among other things, the worker held monthly care team meetings, with the young person attending, and created a case plan which reflected a strengths-perspective for the young person.
- A case manager who demonstrated a strong, child-centred focus at the annual review for a young person, at which there was a written agenda, including requests from the young person, that the worker had developed with the young person.
- A case worker who supported young siblings in kinship care. She built rapport and trusting relationships with the carers and the children, while working through placement challenges and complexities in a respectful, supportive and committed way.
Child protection is not a place for the fainthearted. In fact, the system only works at all because of lionhearted people who get out of bed every morning, to meet the day, determined to do what they can to support kids who are in need of love, nurture and a home. Whether in regional offices, in residential care, in the placement area, in working with (or as) carers, or wrangling dollars or policy – there are challenges everywhere and it takes courage to face them.
I am often privileged to receive a response to the emails I send. One of them thanked me and told me, ‘your acknowledgement has come at a time when I have been questioning my ability to make a positive difference in the lives of our young people. You have reminded me of why we are here, with your acknowledgment and how much our passion and dedication to our children enhances their strength and ability to create the best future for themselves with us standing by their side.’
For those of you who do this often rewarding but also extremely challenging work, please know that it is crucial, it is valued and the children and young people within the system absolutely need you.