Benji* is in Grade 3. His favourite animal is a tie between sloths and dogs. He loves his Mum’s apricot chicken, playing with Lego and watching Harry Potter movies.
When he’s finished school, he wants to either be a YouTuber or a vet.
But Benji wasn’t thinking about his future much a year ago. Both his parents grew up as wards of the state after experiencing abuse at home. Benji’s lived in 11 different places, been to 4 schools and has been scared of his dad for as long as he can remember.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Anita 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.
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.
Is our approach to family violence effective? Does it manage the intake of children affected by domestic violence well? Does it provide appropriate intervention where necessary? Are long term aims for the protection of children achieved? Does the system promote respect and justice for children and others affected by domestic violence?
Cathy Humphreys’ exploration of our sectors approach to family violence centred around these questions.
After her study, she deduced that “child protection is not necessarily well set up to respond to family violence”.
With only 6.5% of reports about the risk of harm from domestic violence made in NSW in 2007-2008 substantiated/ followed up, her questioning of our approach to family violence seems valid.
But reforming the process is not simple. Cathy stressed that if the scope of the child protection system is widened to cover more cases, there is a risk that the level of service available to victims of family violence will decrease.
And, the system is already overwhelmed.
But it’s not merely the level of reporting that was questioned. Cathy placed importance on involving children in the intervention process where appropriate.
“The children are saying ‘we want to be told what’s going on, no one speaks to us and tells us what’s happening'” she said.
Above all, Cathy stressed the importance of having an effective and efficient process for managing family violence.
“There are a group of children who really need the child protection system… without it they may die” she said.
In 2007, Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle – or the Little Children Are Sacred Report – exposed the complexity and shame of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.
Constant media focus on child abuse in the NT followed. Daily reports in The Australian newspaper and nightly stories on ABC’s Lateline.
They covered, paedophile rings, chronic neglect, kids sniffing petrol, kids roaming the streets day and night and the sexual abuse of kids, including kids abusing other kids. All fueled by a daily diet of pornography and alcohol.
Shocking, awful stuff. Hard to digest, hard to think about and harder to know where to start. But, in time, easy to ignore.
With the 2007 Federal Election looming, the NT intervention was announced in response to this ‘national emergency’.
Just after another election, it’s a good time to ask – has childhood improved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children?
I’m not sure.
Media stories of neglect and abuse continue. Negative images of Aboriginal kids and families dominate.
Lesley and I are doubly excited to be part of the Good Childhood Conference and that Robyn Miller (Principal Child Protection Practitioner, Victoria) will be launching our new bookSocial Work and Domestic Violence: developing critical and reflective practice.
The Good Childhood Conference reminds us of all that it important to create the context in which children can thrive.
Too often issues of domestic and family violence slip to the background when we talk about children and young people’s vulnerability.
It speaks to the breadth and depth of the conference that the complexity of children’s lives, including the issues of violence and abuse will be explored and discussed.
Our own understandings of domestic and family violence strive to recognise that children live in the context of their family relationships.
Strengthening the mother-child relationship and recognising the importance of accountability and responsibility are two central themes.
For Lesley and I, the book is the culmination of 30 years of working as practitioners, advocates and researchers in the domestic and family violence area. Our book is written for practitioners and for students.
It has chapters relevant to working with children, women and men where there is domestic violence and highlights the importance of working in a multi-agency context.
Issues of diversity are raised at the beginning of every chapter and then worked through as a theme to frame the context for working with children, women and men where issues of violence and abuse provide the backdrop to family life.
With thanks to guest blogger Cathy Humphreys, for this contribution.
This is a first for me as I join the blogging community!
At Berry Street, we believe that all children should have a good childhood, growing up feeling safe, nurtured and with hope for the future. Sadly, evidence and our experience over 136 years tells us that this is not a reality for far too many children.
I think there is a lot for us to learn and share about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not had this experience. One of the key ways forward is bringing together parents’ experience, the knowledge of practitioners and different disciplines.
There are a wide range of terrific speakers lined up for our inaugural The Good Childhood Conference, designed to appeal to different audiences. Some will be controversial. That’s part of the intention, because we really want to start a broad conversation about childhood.
We hope to have a large contingent of young people at the Conference – as both presenters and participants.
Like the work of Berry Street, our Conference will appeal to people from many different disciplines. 50 workshops will cover areas such as child protection, education, early years, wellbeing, place-based initiatives, family violence, the impact of technology and Out of Home Care.
We couldn’t be doing this without our Sponsors and Supporting Partners. We are especially grateful to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who describe their role as helping to build a strong and fair society for all Australians and developing social policies to:
Increase opportunities for all Australians to participate in our society and work
Promote cohesive and connected society
Support basic living standards
Support individuals, families and communities to build their capacity
So, please spread the word and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.