Introducing our two new advocates

We are excited to welcome two new advocates to the Guardian for Children and Young People’s advocacy team.

Anneline Gregory has joined our team on a full-time basis for the next 12 months after recently relocating from the UK. Anneline brings 20 years’ experience as a qualified social worker, with a focus on child protection, out of home care and as a children’s guardian in the UK court system.

Joel Georgeson will be working with us part time until the end of the year. Joel brings valuable experience as a teacher and a senior child and youth practitioner within residential care for the Department for Child Protection.

We sat down with our new advocates to find out more about them…

Anneline Gregory

What inspires you to work with children and young people in care?
I feel privileged to work with children and young people in care as I think they are some of the bravest children and young people that I have met.  The opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child or young person who has already been through so much, is something that keeps me going.  To see those children or young people thrive, knowing what they have been through, fills me with joy and admiration for each of them.

How does advocacy/support for young people in care work in the UK?
As soon as a child is placed in care and then every 3-6 months thereafter their needs are monitored through statutory reviews.  The child’s foster carer and case worker advocate on the child’s behalf but the child also has an allocated independent reviewing officer who chairs the review meetings and who would also challenge DCP if tasks on the care plan were outstanding or not in the child’s best interest.  The child will have an opportunity to express their wishes and feelings before and during the review and it is a requirement that these are clearly recorded.

In the UK, the majority of children in out of home care are in foster care placements rather than residential care.  Residential care is only really used for children with complex needs whose needs could not safely be met in a foster placement.

What are three words that best describe you?
Kind, organised and creative.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I love spending time with my family.  Our happy place is at the beach.  Watching the waves roll in, the sun shining, having a little swim, it doesn’t get much better than that.  We also enjoy camping, being outdoors, travelling and discovering new places.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?​ 
‘There is always something to laugh about’. For me, the advice is about maintaining a positive mental attitude and looking for the funny or the positive side of a difficult situation, rather than to allow it to get you down.

Joel Georgeson

What inspires you to work with children and young people in care?
The little moments where I’ve been able to help them achieve their goals, bring joy to their lives and see them experience something new for the first time.

You have worked as a senior youth practitioner in residential care for 5 years What was your biggest learning about the rights and needs of children and young people in care?
The most important thing I learnt is that children and young people deserve a team of people around them who genuinely have their best interests at the centre of all decisions, who will listen and truly understand them. All children and young people have their own amazing personalities and they need people who will listen to them and fight for them and their needs.

How do you think your experience in that role could benefit your new role as an advocate?
I believe my previous role has equipped me with the experience and skills to build trusting relationships with the children and young people who I will be advocating for. It has also provided me with an in-depth understanding of the needs and issues facing young people living in care and how to best support them.

What are three words that best describe you?
Positive, energetic and compassionate.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
When I’m not at work I love to spend time with my wife and three pets, I’m also an avid reader and enjoy finding a comfy spot and losing a few hours in a book.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?​
Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.

Free therapeutic counselling available

A free therapeutic counselling support is available now for people engaging with, or affected by, the Disability Royal Commission. This includes children and young people in care who have disability and have experienced trauma.

Relationships Australia South Australia (RASA) have received funding until 2022 from the Australian Government to provide counselling for people who have a disability (physical, psycho-social, intellectual, or learning) and who have experienced trauma as a result of violence, abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

This service is also open to people who are supporting those affected, such as parents, foster and kinship carers, support workers, siblings, and social workers. The child or support person does not have to be directly engaged with the Royal Commission but may be affected by the Royal Commission.

RASA Counsellor Zoë Dalton said this program addresses a gap in services for children and young people in care, with the services of highly experienced counsellors.

“Essentially, there are gaps in trauma-informed counselling for all people with disabilities. This gap has been particularly noted around the supports and care for children in care, residential care and detention. There just does not appear to be a therapeutic service that wraps around their needs from a disability perspective that is openly available, which is why this service has been established.” Zoë said.

“I have observed a lack of therapeutic support for people working with young people in care with a disability. This can have a flow on effect to the wellbeing and care provided to the young person. Our trauma and disability-informed counsellors can address this area too.”

There are currently five counsellors with capacity to see clients immediately, with no waitlists or delays. Counselling sessions are available at the RASA office in Hindmarsh or at a person’s home, school, or workplace. Sessions are also available via phone and video calls.

To make an appointment call RASA on 1800 577 571 or email drccounselling@rasa.org.au or for more information visit the service page here. You can also find out more about the service and support groups through RASA’s Facebook and Twitter.

We want your feedback on the draft revised Charter of Rights

For the last few months our office has been working with children and young people on revising the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care, and now we want your feedback.

Every five years we are required to review the charter to make sure it is still relevant and reflects what young people in care want and need today. As part of this year’s review nearly 100 children and young people who are in care or who have a care experience told us what is important to them and what they thought their rights should be while in care. They shared their voices through participating in workshops, online surveys, worksheets and activity books.

With the voices of these young people at the centre, the Charter of Rights working group (which included two care leavers) set about collating the responses and drafting a set of rights that reflected what the young cohort said. Based on their feedback, the revised charter has a strong emphasis on being safe, the right to be heard, being respected as an individual, and of connecting to and being part of culture.

The next step in the review process is to get feedback from you – the adults, carers and workers who care for this young cohort. We want to know if you think these new rights reflect the needs and concerns of the children and young people that you work with and care for every day. Remember these rights are for the young people themselves so they should reflect their voices and what they consider to be important.

How to share your feedback

To have your say, read the revised charter and email your feedback to Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au by COB on Wednesday 30 September.

What next?

Once we have your feedback, we will be sharing the final version of the revised charter to a group of children and young people for endorsement during the October school holidays. The updated charter is expected to be legislated in Parliament early next year, with the roll out to begin soon after.

On behalf of our office and the working group we would like to send a big heartfelt thanks to the people who helped facilitate the activities that enabled children and young people to have their say, and to the young people themselves who were willing to share their thoughts and feelings openly about their rights in care.

Young author calls for better mental health training for foster and kinship carers

As we celebrate Foster and Kinship Carer Week, a young woman who has written a book about her foster care experience is calling for carers to receive better trauma and mental health training.

For more than nine years Felicity Graham moved around in the foster care system, looking for a foster home she could call her last, with a family who would accept her for who she is. When she found the one, she finally felt a sense of belonging and knew she was loved and cared for. But when her mental health deteriorated after a year, her carers were not equipped to deal with and provide her with the necessary support and so the placement came to an end.

“During my time with my last foster family, I felt safe enough to let my guard down and express my thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, my family didn’t know how to cope with my mental health and behaviours as a result of this and sadly I had to leave,” Felicity said.

Upon leaving the placement at the age of 16, Felicity decided to write a book to help her process her experiences and to help other young people in foster care know they are not alone.

Not Held Down is my story of life in foster care. It is about letting other kids in care know there are other people experiencing the same thing they are. Often kids in care feel silenced and have no place to turn to. My book aims to help them find their voice, to teach them there are people out there who are willing to listen.”

Felicity’s story also tackles the challenges within the foster care system and what she thinks could make it better.

“The system needs to change,” Felicity said. “It is evident carers need more training and 24/7 support to cope and manage trauma and mental health. They need to understand the trauma many young people have experienced prior to entering their home and how this affects the young person’s life, especially their mental health.”

“We already know there are not enough foster carers for all the kids out there needing a home so this too needs to change. It would also be great if more social workers were available to better support young people in care – just knowing someone is available for us any time we need them would make a world of difference.”

“I don’t need to save the world, but if I can be an advocate for change and help at least one person in care then I will be happy,” Felicity said.

Felicity is looking to finish high school next year and wants to complete further studies to become a youth or social worker. She also aspires to have her book made into a movie, ideally featuring Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock).

Felicity is available to speak to young people, carers and foster care agencies and providers about her story. You can contact her via her website or Facebook.

Not Held Down can be purchased through Amazon or Book Depository.

 

Putting children first this week, and always

By Guardian Penny Wright

‘Putting children first’ is the theme of this year’s Child Protection Week. It is an important principle – but one that can be challenging to achieve. In many ways this is the very reason the Office of the Guardian was established in 2005, after the Layton Review of the Child Protection System.  The review found that children in care were the most vulnerable in South Australia and recommended the Guardian role, to articulate and safeguard their rights. It was a means of putting them first within a large and complex system.

There are now more than 4,000 children and young people living away from their birth families in the child protection system in South Australia. Every day my staff and I witness how difficult it is for those managing these demands to put individual children first, ahead of acute system pressures, however good their intentions. The role for my office has never been more crucial – to stand beside each child or young person who needs our support, one among many, and insist that their individual needs and best interests are respected and met.

Some of the most vulnerable of these children are living in residential care. Prior experiences and their lives within the care system will often mean they have experienced significant trauma, with long lasting effects on their emotional wellbeing and sometimes their behaviour. Responding compassionately and effectively to their needs and behaviours has long been a challenge for the systems in which they find themselves. Too often, in the absence of more effective interventions and therapeutic options, the child protection system responds by invoking another system – the justice system – leading to the police, courts and detention. There are very few effective interventions or therapeutic services in that system either.

In 2016, the Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland recommended that children who were considered to be at risk of harm – to themselves and others – should be sent to a secure therapeutic care facility where they would be detained while undergoing treatment for their behaviours.

Forcibly detaining children and young people for treatment or therapeutic care, although they have not committed an offence, might seem an attractive way to deal with their complex behaviours, especially if they habitually leave the place they are living and end up in trouble or are at risk.

But recently, consistent with previous advice from the (then) Guardian, in 2008, my team and I have advised the government against taking up this recommendation. Providing therapies and support for trauma is essential but detention is a drastic step, especially as research indicates that those affected usually have a history of high levels of mental health and social needs that have not been met.

Evidence of the effectiveness of secure therapeutic care is modest and depends on the quality of therapeutic input, the skill levels of carers and effective follow-up support services. In fact, these are the same factors that lead to the best outcomes for children and young people in care, generally – both residential and family-based.

There is already a widely acknowledged lack of sufficient support and therapeutic services for children and young people who need them, especially in residential care. There is a strong risk that secure therapeutic care would just mask this shortage and see children with troubled behaviours, often arising from their care environment, placed in a locked facility to manage a problem for the system. Instead, my office advised that all residential care should have a properly resourced therapeutic approach and that improved intensive therapeutic services should be available for all those children who need them.

Thankfully, the state government recently rejected the Nyland recommendation, a decision I support. In place of the secure care model, the government has committed to roll out a new program called the “Sanctuary Model” to provide therapeutic care across all residential care facilities. This includes providing Department for Child Protection staff at least two days of training, with a select group receiving more extensive training and development to support their colleagues. Training will also incorporate how to respond to the specific needs of Aboriginal children.

What comes next, including how successful this model will be and how the model will be evaluated, will depend on many factors, including its ongoing implementation and proper resourcing.

Twelve years since the Guardian’s first advice about this issue, a more therapeutic approach is long overdue. My team and I will wait with anticipation and hope that this new model will put children first and provide long lasting benefits for the safety and wellbeing of those who live in residential care.

Acknowledging great practice

Working in out-of-home care is challenging. We know so many of you are working hard every day to care for and support children and young people in care.

Whether you are working for the Department for Child Protection, non-government organisations or are caring for a child in your own home, we all play an important role in making a positive difference to the lives of children and young people in care.

From time to time, we hear some wonderful stories about people who go ‘above and beyond’ in their work to ensure children in care are safe, nurtured and helped to reach their full potential. These workers are strongly committed to meeting children’s care and wellbeing needs, converting into practice the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care.

Here are just a few of the excellent practices we have come across in the last few months.

  • A worker in residential care adapted how they presented at work, to help provide consistency to a young person in their placement. The worker adjusted their own lifestyle while working with the young person by wearing the same five outfits while at work, doing their hair and makeup the same way and even eating the same things at the same time! This had a stabilising effect on the young person, resulting in positive behavioural change and reduced times the young person went missing from their placement.
  • A case worker maintained frequent contact (weekly, and sometimes even several times a week) with a young person’s school, therapists, carers and mentor to ensure they were all on the same page regarding the care and case direction of the young person. The worker also contacted the young person at least every two weeks to ensure they knew what was going on and were given the opportunity to make decisions about their life.
  • A school support worker acted as a great Charter Champion, talking to a young person about their rights as a child in care and how the role of our office could help. The worker supported the young person to make a list of thoughts and worries relating to a number of their rights (including contact with siblings, understanding their circumstances, regular contact with their worker, and space and privacy at placement). With the worker’s help, the young person was able to reach out to our office for assistance.

If you know someone who is going ‘above and beyond’ in their work to support the rights of children and young people in care, please let us know so we can acknowledge their good practice and share their story.

The deadly dreamtime story

Creating art was a popular activity during SA’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially for many of the children and young people living in residential care.

We talked to several of the children and young people about how life has been for them during COVID-19. Many told us they used drawing, telling stories and other creative forms to express their thoughts and feelings during this unprecedented time.

An 11-year-old Aboriginal young person living in an Aboriginal Family Support Services (AFSS) residential care facility was keen to share their dreamtime story with us, along with their artwork, that they created during the peak of the restrictions. It is a privilege we can share this with you.

The deadly dreamtime story

One day there was a mob and they got stuck on a land, because of the white people. While they were on the land they hunted in the afternoon so they could get back in time to produce the food for their family. Their favourite things to do were hunting and looking for different kinds of rocks. They liked hunting for animals to shred the animal skin and use it as clothing. They loved making boomerangs, spears, drums and didgeridoos.

If Aboriginal people get in trouble they get punished. If you’re a human and you get in trouble you can get turned into an animal and if you get in trouble when you’re an animal you turn into an object.

Aboriginal people have strict rules and commands to follow. If they disobey these commands and rules harsh punishments will occur.

They love planting things like seeds, nuts, roots and tubers.

 

Do you have a child or young person in your care who would like to share their artwork with us? Email us at gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au.

 

Routine semi-naked searches to cease at youth justice centre

black ink hand

Last Friday marked a significant milestone for the dignity of children and young people in SA’s youth justice centre with the commencement of the use of full body scanners and the end of routine semi-naked searches.

Over the last two years our office has worked hard to advocate for the end of semi-naked searches, including the controversial use of ‘squat and cough’. These searches were routinely used when a child or young person was admitted to the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre, was returning from court or hospital, after visits from their family and friends, or were suspected of being in possession of an illegal or banned item.

The new scanners will be able to detect a broader range of banned items than previous devices and will limit the use of semi-naked searches to be used only as a last resort, bringing SA’s practices in line with other states and territories.

In our latest report, Great Responsibility: Report on the 2019 Pilot Inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre), data shows that over a 12-month period, approximately 1087 semi-naked searches were conducted, which is an average of three per day. This practice is especially culturally inappropriate for Initiated Aboriginal men.

“As Training Centre Visitor, my staff and I have been working hard to see the use of this humiliating and undignified search method reduced, or abolished,” Penny Wright, Training Centre Visitor and Guardian for Children and Young People said.

“This really is a huge win for the rights and dignity of children and young people detained at Kurlana Tapa,” Penny said.

A young person in detention told us this week it was ‘good news’ semi-naked searches would no longer be routinely undertaken. Some staff also said the new scanners were a positive step in the treatment of the young people. We hope to get more feedback from young people over time as they experience the new technology.

We congratulate the Department of Human Services for introducing the scanners to the justice centre and for having the safety and dignity of the children and young people at the forefront when reviewing the centre’s practices.

Reminder to return Charter of Rights review feedback by next Monday

Thanks to all the children and young people who have been involved in the Charter of Rights review! It has been great to see so many young people having a say about their rights in care.

If you registered children and young people to participate in one of our review activities and have not yet sent their comments and feedback back to us, please remember to do so by next Monday.

Please send feedback using the reply-paid envelopes we sent out with the activity packs. Alternatively you can take photos of the completed activities and email these to Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au.

It’s not too late to have a say!

If you know someone in care who hasn’t had a chance to have their say, we encourage you to get them to participate in our online survey. For children under 16 we do recommend that a carer/worker works with them to complete this.

Take the online survey.

What happens next?

Once we have collected all the feedback from participants, our office will develop the new Charter of Rights. We will be seeking your feedback on the revised Charter in a few months’ time, so stay tuned.

If you have any questions about the review contact Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au.

And remember, all feedback needs to be back to us by Monday 10 August 2020.

Meet our university interns

We are fortunate enough to welcome two passionate university students who will be supporting our team while gaining practical experience in their specialised fields.

Let’s get to know them!

Meet Nirvana

Nirvana is currently studying social work and will be supporting the Training Centre Visitor Unit until later this year. Nirvana will be participating in all aspects of the program, including visiting children and young people in the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre (KTYJC) – be sure to say hi to her if you see her in the centre.

What degree are you doing?

I’m in my first year of Master of Social Work at Southern Cross University. My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Psychological Science.

Why did you want to get into social work?

It has always been my goal to study psychology so when I decided to go to uni I never really looked into any other courses. But about halfway through my undergrad I realised psychology wasn’t for me. I found that the kind of work I wanted to do was more in line with social work. I am glad I studied psychology as I learnt a lot about research, critical thinking, and human development but I really feel a stronger connection to social work and its individual and person-centred approach.

Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work for Skylight Mental Health. I’m a support worker and my role involves supporting people in various ways, such as: 1:1 support, group programs and NDIS applications. I really love my job. I enjoy working with a diverse range of people and that every day is different.

What are you looking forward to the most during your placement with our office?

I’m most looking forward to meeting and hearing the voices and experiences of the children and young people at KTYJC when I go on a visit with the team. I acknowledge what a huge privilege it is to be involved in this aspect of what the TCVU does. I’m also really excited to be able to work and interact with everyone in the office as everyone has so much experience and knowledge that I will be able to take in and learn from.

What are three words that best describe you?

I decided to ask my partner and best friend what 3 words they would use to describe me and they said: ‘authentic, strong and compassionate’.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work/studying/doing placement?

When I’m not working or studying I like to do hot yoga and pilates, going hiking or getting outdoors with my partner, spending time with our cat Marshall and watching Netflix.

Meet Mikeyli

Mikeyli is in her final year of studying law. Mikeyli will spend the next few months working on a project researching the rights of children and young people in care and the most effective legal mechanisms for supporting those.​

“My name is Mikeyli and I am studying a Bachelor of Law and Arts at the University of Adelaide. I am currently in my 4th year and in my final semester of my Arts degree, with a major in politics.

I am an Arrernte woman from Alice Springs, NT and have lived in Adelaide for the past five years for my degree. I have a passion for social justice, human rights and Indigenous issues. Once I graduate, my goal is to practise law and return to my community.”

 

 

Plus, we need a new advocate

We’re looking for an experienced advocate who can help us support the rights and wellbeing of children and young people in state care across South Australia. For more information and a copy of the job description visit the I Work for SA website. Applications close at 5pm this Thursday (30 July).