Wellbeing of children and young people in care 2009-10

The Guardian for Children and Young People monitors the circumstances of children under the guardianship, or in the custody, of the Minister for Families and Communities. The feedback and findings of monitoring activities are reported directly to the agencies involved and to the Minister.

The Report on the Wellbeing of c&yp in care in SA 2009-10 summarises the information  in one place about three priority areas identified by the Office and makes the general conclusions available to a wider audience.

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What makes a good social worker?

Children and young people value a good relationship with their social worker.  They want the worker to spend time just with them and for the worker to get to know them.  They see the social worker as important to their safety and in resolving issues.

The What makes a good social worker? fact sheet combines interviews from several sources with South Australian children and young people to answer this question.

Making sense of the past – life story books for young people in care

life story book graphicThe disrupted family life of children and young people who come into care often means the loss of knowledge of their history, the documents and the photographs and the significant memories and associations that come with them. Life story books are mentioned in Families SA practice guidelines as a means to safeguard and make young people’s history available to them. We asked social workers and young people about life story books and how they support some of the most important rights identified by young people in the Charter of Rights.

‘Most children start to show interest in their family and family history when they enter the wider social world of school.’ explains Zoe Dalton, social worker at the Marion Families SA Office, ‘and this is a good time to introduce the life story book.

‘A foster carer of one boy I know of is doing really good work with him at age four on a life story book but this work with younger children is less common.’

Zoe explains how life story books have been typically created by foster carers but how there is a valuable role for social workers.

[I like it when my social worker] explains things really well and treats me like a normal person and not some foster kid. I think she genuinely cares when she helps me and my sister with our Story Books.

(Young person in care)

‘Foster carers are good at documenting the young person’s life within the foster family but venturing into birth family history and the associated issues is somewhere they may not, understandably, want to go.’

For young people in residential care too, social workers may be the guardian of important documents and a reliable and objective person with whom the life story book can be a valuable link.

‘Young people may change workers frequently and the life story book can help a new worker to more fully understand and build a relationship with a young person and also allow the young person to raise issues in a fun and non-confronting way,’ says Zoe.

Some of the Office’s Youth Advisors, however, urged caution, one saying ‘… for some children and young people, connecting or meeting with their family may not be…something they feel ready or comfortable to do.’

Social workers Kate Cameron and Jenny Patten who work for Child Protection Services at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in a therapeutic role, also caution that the process needs to be handled with sensitivity.

‘A simple conversation about family or even viewing a birth family photograph can trigger powerful emotions and distressing memories,’ says Kate.

‘For some children the conversations initiated by the life story book can be very enjoyable while for others the issues may need the coordinated work of foster carers, social workers and mental health services to provide the necessary support,’ adds Jenny.

Zoe agrees, noting that the skills and training of social workers argues for a role for them in life story work.

Kate and Jenny point to the work of Liz Tongerie and the Aboriginal life story book as a culturally appropriate tool used to engage young Aboriginal people and record their history.

Discussing her methods, Zoe explains that she has drawn on resources from the NSW Department of Community Services website to help develop her team’s approach.

Kate and Jenny suggest that having a mandated, structured model could assist busy social workers to allocate the necessary time to life story work but stress that forcing them into a formulaic tick box approach would be a mistake.

‘While it is important to collect and save life information, how and when the information is used needs to be managed carefully for each child and in cooperation with other people who are supporting them,’ says Kate.

Beneficial as the life story book might be as a way of exploring a young person’s history with them, all recognised the young person’s right to opt out, to say ‘Not now.’

The last word goes to an older teenage boy, a client of Zoe’s, who finally agreed to assembling his important documents into a life story book, ‘as long as it doesn’t have to have glitter.’

Wellbeing of children and young people in care 2008-09

The Guardian for Children and Young People monitors the circumstances of children under the guardianship, or in the custody, of the Minister for Families and Communities. The feedback and findings of monitoring activities are reported directly to the agencies involved and to the Minister.

The Report on the wellbeing of children and young people in care in South Australia – 2008-09 summarises the information in one place and makes the general conclusions available to a wider audience.  We will publish a written response from Families SA in the near future.

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link to GCYP twitter

Quality contact between children and workers

Children in state care learn to work and negotiate with adults who are making important decisions on their behalf. They may have to meet with more adults in a year than most children have to do in ten. As one young person said to us, ‘It’s not just having no parents. That’s just the start of it. We have to deal with the government and social workers and lots of other people….’

The quality of the relationship with their case worker can make or break the important but fragile links between a child and the ‘state’ in its guardianship role. The relationship can make it easier or harder for a child to get what they need for safety and wellbeing.

Starting in November 2008, we conducted a review of the literature, sought the views of 28 children and young people, took evidence from 96 case files and convened a focus group of case workers for their views. In addition to our Youth Advisors, we engaged two young researchers to assist us, one who is in care and one who had been.

You can download Quality Contact between Children and Workers and Quality Contact between Children and Workers – Summary in PDF.link to GCYP twitter

The Guardian’s field consultation in 2008

picture of Guardian Pam Simmons

Pam Simmons Guardian

I travel the state between September and December each year to ask agencies and workers how well the care system is working for children and young people. The information I collect is the basis of further discussions with key agencies and a report to the Minister. My thanks to the 295 people I met at 27 locations for their participation.

Below is a summary of what I heard.

Stability and security

The consultation indicates that the majority of children are in stable and secure placements but for the estimated one in ten requiring change, the options are few. Demand for emergency placements has substantially increased. There are reported improvements in the quality of care provided by commercial carers and residential care workers in transitional accommodation. The over-crowding in Families SA residential facilities and the consequent risk to residents is of deep concern. See Centres a risk to child safety.

The relationships between carers, social workers and alternative care support workers are generally good. The support to relative carers has improved as has their access to respite services, though the demand for respite still outstrips provision. Specialist training for carers in country areas is sparse.

Family contact and cultural identity

There is reported high compliance with parental contact requirements. There is some concern about whether this meets the needs of children. Reunification services should be readily available to young people who choose to return to families after long separation under state guardianship. Getting a mentor appears to be inconsistent. There is tension and hesitancy about how well knowledge of cultural identity is supported and some concern about delays in placing Aboriginal children with family. There are emerging child protection problems, including adolescents at risk, in refugee communities.

Health and disability services

The benefits of the Rapid Response commitment are still evident in cooperation between agencies, familiarity with the needs of children in state care and improved access to services. Waiting times for therapeutic assistance are growing again and are up to six months in some regions for high-priority referrals. Access to disability services has improved markedly overall although there are persistent issues for young people making the transition to adult disability services.

Education and development

Consistent with the 2007 consultation, participants reported mostly good communication between schools and Families SA, largely attributed to the introduction of Individual Education Plans. There is some indication, though, that momentum had slowed which has already been addressed by DECS and Families SA with refresher training offered. Predictably but regretfully the cooperation comes unstuck over payments to support children who need additional assistance in school. As a result children are disadvantaged by delays in school commencement or fulltime attendance. There was relief that the school retention program will continue in Families SA and that DECS continues to give priority to children and young people under guardianship.


Families SA workers reported satisfaction with the level of participation of children and young people in decision-making. However other evidence demonstrates there is much more that could be done to involve and empower children and young people in case decisions.

Relationship with case worker

There are reported improvements in case worker responsiveness, professionalism, consistency and communication from 2007. However there are a growing number of ‘unallocated’ cases where contact is minimal.


The overall impression is that, despite high demand, workers across agencies are focused on the children for whom they have a duty of care or guardianship. The growing sense of order and professionalism in Families SA continues, as does enhanced inter-agency work. While there is still much progress to be made in realising the benefits for children in respectful ‘care teams’ there are improvements in the day to day interaction between carers, social workers and carer support workers. Services and accommodation for children with high needs and stable placements for 12 to 15 year olds emerged as two significant issues. There was also a rising sense of indignation that collectively the state could not provide what children are entitled to.

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


My foster carers trust me, and they love me like I was their own daughter.


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?

What makes a good social worker? – the director's cut

Last edition the Youth Advisors asked some young people, a youth support worker and a social worker, ‘What qualities make a good social worker for children and young people in care?’ This time it is the turn of the Families SA Executive Director.

A good social worker must:

  • have the appropriate qualifications. They will have studied, can show that they have thought about the theory and understand the link between theory and practice and have an ability to apply the learning and skills.
  • have the right personal qualities. They must have passion, believe in what they do, believe they can make a difference and want to work with children and young people in care.
  • have a good work ethic.
  • be robust and grounded with good coping skills, and a good life/work balance in their own lives.
  • be a good listener who is able to listen with empathy and understand the individual they are working with.
  • be a problem solver and be organised and methodical. • have the necessary skills for their work duties such as client work, whether working with children or adults, presentations (for example in court) or case planning.
  • have a sense of fun. They must be energised and have ways of looking after themselves.
  • work within a team and cooperate well.
  • have a commitment to ongoing learning, reflective practice and continuous improvement.
  • have integrity and honesty, recognising the power imbalance between them and their clients and not taking advantage of it or of a disempowered young person.

What makes a good social worker? – the Youth Advisors ask

For kids in care, their social worker is very important. So for this edition of the Youth Advisor’s page we asked a few people, ‘What qualities make a good social worker for children and young people in care?’

First, we asked some young people…

  • honesty
  • keep us informed when access changes – tells us why
  • do stuff for us – find me a new placement when I need it, make sure I see my family
  • visit me at my placement – don’t just talk with me on the phone • call us back after we call you • spend time getting to know me
  • ask me what I think about stuff – school, placement, family, the people I live with
  • help me sort out problems at school or in my placement
  • talk to me about how the decisions are made

Then, a youth support worker’s perspective…

  • communicate regularly with youth support workers about changes in arrangements such as access and worker allocation
  • have regular face-to-face contact at their placement, not just in the district centre • show honesty and integrity
  • follow through with promises
  • be fair minded and realistic with expectations
  • be willing to follow up on necessary funding to cover basic needs like education and health
  • provide the necessary support with life decisions

Finally, a social worker themselves…

  • find the time to get out and about to have face-to-face contact with children and young people, rather than just by phone or email.
  • give the children and young people the chance to express their opinions and takes the them into consideration for decision-making. For example, consult with them before annual reviews and when writing case plans.
  • make calls or visits for significant events like the first day at school or to go out for lunch to celebrate a birthday.
  • make regular contact
  • links with as many stakeholders as possible and keep in regular contact to communicate the views of the child or young person in care.

Social worker checklist

This checklist was developed with the input of children and young people in care to assist workers to provide the child or young person with information about what is happening to them when entering or changing placement.  You can download the Social Worker Checklist from our website.