The longest relationship

Children in out-of-home care often have uniquely strong sibling relationships. This article looks at some of the reasons siblings are separated and ways sibling relationships can be maintained and nurtured while children are in out-of-home care.

By Dr. Trish McCluskey, Berry Street

Almost all of us have one, or more. Sometimes we wish we hadn’t and then we cannot imagine our lives without them. Remember primary school? We fight with them, they fight with us and then we fight for them.

Siblings: our closest genetic relative, our soulmates, rivals for parental affections, the keepers of our unembellished history.

For children in out-of-home care and indeed for all of us, our siblings are usually the longest relationship of our lives. Sometimes these are close and loving relationships and other times they are not. Interestingly even fraught sibling relationships can often be repaired and research shows siblings being identified as major supports as we get older.

Why then do sibling relationships seem to be so underestimated and overlooked for children in foster, kinship or residential care? Continue reading “The longest relationship”

If We Value the Expertise of Children and Young People

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“Yet, without the participation of experts we won’t be successful. And the expert is the child”

Janusz Korczak

I have recently begun to ask myself the question: how different would out-of-home care look if we truly valued the expertise of the children and young people that live in it? In fact, would so many children, young people and families be so enmeshed in the benevolent web of services that accompany the child protection and out-of-home care systems if those systems routinely and genuinely valued the expertise of children and young people right from the beginning?

My internal dialogue takes the discussion further… Let’s say, for one utopic moment, that we sit as equals at the table with young people who have experienced abuse, neglect and the terrifying complexity of the system set up to serve their ‘best interests’. Let’s imagine that they have proffered arguments and evidence alongside academics, experienced sector professionals and bureaucrats, in support of approaches (for we know without doubt that one size does not fit all) that focus on making their childhood good. What might that look like? And more importantly who would have the courage to make it happen?

We won’t ever know if we don’t ask.

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Young people who have lived through abuse and neglect and have subsequently been bounced, powerless, through the pinball machine of court processes, case managers, care placements, care plans and repeated attempts to ‘go home’ – these young people know. They know what it all feels like. Under their skin, in their hearts, they know how it feels.

Countless reforms and ‘system improvements’ will continue to achieve minimal success at best if we continue to prevent the key experts from leading the discussions and shedding light on the impact of decisions made by people so far from the ground that we all look like ants from where they sit.

Maybe childhood would be better for the huge numbers of children and young people in care if we were prepared to let them show us how to make it so. We won’t know unless we try.

Post written by:  Lauren Oliver, Youth Engagement Coordinator, Berry Street Childhood Institute

Family Drug Treatment Court

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The first Family Drug Treatment Court (FDTC) in Australia launched in Melbourne earlierthis year.

The FDTC is a non-adversarial or problem-solving court model and its aim is to promote family reunification or earlier permanent care decisions for families where parental substance misuse is a major contributing factor of children being placed in out-of-home care.

Whilst participants are engaged in the FDTC, they are supported to address and own their substance misuse and recovery. Intensive clinical case management and wrap-around support is provided by a multi-disciplinary team to address any number of overlapping and complex issues including substance misuse, mental health, housing, family violence, financial and parenting issues.

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Conference delegates will have the opportunity to hear prominent international speakers Justice Peggy Hora and Megan Wheeler, who have years of operational experience in the FDTC sector in the US, discuss why the FDTC works and what intensive case management is all about in this particular practice setting.

There is also the opportunity to sign up for Master Classes to engage even more in depth with specific topics such as development and implementation of FDTC, evaluating success of FDTC, and the intersection between child protection and the FDTC.

Early bird tickets are available until October 17, so don’t miss out!

Save Foster Care campaign

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During Foster Care Week, we are focusing on the #SaveFosterCare campaign, a collaboration between Berry Street and the Foster Care Association of Victoria. We are working together in the lead up to the State election to save the foster care system. We are calling on the State Government and the Opposition to increase reimbursement rates for carers.

Foster carers willingly open their hearts and their homes to thousands of Victorian children and young people. They deserve to be supported.

More and more foster carers are leaving the system each year due to the financial stress. The gap between reimbursements to foster households and the actual costs associated with caring for foster children continues to widen, placing significant stress on families.

The facts:

  • 616 foster carers left the Victorian system in the last year, while only 442 new carers could be recruited. It’s the third year in a row the Victorian system has lost more foster carers than it’s gained.
  • Foster carers in Victoria still receive the lowest reimbursements in Australia, estimated to be over $5,000 less than it costs to care for a ten year old every year. This financial stress leaves many carers struggling to continue.
  • At the same time, reports to Child Protection are increasing and many more vulnerable young children are being placed into Residential Care. Residential Care is an extremely important service but is not the right option for every child, particularly very young children who would benefit more from a home environment.

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The financial cost of fostering is deterring as many as 60% of potential foster carers.

Berry Street and FCAV are calling on the State Government to increase reimbursements to carers, and provide them with a simple, fair system.

The time to act is now.

Visit www.savefostercare.org.au to voice your support and help vulnerable children.

Spread the word and help the #SaveFosterCare campaign create change!

Post written by: Skye Doyle, Media & Communications Officer, Berry Street

HEARTCORE Street Art – Radio Interview

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Recently, street artist Kaff-eine, and Berry Street Childhood Institute Senior Advisor Teaching & Learning, Tom Brunzell, spoke to the team of the Right Now – Human Rights in Australia podcast about the HEARTCORE book.

Kaff-eine and Tom spoke with Evelyn Tadros about the role of art in marginalised communities and discussed the way that expression through creativity is valued at the Berry Street Schools as a way to engage and empower young minds.

Click here to listen to the podcast with Kaff-eine and Tom!

For more info on the podcast, visit the Right Now page.

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Short stories, raps and poems written by these students have been interpreted by Kaff-eine and painted as a series of street art works on walls across Melbourne’s CBD & the inner-north. The striking images were shot by Rowena Naylor Photography and a beautiful coffee-table book will be launched on Thursday, September 25, featuring the photos alongside the stories that inspired them.

The HEARTCORE book is available at the special discounted price of $40 until September 24. Visit the HEARTCORE website to get your copy now!

Creswick Fellowship Tour – Adventure Therapy

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Think about a world where you never feel safe or secure.  A world full of fear and distrust. This is the life of the traumatised child.

Imagine a situation whereby the traumatised child can experience success and a sense of accomplishment in the context of relationships that demonstrate “in the moment” trust. Adventure based therapy like kayaking, ropes courses, wilderness adventure programs and the like can afford traumatised young people this opportunity.

The magic in adventure based therapy is in weaving together into one activity the following developmental and healing opportunities. Participants are faced with activities that challenge and extend them at a skill level, but are absolutely achievable.  What’s more many of these activities involve fear, risk taking and induce anxiety, but are provided in a way that they can be scaffolded for success and achievement.

I observed a kayaking adventure therapy session with a group of adolescent boys at Cal Farley’s. These young men were preparing for an open water kayaking trip the following week and were practicing the skills of rescue post capsizing.

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Fascinating in this observation was watching these young men anxiously anticipate the notion of flipping their kayak and deliberately capsizing themselves. Staff engaged in a lot of cognitive discussion based reassurance, what was awesome was that this was done as they kayaked up and down the length of the pond, back and forth, repetitively paddling and talking.

This allowed for somatosensory regulation of anxiety, or quietening down of the dysregulation caused by the anxiety, so that the discussion based reassurance and coaching could be heard and internalised by the young men…Read more about Adventure Therapy here, at Chelle Taylor’s blog My Creswick Fellowship Tour

Edited version of a post written by: Michelle (Chelle) Taylor, Clinical Psychologist and NMT Consultant, Take Two Program

Creswick Fellowship Tour – Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch

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Cal Farley’s is a one of a kind service.  It is one of America’s largest privately-funded child and family service providers, specializing in both residential and community-based services at no cost to the families of children in their care.

Cal Farley’s operates like a small town – hosting a chapel, fire station, its own bank, post office and independent school district, activity centre etc. Many of the staff live on site, and at capacity, Cal’s can have up to 260 children and young people at a time.  Residential homes are staffed by 2 sets of house-parents, the lead house-parents and relief house-parents.

Neurodevelopmentally informed interventions/activities include:

  • Individual Therapy
  • Neurofeedback
  • Play Therapy
  • Art Therapy
  • AAT – largely equine based including colt and filly training and Rhythmic Riding
  • EMDR
  • Adventure Therapies – Ropes Courses, Kayaking, Trail Rides, Challenge course
  • Computer Lab
  • Robot and other electronics programs
  • Rodeo skills
  • Drumming
  • Archery
  • Gardening/Agriculture
  • Agriculture workshop
  • Mentoring of younger children by older children
  • Capacity for vocational training and part time employment

All this is embedded in a community where relationships serve as the key to success. I had to remind myself that this was a service for children and young people who had mental health, emotional and behavioural problems, because often what I saw seemed just like any ordinary community.  The importance of relationships whereby the kids were positively supported, contained and nurtured by multiple adults in their daily experiences was evident in the way the children and young people conducted themselves in the community. I’m not saying that there were no challenges, but on the whole the adults in this community do a wonderful job of creating a relationally rich environment filled with amazing activities, “interventions” and opportunities.

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If you work in the child and welfare sector and ever find yourself in Amarillo Texas – look Cal Farley’s up and see if you can visit – it’s nothing short of impressive and it’s folk are just downright good people who are absolutely and only in this for the best outcomes for kids.

Read more about Sandhill Child Development Center here, at Chelle Taylor’s blog My Creswick Fellowship Tour

Edited version of a post written by: Michelle (Chelle) Taylor, Clinical Psychologist and NMT Consultant, Take Two Program