How culture helped a child find his voice

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

Lots of 7-years-olds wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a moth and a butterfly. But Jay can.

Jay is an Aboriginal child going to a local primary school in suburban Melbourne. But unlike the others in his class, he has only just started talking.

Continue reading “How culture helped a child find his voice”

Building Bikes, Building Hope

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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.” IMG_0955

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

ACWA 2014

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Berry Street are coming to the ACWA Conference in Sydney from August 18 to 20 and are delighted to be the Health and Wellbeing Sponsor.

We understand how important personal resilience and looking after ourselves is in order to be able to sustain ourselves in our challenging roles.

We even have a health and wellbeing initiative for ourselves at the moment, and this week’s challenge is eating 5 serves of vegetables and 2 pieces of fruit every day. Why don’t you set yourselves this challenge too?H&WB challenge

Next week while the conference is on, our challenge is to include 30 minutes exercise per day – visit our table at ACWA and let our Events & Projects Officer, Prue, explain to you the rest of the challenge. Prue can also show you the great practice resources and publications we have developed, most of which are able to be downloaded for free!

Come and listen to our great staff members who are on the speaking program:

  • Anita Pell, a fantastic advocate for foster carers
  • Trish McCluskey, who with a strong evidence base will argue passionately regarding the importance of keeping siblings together in case, and
  • Andrew McClausland, who is a thought leader in the role of carers in children’s education.

And, if you are at the conference and see our Director Craig Cowie, stop and say hi – and let him know that you read this on our blog!

Post written by: Pam Miranda, Senior Manager Knowledge Development, 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

Childhood Conversations

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Is childhood today more complicated than ever before?

  • Are children losing the joyful, unselfconscious, carefree experience of childhood?
  • Do children spend too much time on technology?
  • Do you think it is worth talking about?

Current Australian research tells us that on many important indicators the health and wellbeing of today’s children is not on the rise, but on the decline. Increasing numbers of early 21st century children are known to have complex diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and eating disorders. In particular, psychological problems such as learning disorders, depression and anxiety appear to be increasing.

We know that a good childhood is the foundation for a healthy society and that whilst parents have the primary responsibility to provide their children with a good childhood, they cannot do this alone.

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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.

Through three x 2 hour sessions, parents will take a reflective journey through the context in which they experienced childhood and talk about the issues facing childhood in the 21st century.

We hope these conversations will inform a program model that may later be adopted by school communities across Australia.

It will be a fascinating journey and we look forward to sharing our progress with you.

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

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

Creswick Fellowship Tour – Adventure Therapy

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Think about a world where you never feel safe or secure.  A world full of fear and distrust. This is the life of the traumatised child.

Imagine a situation whereby the traumatised child can experience success and a sense of accomplishment in the context of relationships that demonstrate “in the moment” trust. Adventure based therapy like kayaking, ropes courses, wilderness adventure programs and the like can afford traumatised young people this opportunity.

The magic in adventure based therapy is in weaving together into one activity the following developmental and healing opportunities. Participants are faced with activities that challenge and extend them at a skill level, but are absolutely achievable.  What’s more many of these activities involve fear, risk taking and induce anxiety, but are provided in a way that they can be scaffolded for success and achievement.

I observed a kayaking adventure therapy session with a group of adolescent boys at Cal Farley’s. These young men were preparing for an open water kayaking trip the following week and were practicing the skills of rescue post capsizing.

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Fascinating in this observation was watching these young men anxiously anticipate the notion of flipping their kayak and deliberately capsizing themselves. Staff engaged in a lot of cognitive discussion based reassurance, what was awesome was that this was done as they kayaked up and down the length of the pond, back and forth, repetitively paddling and talking.

This allowed for somatosensory regulation of anxiety, or quietening down of the dysregulation caused by the anxiety, so that the discussion based reassurance and coaching could be heard and internalised by the young men…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