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

What makes a good childhood?

shutterstock_2040590By Dr. Nicole Milburn, Clinical Psychologist and Internal Consultant for Infant Mental Health at Berry Street Take Two

The Berry Street Childhood Institute has a primary task of helping the community think about what makes a good childhood. In health and welfare work, we are so often required to focus on what is not good enough and what requires improvement. To have an institute in our field that is dedicated to sharing a conversation about what makes a good childhood is a really wonderful addition.

I am a Clinical Psychologist and Infant Mental Health Specialist. The field of infant mental health has been burgeoning over the last 50 years and has much to say about what constitutes a good childhood. Infant mental health has particular strengths in this area, having come from the fields of both psychoanalytic theory and developmental psychology.

Psychoanalysis has a long history of thinking about what lies inside people’s heads; what conscious and unconscious drives and motivations are acted out in behavior, and how people see themselves in relation to one another.  Continue reading “What makes a good childhood?”

Childhood Conversations Pilot Program – Session 1

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What makes a good childhood? 

The ‘Childhood Conversations’ Pilot Program seeks to engage parents of Victorian children in conversation about 21st century childhoods, in order to increase their understanding and awareness of what sustains a good childhood; and empower them to find solutions and advocate for change.

Take a trip back in time with us to the era in which you were a child…

Whether this took place in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s, there are often common elements that typify or mark the era in which we grew up. 

We are looking at the Family Environment and in particular ‘Family structure and work/life balance’.

My experience of growing up in the 70’s was that the nuclear family was the norm and there were strongly defined mother/father roles. Parents (fathers in particular) seemed to work long hours but the hours were predictable. Family life seemed to be able to be structured around work hours.

What are your perceptions of how families were structured and parent’s work/life balance when you were growing up?shutterstock_123839083
We would love to hear from you!


Post written by: Julie Noonan, School Engagement Co-ordinator, Berry Street Childhood Institute

Childhood Conversations – Part 2

A retrospective look back at the era in which we grew up…

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Childhood. It’s arguably the most important time of our life: a precious time where we need to feel safe, happy and loved.

Most importantly, for some of us, it is a time where some of our happiest memories were made.

Berry Street believes that every single child deserves to grow up with a childhood they want to remember.

The first of our ‘Childhood Conversation’ sessions involved 6 parents from a local school, taking a retrospective look back through their own memories and experiences at the era in which they grew up.

Discussion was informally structured around the following five key themes:

  • Family environment- including: what did the average family structure look like? What were your perceptions of your parents’ work/life balance?
  • Health & wellbeing – including: how did you play – structured or unstructured? What environments did you play in? What food did you eat? How much time did you spend out of doors? Risk taking behaviours?
  • Education & Technology – including: what role did technology play within the family? What and how was information shared about families? Participation in education?
  • Community Participation – including: involvement in local community? Consumerism targeting children? Children’s voice in decision making?
  • Material Basics – including: understanding of poverty? Perception of employment/unemployment?

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It was a fun and enlightening conversation and we look forward to bringing you a summary of the issues raised.

Post written by: Julie Noonan, School Engagement Co-ordinator, Berry Street Childhood Institute

Imaginate: discovering what makes a good childhood

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We’re smack bang in the middle of the entry period for Imaginate, our national multimedia competition for young Australians (13-25). As we receive the entrants’ photographs, stories, poems, videos, music, fashion design and drawings, we’re gradually building a picture of what a good childhood should look like, from the perspective of young people themselves.

So, why do we care?

Well, firstly we care because we feel really strongly that young people are experts on modern childhoods:

  • They have the recent experience, which gives them first-hand knowledge;
  • Just enough time has passed that they can be objective about the whole of childhood, without getting bogged down in the detail of whether a Barbie makes a childhood better than an Xbox;
  • And, they have the skills and creativity to communicate their beliefs and opinions in ways that resonate with a wide audience.

Secondly, we care because what young people have to say about good childhood will be one of the major foundations of how we, at the Berry Street Childhood Institute, approach our work.

And finally, Imaginate matters because we want to see a critical mass of young Australians stepping up to make change happen for childhood, and for the issues that matter to them.Imaginate pic

What better way to start than with a little creative thinking…

Visit the Imaginate site to enter the competition and vote on current entries! http://imaginate.org.au/, or for more information like Imaginate on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Post by: Lauren Oliver, Youth Engagement Coordinator

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.