Learning to trust through play

By Jen Willis, Communications Consultant, Berry Street – Take Two  

Learning to talk, walk and play have been bigger achievements for Kassie than for most kids.

When Kassie entered foster care as a toddler, she was severely developmentally delayed and clearly malnourished. She couldn’t walk or talk.  She couldn’t hold eye contact and didn’t know how to play. She vomited 40 to 50 times a day, every single day but for no obvious medical reason.

Continue reading “Learning to trust through play”

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

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

Creswick Fellowship Tour – Alexander Youth Network

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I journeyed to beautiful Charlotte in North Carolina to spend the week with my colleagues at Alexander Youth Network (AYN).  AYN’s main campus or headquarters, and the home of its Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) and one of their Day Treatment Programs, is located on a picturesque 60 acre property with buildings nestled in a woodland area with open grounds and recreation areas for their clients.  This campus also houses facilities including a gym, indoor swimming pool and cafeteria.

AYN is a non-profit community based organisation receiving funding from fees for services (medicaid, insurance and the like) as well as contributions from individuals, corporations, foundations and government agencies.  AYN serves children ages 5 to 18, who are referred from hospitals, physicians, parents, schools and from state and county organisations such as department of social services and juvenile justice.  AYN serve over 7000 children each year.

AYN provide an array of mentAYNal health treatment for serious emotional and behavioural difficulities including: diagnostic and outpatient services, community based programs, multisytemic day therapy, therapeutic foster care and an onsite, 36 bed psychiatric residential treatment facility.  The idea being that children, young people and families accessing their services can move from service to service with established working relationships of trust within the one organisation.  Added to this is the strong grounding the staff have in child development, trauma, attachment and neurodevelopment as a core component of their orientation and ongoing training.

AYN offers services such as:

  • Individual therapy including EMDR, play therapy, sand tray and an awesome play room furnished largely by donation and financial grants
  • Art Therapy including pottery and their very own kiln
  • A ropes course for adventure therapy
  • A Labyrinth
  • Occupational Therapy with a motor and sensory furnished room including a swing and tunnels.
  • Physical Therapy
  • Reiki

…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