Young people transitioning from out of home care in VIC

Associate Professor Philip Mendes
Associate Professor Philip Mendes

“Young people with disabilities are facing huge challenges when leaving Out of Home Care.”

On Friday, the second day of the conference, Associate Professor Philip Mendes from Monash University presented the findings of a study into this transitional period.

Philip said his study confirmed that young people leaving care are more vulnerable to poorer outcomes. He drew comparisons with the wider community, highlighting many young people don’t leave the homes of their parents until they are aged 25 and of those who do leave home by 18, a large portion continue to receive some sort of support from their family.

This is in stark contrast to young people with disabilities who are leaving Out of Home Care at age 18 and are often not ready to be fully independent for a variety of reasons.

There is minimal research about how many young people are in care, or what types of disabilities they live with, but it appears there is an over representation of children with a disability.

The findings of the study concluded:

  • Young people with disabilities are not experiencing planned transitions from care and are not receiving the care they need.
  • Young people are sometimes transitioned into aged care facilities.
  • The system is crisis driven.
  • Inadequate funding results in a lack of accommodation options and support services for young people with disabilities.
  • Young people’s participation in their leaving care plan is hampered by the lack of resources and services.
  • The sudden transition from statutory children’s services to voluntary adult disability services is problematic for some young people.

“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”

Associate Professor Philip Mendes

Philip continued to explain the situation for young people with undiagnosed disabilities, borderline disabilities and mental illness was also dire. They ‘fall through the net’ and are often left worse off than those with significant diagnosed disability.

“The most common type of disability is mental illness and yet young people with mental illness are not eligible for disability services,” he said.

Philip’s presentation highlighted how a sector that is underfunded is not providing the level of care and support a vulnerable group of people need. The process of leaving out-of-home care is fraught with difficulties, as one can imagine.

Perhaps the most important finding from Philip’s study:

“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”

For more information on how young people are affected, read this great article from The Age on Chantelle’s story of leaving care with a mental illness.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

For what we’re about to receive: using gratitude to boost wellbeing in schools – Lea Waters

Associate Professor Lea Waters
Associate Professor Lea Waters

“In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy” – Albert Clarke

What is gratitude? How do we define gratitude? How has gratitude changed over time for us as individuals?

We all most likely began our life seeing gratitude as manners. As the “pleases” and “thank you’s” in life, as what our parents told us was right. Turns out, this is possibly the simplest meaning of gratitude we could have.

Opening our eyes to the power of gratitude, Associate Professor Lea Waters began by asking us to tell her what gratitude feels like. Having closed our eyes and brainstorming to find a moment when we felt gratitude or have received gratitude in our own lives, Lea then helped define this feeling of gratitude as:

“A worldview moving towards noticing and appreciating the positives in life” or

“An acknowledgement that we have received something of value from others”.

Gratitude is not just a feeling, but a reaction from a complex cognitive process. Lea explained that there is actually multiple factors that are taken into play right before we begin to feel gratitude for something, a whole judgement process considering factors such as:

  • Is this gift something of value?
  • Was it through kindness or altruism?
  • What is the cost of this action?
  • How is this impacting the person who’s giving?

Associate Professor Lea Waters

However, gratitude is more than a feeling and it is more than a cognitive process. Gratitude can improve your health on all different levels. The physical findings from studying the impact of gratitude on the body has come to show that:

Gratitude can:

  • Help us sleep better,
  • Support our immune system,
  • Help us cope with pain,
  • Reduce somatic symptoms.

So remember, “If we don’t show gratitude, it’s like receiving a present and not opening it”.

Why not try the exercise yourself, close your eyes and think of something you have to be grateful for, or a time you felt grateful; then share it with us!

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Is Childhood Improving for Aboriginal Children?

Professor Muriel BamblettProfessor Muriel Bamblett AM, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), covered issues facing Aboriginal children in today’s society.

And, the stats were shocking.

Aboriginal children today are twenty times more likely to be homeless, receive over 30% less financial support, face a life expectancy 20 years lower than that of non-Aboriginal children, and they are more likely to experience disability, ill health, and a reduced quality of life.

Despite all of that, Muriel reminded us that this data doesn’t tell us about the good things happening in Aboriginal communities and spoke of the successes in culture and sport of indigenous people like singer Jessica Mauboy, AFL star Buddy Franklin & NRL star Jonathan Thurston.

Muriel shared that building Aboriginal culture into everything VACCA do is crucial, and that after their safety, the most important thing to establish in an Aboriginal child’s life is culture and cultural safety.

Professor Muriel Bamblett and cultural identity

How can we help provide an environment which respects that culture around us?

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Youth perspectives & leadership – A Youth Panel

Youth Panel

Day 1 of the Good Childhood Conference 2013 wrapped with a youth panel consisting of four young people, all of whom work actively in areas relating to youth affairs and leadership. Facilitated by UN Youth Representative 2012, Dan Ryan, the panelists discussed issues related to modern childhoods from their own experiences and work, and answered various questions posed by Dan and the audienceThe panel was made up of:

  1. Marlee-Alice Gorman of the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC) who’s been described as “the most compassionate speaker Parliament House has ever seen”.
  2. Sarah Faithful of the Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre, Youth Brains Trust, who is interested in utilising technology to improve mental health and well-being in young people.
  3. Crystal Goetz, A Mirabel Foundation Youth Ambassador, who is passionate about a world that is fair for all.
  4. And, Linh Do, a Melbourne-based social change advocate.
Marlee-Alice Gorman
Marlee-Alice Gorman

The panelists spoke eloquently and honestly about their interests, passions and opinions regarding topics facing youth today:

  • On the (often negative) perceptions of youth in society the panelists all agreed “I’m gonna defy this stereotype of me”,
  • In regards to the boundaries that young people face Crystal argued that “You need to be allowed to make bad decisions”,
  • And, when asked what they would tell their 10 year old self if they had the chance, Marlee summed it up perfectly saying “What the other kids think about me doesn’t matter”.

There was united consensus among the panel on the notion of treating young people as equals and a strong belief in the idea that anyone is able to change the world.

Melbourne based social change advocate Linh Do.
Melbourne based social change advocate Linh Do.

Connect with the organisations or young people on Twitter:

Victorian SRC @VicSRC // Young & Well CRC @yawcrc // Mirabel Foundation @MirabelFndation // Linh Do @lmdo

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

UN Youth Rep for Australia: Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

Young people should be at the forefront of change.

This was the sentiment of the 2012 United Nations Youth Representative for Australia, Dan Ryan, in his keynote address Architecting new expectations for youth.

There didn’t seem to be a more appropriate person to speak at the Berry Street Childhood Institutes’s Good Childhood Conference, and Dan provided the floor with an invaluable, youth perspective during the day’s events.

The key issues Dan addressed explored the fundamental question of the conference: what does a sustainable, good childhood look like?

Dan spoke about what fantastic influences he had growing up, being raised and home-schooled through natural learning. No limitations or restrictions were placed on himself or his siblings – what subjects they learnt, what time they woke up, whether their homework got assessed or not, the jobs they could pursue, and so on.

Dan Ryan and his siblings
Dan Ryan speaking about his childhood and siblings.

Dan believes that this freedom allowed him and his siblings to make mistakes, learn from them, and develop and grow as people.

Because of natural learning and the influence of making his own decision, Dan believes he has been inspired to live a fulfilled life. He spoke a bit about how failure is a tool for reflection, that it shouldn’t be stigmatised and shamed, but welcomed as a learning curve for young people.

Speaking about his website, Dan outlined the abilities of young people to develop solutions and create change around Australia. On his website, youth can participate by:

  • Entering a solution they have seen working in their local area;
  • Browsing, discussing, rating and sharing solutions; and
  • Following in Dan’s journey as Youth Rep. with stories, surveys, photos and videos exploring issues related to youth.

Dan Ryan

Dan also touched on the conference’s contentious issue of social media, and claimed that while social media could be an invaluable, innovative tool for youth to learn about and create change, real change comes from people and communities. So long as there is a real community behind a movement, change can be achieved.

Dan’s keynote address concluded that the most important thing is including youth in the decisions that organisations make.

It’s important that we look for those moments, … look for opportunities to include youth in choices so that we can have societal change.

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.

Trauma Informed Positive Education: Wellbeing strategies in relationship-based classrooms

Tom BrunzellIn this session, Berry Street’s Tom Brunzell spoke about how to engage young people, specifically in the context of the Berry Street School.

The Berry Street School caters for young people aged 12-16 who have become disengaged from mainstream education, and strives to re-engage them and promote pathways into employment.

The part that stood out to me was when Tom introduced the concept of ‘flow’ as proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – a state where a person is completely engrossed in what they’re doing.

Imagine a situation where a child is entirely uninterested in school, but the area they’re interested in – the place in which they ‘flow’ – can be used to help them learn and grow as a person.

He also spoke of the importance of value clarification exercises at Berry Street School.

Both students and teachers are encouraged to reflect on which skills they have built on regularly, on their own and as a group, with the students’ skills posted on the wall to encourage the students.

The Berry Street School recently celebrated it's 10 Year Anniversary
The Berry Street School recently celebrated it’s 10 Year Anniversary

This isn’t just an idea, or an activity which is done once a term, but a weekly exercise to reinforce the strengths of the children, as well as the areas in which they are improving.

What way might you be able to help increase engagement around the young people you come into contact with?

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.

‘Go goldfields’ – a Place Based Experience

Sharon Fraser, Central Goldfields Shire Council
Sharon Fraser

Presented by Sharon Fraser, Central Goldfields Shire Council and John Bonnice, St. Luke’s Anglicare

This session was about the ‘Go Goldfields’ project, coordinated in Central Goldfields Shire, which seeks to improve the community through partnerships and coordination so that children in Goldfields can live a full life.

This place-based initiative was planned and implemented entirely from within the community, uniting service providers, local government and community leaders to address the issues that face the area.

Central Goldfields Shire is positioned between Ballarat and Bendigo, with a population of about 13,000, with the main centre being Maryborough. This has been an area of socioeconomic disadvantage and the common problems that stem from this, however, ‘Go Goldfields’ want to change that story.

John Bonnice, St Luke's Anglicre
John Bonnice

Central Goldfields Shire council employed a place-based planning approach for this project. This means that the initiatives are driven from within the community, as opposed to being established and researched by bodies outside the area and then implemented in the community.

What’s critical to this is having a ‘critical enquiry approach’, where you keep asking the questions to try and identify and face the key issues of the community.

So, if the question is ‘why are children suffering in this area?’, keep asking that question, keep peeling off the layers until you can see the answer. This involves talking to and asking the question of all the players in this issue.

The ‘Go Goldfields’ project was implemented across the entire shire, with focus being given to poverty, social connection, community engagement, youth, family violence and workforce development. There’s a history of services focussing on one improving one part of community life in the hope that this would lead to greater advantage in other areas.

By uniting service providers and partnerships, the ‘Go Goldfields’ project can address the most pressing issues for the community from a wide range of angles.

Let’s talk about implementation and planning, are community development projects better implemented in a place-based approach, or is this re-inventing the wheel?

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.

Homelessness- ‘Through the eyes of a Child’

Michelle Clayton
Michelle Clayton, Children’s Resource program coordinator, Southern Region

Presenters Michelle Clayton and Susie Richards, both Children’s Resource Program Coordinators, from the Southern and Eastern Regions respectively looked at issues of homelessness and family violence through the eyes of the children involved.

The key is that, children’s experiences of homelessness are very different to those of adults.

The important moments in this journey might be leaving a pet behind or losing a teddy bear, these are things that need to be understood by the social workers who take on these cases.

But the question is do you have the resources to make a space nurturing for a child and to make your service suitable for a child?

There are plenty of barriers in working with children facing homelessness:

Susie Richards
Susie Richards, Children’s Resource program coordinator, Eastern Region
  • Who is the client? Is it the child, his/her family or parents?,
  • Children aren’t often funded as clients,
  • Children can be somewhat invisible to the worker (as they’re often as school and cannot often be accessed on week days),
  • There is a belief that children are resilient,
  • There is also a belief that fixing the homelessness problem will fix the child (even though the trauma of such an event will impact onto the child’s life for a long period),
  • Parents are protective of children and generally have reasonable parenting abilities,
  • Children’s issues not addressed because of the hierarchy of needs within the family.

The role of the Statewide Children’s Resource Program is to try and overcome these barriers through training, much of which is offered free to agencies, and resource distribution to aid workers who are trying to engage with children facing homelessness.

The program aims to raise awareness among workers about the impacts on health, mental health, education and emotional stability that homelessness can have on a child and some of the simple things that can be done to aid kids through this time, such as having toys for kids to play with in the office.

Toys for children to play with

Workers in this area need to assess their current ideas of children’s rights and their usual methods of dealing with family homelessness.

The Statewide Children’s Resource Program seeks to inspire this assessment and teach workers to improve their practice and support children who face homelessness.

For more information on the type of resources developed visit http://www.homelesskidscount.org/

Post written by youth bloggers from SYN Media.

The role of agency: Understanding children’s safety in the context of family violence

Anita MorrisAnita Morris from the University of Melbourne, presented the findings of her PhD thesis.

What do we currently know about children experiencing family violence?

Undoubtedly it has a negative impact on children’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being but some children appear to have a certain level of resilience compared to others.

Anita’s research fills the gap in family violence research by bringing the voice of the children forward.

The study was based on the question ‘How is safety realised in the context of family violence?’

Anita scaled her participants on a scale from “Vulnerable and Unsafe” to “Safe”

Towards the vulnerable and unsafe end participants reported; forced or intrusive contact with the perpetrator, poverty, substance abuse, poor maternal physical earth, child sexual abuse, chronic mental health/trauma effects, limited informal supports and the role of formal interventions.

Some participants had positive experiences with interventions (relief etc) but for others it had caused unease or worry.

Key Finding: Mothers and children lacked agency for the above reasons.

What does agency mean?

Anita explored different aspects of agency through the interviews with participants and analytical theories.

She defined agency as, children being able to:

  • Act for themselves,
  • Seek and receive answers,
  • Be aware of their roles in the family,
  • Be able to make decisions about who they trust and have that respected,
  • And, that they acknowledge they play a role in family resiliency.

Mothers & children suffering family violence often lack agency

Anita finished the presentation showing a variety of quotes selected from her interviews with mothers and children exposed to family violence, who provided a variety of complex insights into a very complex issue.

Read more about family violence and a book on the subject in a previous post.

Written by bloggers from SYN Media.

Outdoor adventure experiences for vulnerable adolescents: what are the benefits?

Helen SkouterisIf we keep having this top down effect where ‘mum says’, ‘school says’ and ‘society says’, we’re not really making our young people active agents of change.

On an annual basis, thousands of adolescents participate in outdoor adventure programs that usually aim to connect these young people with their peers and nature.

When Associate Professor of Psychology Helen Skouteris started her research into these programs she found that it crossed over different areas of study such as socio-emotional development, cognitive development and obesity and weight gain. She also found that the benefits of participating in outdoor adventure programs are not limited to vulnerable adolescents.

Benefits of participation in outdoor activity programs include gaining a sense of belonging and growing an understanding the social environment. We can see how these would be hugely beneficial to vulnerable adolescents who are also enabled, through these programs, to achieve social goals, build trusting and meaningful relationships, meet more people and learn to control anger.

Hiking on the Gippsland Wilderness Program
Young people on the Gippsland Wilderness Program are encouraged to challenge their boundaries.

There are so many skills to be gained from this type of participation, including cognitive (e.g. problem solving), emotional (e.g. forming relationships) and physical (e.g. canoeing or hiking).

The outdoor environment pushes young people out of their comfort zones and allows them to take on responsibility and become an active agent of change for their own wellbeing and that is hugely beneficial to all adolescents!

Canoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness ProgramCanoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness Program
Canoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness Program

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.

Foster change by building hope

Maddie Witter“You can fail, and need to fail, in order to be a hopeful person.”

Maddie Witter gave an inspiring and motivating workshop today on building hope amongst youth in order to foster change.

The tools bestowed amongst the crowd were suitable for any person looking to increase their own hopefulness and success, but Maddie kept it aimed at young, disadvantaged and marginalised youth.

Maddie believes that in order for youth to be successful, they must achieve hope, persistence, and self-efficacy. If you can teach you these skills they can take these attributes and apply them to the rest of their lives.

“Self-efficacy is the ability to create a goal and then measure the progress of meeting that goal through reflection,” says Maddie.

Foster change by building hope

She then goes on to explain that persistence can be achieved through building stamina. This can be done through such strategies as:

  • Developing a list of things to do (not too long),
  • Predict how efficient you will be in completing a task, then measure it,
  • Control and cultivate choice in the curriculum without giving too many options,
  • Take 10 minutes twice a month to go through a calendar and see what you have achieved and still have to organise.

Maddie believes that anybody is capable of tremendous academic potential, and has experienced and developed firsthand the tools required to build hope among youth in order to foster change.

Reading Without LimitsFor more information on Maddie and her work, see her the website for her book http://reading-without-limits.com/, or follow her on Twitter @Maddie_Witter.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

What’s a Dog Got To Do with Education? Presented by Bern Nicholls, PhD.

Dr Bern NichollsIn meditation you focus on your breathing to anchor yourself, [the students] focussed on Gus [the dog] to anchor themselves, to be calm in the classroom.

There are many benefits of forging strong relationships for children but there are other relationships that can enrich a child’s environment and childhood – like the one you have with your pets!

Bern Nicholls, PhD, presented her Masters research findings on the effect of Gus the dog’s presence in the secondary school classroom environment. As a high school teacher for many years, Bern took her Masters research as an opportunity to introduce Gus to her class and to study how Gus affected the classroom environment.

In the classroom, Gus would sit under tables, put his head on students’ shoes, sit next to particular students and, for the most part of the day, sleep. His presence was definitely felt, with students reporting that they felt:

  • More relaxed,
  • More trusting of the classroom environment,
  • A stronger connection to the class and other students,
  • More understanding and empathetic of other students,
  • It was easier to concentrate in class, and
  • Safer in the classroom.

Most noticeably, Gus gave students more confidence to speak up in class. Many students who were often shy or afraid would speak more freely if Gus was sitting at their feet.

So, what’s the explanation?

Koda Kayaking
One of the instructors in our Gippsland Wilderness Program is studying Animal Assisted Therapy, you can see his dog Koda loves the kayaking!

There’s a connection to the evolutionary history of people and dogs: they evolved with us, became our protectors and then a part of our families. Gus became this sort of canary in the classroom, wherein he had a calming effect on all the kids, and with a calmer mind, there’s more room for learning.

Bern’s research can be used to think about how teachers work with and form relationships with their students.

Bern highlighted three areas in her research where teachers could change their practice to form stronger relationships and improve their students’ learning environment:

Trust and care: acknowledging the courage it takes to teach and then acknowledging that students want teachers to care about them to build relationships with them, just as Gus did,

Relationships: understanding that children want meaningful and respectful teaching and, in turn, working to build this relationship, and

Educating with the brain in mind: remembering that stressed brains don’t learn and trying to create a relaxed environment in the classroom.

Whats a dog got to do with education

Post by bloggers from SYN Media.