Hearing the voices of children and young people in residential care

The Guardian for Children and Young People’s advocacy team has commenced audit visits to residential care houses, following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Audit visits are just one of the ways we monitor the circumstances of children and young people living in residential care as part of GCYP’s functions.

To date, advocates have visited children and young people at five residential care properties, with a further two visits planned before the end of June. Audit visits are occurring in a small but important way, in the absence of the Child and Young Person Visitor Scheme – a currently unfunded role which was established in 2018 to promote the best interests of children and young people living in residential care.

Principal Advocate, Merike Mannik, said it was critical that audits of residential care houses were carried out, even though this is currently in a very limited capacity.

“We know there are concerns about children and young people living in residential care, and it is vitally important that these young people are given the opportunity to talk to someone independent and share their thoughts about what life is like for them,” Merike said.

“It is equally important that young people feel heard, by seeing changes take place as a result of their feedback.”

To prepare for the visit, the advocates review a range of records (including incident reports, care concerns, wellbeing plans, positive behaviour support plans, resident meeting minutes and complaints/feedback).

Visits take place after school, with the advocates joining in the young people’s activities and sharing a meal with them. The focus is on creating a relaxed and informal atmosphere, where young people can feel comfortable to engage with the advocates if they choose to.

During the visit, young people can share their experiences about life in residential care, including what they like and what they would like to be different. The advocates also record observations about the social and physical environment of the house, as well as feedback from care staff. They follow up the visit with an audit report to the managing agency and Department for Child Protection.

“We are enjoying spending time with the young people and hearing what they have to say as we work to improve their wellbeing outcomes. Their voices are at the centre of what we do,” Merike said.

“With more than 200 residential care facilities in SA, we are acutely aware that our current visits are barely scratching the surface and, unless we are able to commence the more comprehensive Visitor Scheme, this won’t change. Until then, we know that many children and young people living in residential care will not have their voices heard by an independent person,” she said.

“Our advocates aim to make a difference where we can. Meeting young people where they live, being shown around their home by them and hearing about what matters to them is such a privilege. We observe, ask questions, chat and listen, and treat what we see and hear sensitively and seriously. Every child and young person’s voice counts.”

If you would like more information about the visits, call us on 8226 8570 or email at gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au.

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