It’s been a year like never before. One that has —in so many complex ways —demonstrated the constancy of change, as well as how rapid change can so brightly shine a light on existing inequality. A time when we’re confronted to see the reality of what lies before us and work through some of the most challenging times in our lives.
At the same time — amongst the very real upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects it will continue to have on children, young people, families, and societies the world over — there are glimmers of hope. We’ve been presented with a time potentially like never before, when all is laid bare, to challenge ourselves and reimagine how we can work together to courageously change lives and shape a new future. This includes a future where — as we believe at Berry Street — children, young people and families are safe, thriving and hopeful.
“Yet, without the participation of experts we won’t be successful. And the expert is the child”
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.
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
Many of the children and young people that Berry Street help aren’t told by their parents to get up and go to school every morning. The abuse, neglect and instability these children deal with daily means that going to school is not on top of their to-do list.
This is why Berry Street runs an independent school (with three campuses) for children who have been disengaged from mainstream education.
The teachers at these schools do their best to get their students involved in school and receive the education and future they deserve. They try to make school-life more engaging for the students in a variety of creative ways, such as a recent bike-building activity.
The students at the Noble Park campus were given the opportunity to build their own bikes through The Happiness Cycle. This is an initiative run by Coca Cola to provide teenagers with bikes to make them more active.
Principal of the Noble Park School, Susan Nilson, says the students responded well to the program.
“It was a really positive experience for the kids. It was a good hands-on activity,” Nilson says. “It enabled the kids to feel valued because they were given the opportunity and responsibility to build something that they get to keep. It gave them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.”
Nilson says the students got really involved and enjoyed the day. Harry*, 16, was excited by the idea of building his own bike.
“The main reason I chose to do the program was to get a bike. That’s pretty cool!” Harry says. Being involved in an activity like this and receiving a bike isn’t something the students would normally experience given their backgrounds, but Harry says getting the bike wasn’t the only positive.
“It was a worthwhile experience. Apart from getting a bike, we got to be around a different variety of people, which was interesting,” Harry says. “It was good because we got to spend time with our friends in a different environment.”
Expert teacher, Travis McMahon, attended the activity and says the students put a lot of effort into building their bikes, as well as acting appropriately, which at times can be a challenge for them.
“The kids were really good. If someone needed a hand with their bike, they’d jump in and help. It was really collaborative,” McMahon says. “These are young people who don’t usually deal well in social settings, but they dealt with being around all the other people really well.”
Like the other students, Harry experienced a difficult upbringing, resulting in him being asked to leave mainstream education. He’s been attending the Berry Street School for a year now and says he’s happy to be there.
“I’ve made a lot of friends here, which is good, and I can get an education. That’s very important to me.”
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of students.
Post written by: Grace Kelly, Berry Street Media Intern
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.
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!
Join us in celebrating the release of HEARTCORE, Berry Street’s new book featuring inspiring personal narratives from the Berry Street School students and photographs of paintings by international street artist, Kaff-eine.
Inspired by the students’ stories, Kaff-eine painted 20 public walls in Melbourne’s CBD, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Noble Park, and Morwell. Each wall was beautifully photographed for the book by Rowena Naylor.
Help support Berry Street and our efforts to improve outcomes for vulnerable young Victorians by purchasing a copy of HEARTCORE and spreading the word.
We trust you’ve been enjoying reading posts about our Good Childhood conference over the past seven months.
Just to recap, a group of young people from SYN Media attended the conference and we have been sharing their descriptions of keynote and other presentations ever since. The youth bloggers wrote a total of 35 posts!
We want to thank SYN and the bloggers for their amazing contribution to the success of our conference. Their posts provide us with a terrific public record of the key conference themes.
And along the way, they posed important questions which have helped to keep alive the conversation about a good childhood.
It is also important to take this opportunity to recognise the value of youth led organisations like SYN Media. Melvin Delgado and Lee Staples talk about the benefits to both the young people who participate and the wider community of youth-led organisations.
Our conference was a case in point. We believe our message was strengthened by the inclusion of young people’s voices and we certainly hope the young bloggers gained valuable work experience and extended their skills. A win-win for all of us!
Future of the Good Childhood Blog
You may have noticed that that The Good Childhood Conference blog has been renamed the Good Childhood blog.
From now on we will be using this blog to discuss issues related to the Berry Street Childhood Institute’s aims. These posts will be part of our plan to bring about:
Increased understanding and awareness of what sustains a good childhood; and
Wider and more effective action directed at the amelioration of adverse childhood experiences.
Stay tuned for posts from Berry Street Childhood Institute staff, Associates and Fellows (many of whom are international experts in their fields!), as well as from other guest bloggers and even young people themselves!
Post by: Marg Hamley, Director Berry Street Childhood Institute
Kate Cordukes, a Family Therapist and Arts Therapist, and Meisha Clark, a Social Worker and Family Therapist, led a session on the TARA program and the ways they work with parents experiencing violence from their child.
TARA stands for Teenage Aggression Responding Assertively and is an 8 week program for parents with the recent addition of a 1 day workshop. TARA aims to reduce violence, teach anger management strategies and enhance the relationship between parents and their adolescent.
70% of violent adolescents tend to be young men whom target their mothers. And so, anger management and other strategies are discussed in sessions. However, young people in attendance often feel blamed and don’t want to talk.
Themes/Factors of adolescent violence: 1) Family origin 2) Trauma history 3) Parenting style & attachment #GCConf#adolescentviolence
An aspect of the TARA session geared at parents is ‘family origin’. That is, parents think about the way they were parented and how it has impacted upon their parenting style. Some families are not ready to talk through the issues stemming from family origin issues.
The notion of self-care is vital to the ability of parents and caretakers to look after their family. Parents need the strength and energy to do things differently at home, and in addition to this, adolescents are telling parents that they need boundaries.
Early intervention and an openness to working on family dynamics are a starting point in tackling violence from an adolescent.
The keynote speeches early on Friday morning alluded to some of the evils of social media, so it was refreshing to hear SYN’s Education and Training Manager, Jonathan Brown, highlighting the benefits and showing that if you don’t quite get the hang of social media at first, then perhaps you should have another crack at it.
The session began with a breakdown of the major social media platforms and some of the ways in which they are used, as well as what benefits you can get from using them.
Facebook: The largest of the social networks with a jack-of-all-trades focus. You can share videos, photos and links to other creative efforts. Listing the people you connect with as friends, however, is slightly misleading, because the connection isn’t quite at that same level.
Twitter: The focus on shorter messages and links is what sets this platform apart. There isn’t the same pressure to add your “friends”, simply follow people who post thought-provoking comments and share your interests.
Instagram: The home of the “selfie”. Usually connected with Twitter or Facebook, Instagram is all about sharing a moment in time with followers across all networks.
Tumblr and other blogging platforms: These work similar to your own website. You can add as much of your own creative content and layout and share creative content that you’ve created.
After listing the various options to make your presence on the internet known, Jonathan provided his five fail-safe tips to ensure that you are on the right platform and doing the right things to get noticed:
Be authentic: act on social media as you would in real life.
Post consistently and diversely: stick to a schedule and mix up your posts. If you tend to post a lot of image content, try a video or text post.
Make it conversational: Unlike mediums such as television, you have the ability to talk to and engage with your audience to make it a more rewarding experience for them as well as for yourself.
Play to your strengths: Ensure you’re focusing on what you are good at. If your strength is writing, try blogging platforms. If you’re more artistic, try a tumblr.
Consume, research and share: If you find something that catches your eye, feel free to share it with others. Be transparent with your sources and start a dialogue.
The session concluded with a feel-good image of cats, encouraging you to feel positive about posting what you enjoy and to have fun with social media.
Technology can provide young people with the support they need outside of business hours.
After Baroness Susan Greenfield discussed some of the issues with social media, CEO of Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre (YAWCRC) Associate Professor Jane Burns, led an interesting workshop on the impact technology has on the mental health and wellbeing of young men in Australia.
Speaking from a personal perspective, Jane’s own 7-year-old son Angus, lives with autism and down syndrome, and relies on an iPad in order to communicate on a day-to-day basis.
A champion for the digital movement, Jane believes that Australia should utilise the technologies available to us today in order to provide youth with more accessible, online mental health services.
She contends that while Australia is one of the leading nations in service provision, we are living in an opportune time to decrease the still apparent disparity in health care in rural societies through mental health professional providing services online, building connections with and between young people.
Working with Movember, Beyond Blue, University of Sydney, and The Black Dog Institute, the YAWCRC conducted a national survey in 2012 to produce a research report on the impact of technologies on young men’s mental health and wellbeing.
Implementing the gold standard of survey-taking, they interviewed 1,400 young men aged 16-25 from all states and territories around Australia, of which 30% were from regional, rural or remote areas, and 2% identified as Indigenous.
Interesting stats from the research:
99% of Australians aged 16-25 y.o. use the internet,
95% of Australians aged 16-25 y.o. use it everyday or almost everyday.
Most are online for 2-4 hours a day,
20% are online for 5+ hours a day.
The top three ways young people use the Internet:
94% email in 2012 (up from 13% in 2008),
93% facebook in 2012 (up from 32% in 2008),
86% YouTube in 2012 (up from 7% in 2008).
How young people use the Internet:
74.8% access the Internet by phone,
69.9% access the Internet by laptop,
34.3% access the Internet by tablet,
30.8% access the Internet by desktop computer.
Where young people use the Internet:
75.9% access it in their bedroom,
56.2% access it in a social setting.
The main issues that concern young men aged 16-25:
47.6% said coping with stress,
26.6% said depression,
26.3% said body image issues,
19.3% said bullying or emotional abuse.
Finally, 42% of young men experience ‘moderate’ to ‘very high’ levels of psychological distress. Young men aged 22 to 25 years consistently reported higher rates of suicidal thoughts.
Almost 1 million young men are experiencing moderate to very high levels of psychological distress. Regardless of psychological distress, use of the internet is almost universal (98%) and in similar frequency. Even with advances in mental health services, young men do not seek help and many young men are not using services until they reach crisis point.
It appears that many men who are experiencing psychological distress tend to go online and use digital tools to express, share, distribute, and discuss their issues with others in a private, confidential setting. This acts as a cathartic tool and mental wellbeing exercise that can translate into their everyday lives.
Jane concluded the workshop by stating that further research needs to be conducted, and more data needs to be collected in order to understand the effects of technology on mental health and wellbeing. She is interested in knowing how we can tap into and use gaming and social media to use and create content for mental health services.
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 audience. The panel was made up of:
Marlee-Alice Gorman of the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC) who’s been described as “the most compassionate speaker Parliament House has ever seen”.
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.
Crystal Goetz, A Mirabel Foundation Youth Ambassador, who is passionate about a world that is fair for all.
And, Linh Do, a Melbourne-based social change advocate.
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.
Connect with the organisations or young people on Twitter:
Victorian SRC @VicSRC // Young & Well CRC @yawcrc // Mirabel Foundation @MirabelFndation // Linh Do @lmdo
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 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 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.
If 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.
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!