‘First ever’ forum gives young people power to call for change

A group of incredible young adults with a care experience got the chance to share their personal stories last month in a bid to influence policy change, at CREATE Foundation’s first ever Hour of Power in SA.

The forum, which was led by the young adults themselves, provided an opportunity to tell the audience of their life experiences while in care and to offer ideas to key decision makers, including the Minister for Child Protection, about how to improve the care system.

Sibling contact and cultural connection were the themes for the day.

For those presenting, their siblings were important in maintaining their identity and mental wellbeing, and yet many of them did not live with them while they were in care and/or had issues keeping in contact with them.

“When you don’t live with your siblings, it can be hard to connect with them when you do see them,” one young person said.

After reflecting on their experiences with their own siblings, the young people offered ways in which the system could change to improve sibling contact for those who are still in care, which included:

– DCP must place greater significance on sibling connection and the importance of sibling relationships

– siblings should be able to stay together, wherever possible

– if siblings cannot stay together, they must be able to maintain connection with one another while in care

– sibling connection arrangements should be included in case planning

– the term ‘sibling’ needs to encompass other cultural and social interpretations to include other important relationships like cousins and foster siblings.

The young people then asked the panel to reflect on the issue. Guardian Penny Wright was among the panellists, along with April Lawrie, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People, and Cathy Taylor, Chief Executive of Child Protection.

Penny told the audience one of the biggest concerns from young people who call our office for advocacy support is about sibling contact not occurring (or occurring infrequently and much less often than children/young people are requesting) and outlined the barriers that standi in the way of this happening.

“There are a number of factors behind why sibling contact isn’t occurring. They include carers or case managers in disagreement about sibling contact, the challenge of siblings living in distant geographical locations, lack of transport and time pressures on carers,” Penny said.

“Managing sibling contact among children in care can be complex. This doesn’t mean we don’t do it, it just means we have to work harder.”

Cultural connection was the next topic for the forum. One of the young adults said they didn’t know how to connect with culture while they were in residential care and weren’t given the opportunities to do so, but once they got to connect to family, land and their culture they said “it was natural”.

“To know your cultural identity, at least for me, is seeing family regularly, getting a chance to go out to the bush often, learn about bush tucker, connection and cleansing, learn about dreamtime, totems and spend time with the old fellas and nanas,” the young person said.

To improve and maintain cultural identity and connection for young people in care, the youth presenters were clear that DCP needs to prioritise connections to family and strengthen the commitment to all of the five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. They also said more funding needs to go to enriching cultural experiences, as well as employing more Aboriginal workers within the sector.

The event was a fantastic platform for empowering the young adults to share their thoughts and suggestions and play a positive role in creating change for the many thousands of children and young people who are still in care today.

Jacqui Reed, the CEO of CREATE, observed that the Hour of Power was a unique way of bringing children and young people’s voices to decision makers so they could better understand the perspective of those with a lived experience within the care system.

“I was thrilled with the first ever Hour of Power in South Australia. The energy in the room buoyed all those present to make the system better for children and young people,” Jacqui said.

CREATE is currently working on a summary report about the forum, along with its key outcomes, which will be available soon.

Quarterly advocacy report sees rise of in-mandate enquiries

There has been a 58 per cent increase in the number of enquiries within our mandate (i.e. in relation to children and young people in care) received by the Office of the Guardian in the last financial year, compared with the previous financial year.

The Office of the Guardian’s quarterly summary of individual advocacy data from April to June 2019 showed that in the last quarter 115 in-mandate enquiries were received, bringing the total of in-mandate enquiries for the 2018/19 financial year to 406, an increase from 256 from the previous year.

It is difficult to be sure about the reason for the dramatic increase but Assessment and Referral Officer Courtney Mostert said the increased presence of the Office of the Guardian’s staff out in the field and identifying individual needs for advocacy certainly contributed to the rise. The increase of children living in state care could also have been a contributing factor.

Of the 406 enquiries received, the majority of children were aged 10 to 17, lived in residential care and were requesting advocacy support.

The top four issues remained unchanged from the 2017/18 year, with having a secure and stable place to live being the greatest concern. This was followed by issues around having contact with their birth and extended family, not feeling safe, and feeling like they’re not playing an active role in the decision-making process for the issues that affect them.

Knowing who you are and where you belong

Charter of Rights Forum websizedWe wish for every child that they grow up with a healthy sense of themselves as worthwhile and with a strong connection to family, community and culture.
How to turn this aspiration into practice for children in care was the question 85 attendees at the Charter Champions’ Forum in November last year set out to answer.
They concluded that family, variously defined, is vitally important to the development of identity and it is especially important to understand and record who the child values as important to them.  Knowledge about other cultures is essential, or at least how to seek advice and support in working with children and families who have different cultural backgrounds to your own. With knowledge comes the opportunity and responsibility for workers to nurture and support the child’s connections with their family and culture.
Beyond the bounds of family, school is for many children the first bridge into the wider world and workers rightly focus on getting and keeping children in school. Supporting extra-curricular activities such as sports and hobbies and fostering friendships outside of school allows a child to see themselves as belonging to a world not defined by being ‘in care’.
Attentive workers can pick up on comments made in conversation to offer or suggest that the child might want to take up a hobby, interest or community activity such as volunteering to help people or animals. A small investment in time and resources will pay enormous rewards in the development of a strong sense of identity and connection.
It is beyond the reach of any single adult in the child’s life to build identity and belonging and the workshop placed a premium on people working together.  Participants regarded regular meetings as essential, where concerned adults can confer and cooperate to share ideas, review progress and ensure the work of therapy is carried into the child’s everyday care experience.
Permeating all of this was the importance of the relationship and the conversations between worker and child. Sustained over time, respectful, enjoyable and open-ended conversations with a worker can, in themselves, help to support a child’s sense of worth and belonging. Beyond that, the opportunity to envision with the child, exploring ‘who do you want to be?’ and ‘what do you want to do?’ can allow the child to dream and to imagine a future and give insights to all that will help sustain those dreams.
Read more about about Debbie Noble-Carr’s and the Australian Catholic University’s work on identity and belonging  or check out the the pdf Charter Champions’ Forum Takeaways.

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The impact and experience of moving while in care – a review of the literature

moving in care logoThe story of a child in care will include at least one move from birth family to carer family, and usually subsequent moves.  Of the 2,546 children in out-of-home care in South Australia at 30 June 2012, almost one in every five children had had between six and ten placement moves and another one in seven had had more than ten placement moves.

As the number of young people in care has grown, researchers and practitioners have wondered how it must feel for children to be removed from their birth family and ‘adopted’ by another, or several others, in turn.  The literature has much to tell about the likely impact, and something to say about how children view these events.

The The impact and experience of moving while in care literature review conducted as part of the Guardian’s inquiry, is now available in PDF.  It summarises international and national research and opinion about stability in care, the impact on children and children’s views.

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The report of the inquiry, which brings together the voice of children, case file evidence and public consultation, will be published later in 2013.

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Families SA comment on sibling contact

sibling contact pictureIn 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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The importance of contact with siblings

Pam Simmons Guardian

I write this letter fresh from the joy of spending Christmas and New Year with family. This followed the release in mid-December of the report of our inquiry into the significance of siblings and contact with siblings when children are in care.  The link between the two was not lost on me and I thought hard about the ‘what ifs?’.  What if I had not grown up in the same house, if we had not fought each other for mum’s attention, if we had not stood by each other when things got tough, if we had not loved each other?

There are significant obstacles to children and young people in care enjoying the same close relationships with their siblings.  They are often separated in their early years and sometimes live at some distance from each other.

The findings from the inquiry though supported the common belief that most children benefit from contact with their siblings.  Beyond this, it gets far more complicated for those who are trying to do the right thing by children in care.

Common definitions of siblings may not apply because children can include both biological and foster relationships in their idea of family.  They may be situation and time-dependent, such that the child has a brother now but he may not be a brother in five years time when they no longer live under the same roof.  Aboriginal definitions of sibling relationships are likely to include children of maternal aunts and paternal uncles.

We found that children have clear preferences and insights about contact.  They hold views about each brother and sister, rather than the group as a whole.  Problems arise when two siblings have different views about the amount of time they want to spend with each other.

Children want face-to-face contact. Telephone or social media contact does not substitute. But children also want the contact to be natural and fun, relaxed and free from tension.The success of sibling contact partly depends on the insight and support of the adult carers and social workers.

The inquiry was enlightening and moving, with heartening stories of close bonds between siblings, assisted by carers and social workers, and some stories of heartache and loss.  The case file evidence demonstrated how difficult it can be for social workers to manage expectations but also how parental access arrangements overshadow contact among brothers and sisters.
The inquiry concluded with seven recommendations for change to policy and practice which would give greater emphasis to listening to children and balancing their needs with adults’ needs.
As one young person interviewed for the inquiry said, ‘She’s my sister and she will always mean something to me.’

You can download the full report

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or a summary of the main findings and recommendations in PDF.

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What’s been done – September 2011 to February 2012

Youth Advisory Committee

The Youth Advisors now meet as the Youth Advisory Committee and in the past months they have advised on topics such as contact with siblings, Life Story Books, Other Person Guardianship, the ending of relationships with social workers and their experience of using complaints mechanisms.

Advocate visits to residential care

In the three months October to December, there were eight visits made by the Office’s advocates to children and young people in residential care and the youth training centres to listen to their views about their residence and circumstances.

Rights materials for young people with disabilities

In December, we released six sets of flash cards and a user guide to assist young people with disabilities to understand their rights and what they can fairly expect.  Thanks to the 35 young people, their families, the advisory committee and the Office staff who brought is ten month project to fruition. The card sets will be distributed to children in care through Disability Services and other disability agencies.

Sibling contact report

In December we released the report of our inquiry into what children say about contact with their siblings and the impact contact has on their wellbeing.  The full report and a summary are available on our website.

picture of book coverWhat children say about their world

We worked with our colleagues in children’s commissioners and guardians around Australia to produce a second book on what children say about their world. It focussed on children’s rights and children’s experience and views.  Our thanks to Leonie Wanklyn and her 2011 class at Port Lincoln Junior Primary for their contribution.

ISG progress

Implementation of the Information Sharing Guidelines for Promoting the Safety and Wellbeing of Children, Young People and their Families (ISG) continues apace with many more non-government organisations adopting them, following development of their own procedures for safe and secure exchange of personal information. Improved information sharing is a focus of the National Women’s Safety Strategy and the contribution the ISG can make to this important work is being explored. Planning for the 2012 review of ISG implementation is underway. We are partnering with the Australian Centre for Child Protection as a component of evaluating ISG implementation.

Mental health services for young people in care

The Office reviewed 60 case files to better understand how the mental health needs of children in care are being met.  We will publish a summary of the findings of that review within the next few months.

Audits of annual reviews

In the last quarter of 2011 the Office audited 73 annual reviews of the circumstances of children in care.  A summary of the audit report for 2010-11 was released in September.

The Year in Review and 2010-11 Annual Report

On 24 November the Guardian’s Annual Report was tabled in Parliament and its observations on the situation of young people in care were re-presented in The Year in Review published in December.
All the latest news from the Office is on our Twitter feed. 

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Children in care and contact with their siblings – literature review

Siblings are extremely important for children and young people in care and the situations surrounding these relationships are often highly complex.  Who children view as their siblings can differ remarkably from traditional definitions, adding to the complexity faced by people making placement decisions.

During 2011 we will inquire: What children in care say about contact with their siblings and the impact sibling contact has on wellbeing.

Children in care and contact with their siblings – literature review looks at what authors have said about keeping siblings together, the complexities of defining ‘siblings’,  the variety of relationships between siblings and uncovers the relative lack of research about the experiences and opinions of children and young people themselves.

Download the Sibling-Contact-Literature-Review-2011 now.