By Dr Nicole Milburn, Infant Mental Health Consultant & Jen Willis, Communications Consultant, Berry Street – Take Two
As a community we often discuss the poor mental health of adults and young people, but rarely do we really look at the mental health of babies. This is unfortunate because it is the relationships and environment a baby experiences during infancy that often set the conditions for that baby’s mental health during later adolescence and adulthood.
What is mental health for a baby? There are three key factors that define early mental health and wellbeing.
It’s thought that at least half of the children and young people we work with have communications difficulties. This can contribute to feelings of anxiety and frustration that might lead to social isolation, aggression or depression when they can’t understand what others are telling them or express themselves properly.
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.
“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
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.
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!
Presented by Claudia Whitton, Policy and Research Manager and Audra McHugh, Policy Officer at CREATE.
This session provided an overall summary of the CREATE Report Card which collects the experiences of young people living in out-of-home care. The full report is available to download online.
The CREATE Report Card is a survey that is completed online and is open to all young people living in care between the ages of 8 and 17. The survey intends to hear as many young people as possible and present their experiences to those working the sector. Alongside gaining key statistics on care in Australia, the report also gives an understanding of what makes a good care placement.
83% of children overall say that they are “quite” or “very” happy in their current placement. 75% feel as though they are treated exactly the same as other young people.
A big part of having a good placement is concentrating on relationship building. Key to relationship building is in the difference between a child in care being able to speak freely, and feeling as though someone will listen when he or she speaks. Giving the kids a voice, allowing them to take part in and gain a deeper understanding of their care planning leads to those plans being executed more effectively.
What CREATE hopes for in the future is an increase in the engagement of young people in the plans made about their lives, particularly the transitioning from care plans. With stronger involvement in their life decisions, young people in care are able to transition out of care and live more independently.
Child protection is everybody’s business…we all have an opportunity to improve the lives of young people in care
In 2010 kinship care overtook foster care as the predominant form of out-of-home care in Victoria. Children are usually happier in kinship care, but is it always the best choice? That’s the question Meredith Kiraly asked.
Kinship carers are usually poorer, older and in a poorer state of health than other foster carers. The majority of kinship carers are the grandparents of the children they care for, and often they take on children because they can’t turn down their own family.
But is love enough?
Meredith says that while love is obviously important, there also needs to be safety and wellbeing in care scenarios.
Kinship care assessment is far less rigorous than foster care assessment, often involving little more than a police check. It’s based on the assumption that carers and children already share a close relationship, but this is not always the case. Given that less than 1% of people who engage in acts of child molestation have a criminal record, there are questions over whether this assessment is adequate.
Meredith told the story of an infant girl who was in stable foster care. She was moved to live with her grandparents prior to initial assessment. Further assessment was delayed for months after she was placed with her grandparents, and warning signs – minor cuts and bruises, were ignored. A year later she was admitted to hospital unconscious with a head injury, it was not until this point that she was returned to foster care. In this child’s situation, there was no urgency, she was in stable foster care to begin with, so why was she moved before proper assessment was made?
Meredith indicated that more extensive assessment of kinship carers is needed to ensure that kinship care provides a safe, stable and nurturing environment for children. Do you agree?
“Young people with disabilities are facing huge challenges when leaving Out of Home Care.”
On Friday, the second day of the conference, Associate Professor Philip Mendes from Monash University presented the findings of a study into this transitional period.
Philip said his study confirmed that young people leaving care are more vulnerable to poorer outcomes. He drew comparisons with the wider community, highlighting many young people don’t leave the homes of their parents until they are aged 25 and of those who do leave home by 18, a large portion continue to receive some sort of support from their family.
This is in stark contrast to young people with disabilities who are leaving Out of Home Care at age 18 and are often not ready to be fully independent for a variety of reasons.
There is minimal research about how many young people are in care, or what types of disabilities they live with, but it appears there is an over representation of children with a disability.
The findings of the study concluded:
Young people with disabilities are not experiencing planned transitions from care and are not receiving the care they need.
Young people are sometimes transitioned into aged care facilities.
The system is crisis driven.
Inadequate funding results in a lack of accommodation options and support services for young people with disabilities.
Young people’s participation in their leaving care plan is hampered by the lack of resources and services.
The sudden transition from statutory children’s services to voluntary adult disability services is problematic for some young people.
“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”
Philip continued to explain the situation for young people with undiagnosed disabilities, borderline disabilities and mental illness was also dire. They ‘fall through the net’ and are often left worse off than those with significant diagnosed disability.
“The most common type of disability is mental illness and yet young people with mental illness are not eligible for disability services,” he said.
Philip’s presentation highlighted how a sector that is underfunded is not providing the level of care and support a vulnerable group of people need. The process of leaving out-of-home care is fraught with difficulties, as one can imagine.
Perhaps the most important finding from Philip’s study:
“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”
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.