Today we were thrilled to present Dr. Bruce D. Perry’s ‘Transforming Childhood Trauma’ workshop in Melbourne. It was an inspiring, thought-provoking day that delivered a wealth of insights for the audience to apply to their practice. In this post, we share some of our highlights from the day.
In the beginning of the presentation, Dr. Perry explained the complexity of the human brain. One of the fundamental principles about the brain is that it develops sequentially, from the simplest parts to the most complex. The cortex, which controls higher reasoning, isn’t fully developed until people reach their early 30s. The brain also processes information sequentially – the lower, less complex parts have ‘first dibs’ on incoming information. This has significant implications for how we respond to stress.
“Part of what we know about the brain is that we don’t know that much about the brain”
“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
Join us in celebrating the release of HEARTCORE, Berry Street’s new book featuring inspiring personal narratives from the Berry Street School students and photographs of paintings by international street artist, Kaff-eine.
Inspired by the students’ stories, Kaff-eine painted 20 public walls in Melbourne’s CBD, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Noble Park, and Morwell. Each wall was beautifully photographed for the book by Rowena Naylor.
Help support Berry Street and our efforts to improve outcomes for vulnerable young Victorians by purchasing a copy of HEARTCORE and spreading the word.
The PRTF School do what most neurodevelopmentally and “trauma” informed education programs do, by providing frequent “brain breaks” for their children. Essentially this is where they step down from academic learning and engage in some form of somatosensory activity such as playing outside, water play, sand play, play doh, calming corners with sofas, bean bags, blankets and soft toys etc.
They do this routinely, repetitively and frequently. Having access to a staff member dedicated to leading these breaks and co-regulating the children in between them worked a treat as well.
You know maths and mathematical concepts is a difficult gig at any school, let alone a classroom of children struggling with emotional, social and behavioural difficulties.
Immediately on entry into the room, she invited the children to the front of the class and had them all stand or sit around her as they preferred. Each child was given a piece of paper containing a number, each child read their number out aloud. The greater than symbol was drawn on the board and there was minimal question and answer time to ensure that everyone understood the concept of the greater than symbol.
Then engaging the students in an activity based process, moving them around she asked them two by two (based on those most engaged in the moment) to identify their number and stand either side of her – as she held the greater than symbol.
The student’s task – to put themselves in the right spot – who’s number was greater than the other. Each student excitedly took their turn and much celebration was had as each pair got it right…Read more about Greater and Less Than – Lessons in Learning through Movement 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.
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 mental 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
Occupational Therapy with a motor and sensory furnished room including a swing and tunnels.
Associate Professor Pamela Snow of Monash University presented a keynote speech on the link and implications of oral language competency and vulnerable young people.
Oral language competency is the ability to process and comprehend language. One’s language competency is formed during infancy and childhood, and refers to the degree of language enrichment in the home.
Dependent on socio-economic status, the consistency and frequency of language and words spoken to children by parents can differ greatly. Parents who do not work outside the home can manage 616 words an hour, working parents can manage 1,252 words an hour and higher income earning parents can manage 2,153 words an hour.
The importance of language competency helps to form the basis of communication skills, and in turn, determines the success of maintaining relationships.
The complexities and nuances of language pose challenges for those with low levels of oral language competency, such as understanding what are jokes, metaphors, sarcasm and innuendo, to name a few. Children need a lot of emotional and linguistic exposure from their parents as they navigate through the complex world of interpersonal relationships.
By formal measured standards, 50-60% of young offenders have a language impairment. As such, it is highly likely that boys with behavioural difficulties have underlying language difficulties.
By recognizing oral language competency as a key area of childhood development, policy makers, teachers and youth justice systems can be better equipped to assist vulnerable young people.
In what ways did your parents communicate with you as a child? How often do you spend time talking with your children?
In this workshop, Dr. Bern Nicholls PhD gives advice for educators on how to build a classroom environment that values thinking.
Classrooms need to be ‘thought-full’ in two ways: respectful of ideas and others, and by facilitating thinking.
Over the conference, presenters have talked a lot about culture and about the stories that come through our experiences and shape us as people. When communicating with young people in a classroom, we need to think about how their personal stories might shape how they think. We need to think about thinking.
Learning is a direct outcome of thinking, but sometimes we forget about the thinking part and only focus on the teaching.
Thinking isn’t communicated, it’s invisible! When you can’t read how a student is thinking, you’re making assumptions and that’s dangerous, so why not try to make that thinking visible and easier to comprehend?
You can try to make your students’ thinking visible by turning this thinking into a wider understanding. This might take some experimentation and trying different exercises, but always remember to dig deeper. Asking students questions like ‘what makes you say that?’ peels back the layers of their learning and helps you understand how they connect their personal story to the course content.
As an educator, you can think ‘what sort of thinking do I want my students to take with them for the rest of their lives?’ Making thinking visible is about engaging your students, challenging them to think in different ways and reminding them that thinking is always valued in the classroom space.
The keynote speeches early on Friday morning alluded to some of the evils of social media, so it was refreshing to hear SYN’s Education and Training Manager, Jonathan Brown, highlighting the benefits and showing that if you don’t quite get the hang of social media at first, then perhaps you should have another crack at it.
The session began with a breakdown of the major social media platforms and some of the ways in which they are used, as well as what benefits you can get from using them.
Facebook: The largest of the social networks with a jack-of-all-trades focus. You can share videos, photos and links to other creative efforts. Listing the people you connect with as friends, however, is slightly misleading, because the connection isn’t quite at that same level.
Twitter: The focus on shorter messages and links is what sets this platform apart. There isn’t the same pressure to add your “friends”, simply follow people who post thought-provoking comments and share your interests.
Instagram: The home of the “selfie”. Usually connected with Twitter or Facebook, Instagram is all about sharing a moment in time with followers across all networks.
Tumblr and other blogging platforms: These work similar to your own website. You can add as much of your own creative content and layout and share creative content that you’ve created.
After listing the various options to make your presence on the internet known, Jonathan provided his five fail-safe tips to ensure that you are on the right platform and doing the right things to get noticed:
Be authentic: act on social media as you would in real life.
Post consistently and diversely: stick to a schedule and mix up your posts. If you tend to post a lot of image content, try a video or text post.
Make it conversational: Unlike mediums such as television, you have the ability to talk to and engage with your audience to make it a more rewarding experience for them as well as for yourself.
Play to your strengths: Ensure you’re focusing on what you are good at. If your strength is writing, try blogging platforms. If you’re more artistic, try a tumblr.
Consume, research and share: If you find something that catches your eye, feel free to share it with others. Be transparent with your sources and start a dialogue.
The session concluded with a feel-good image of cats, encouraging you to feel positive about posting what you enjoy and to have fun with social media.
Technology can provide young people with the support they need outside of business hours.
After Baroness Susan Greenfield discussed some of the issues with social media, CEO of Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre (YAWCRC) Associate Professor Jane Burns, led an interesting workshop on the impact technology has on the mental health and wellbeing of young men in Australia.
Speaking from a personal perspective, Jane’s own 7-year-old son Angus, lives with autism and down syndrome, and relies on an iPad in order to communicate on a day-to-day basis.
A champion for the digital movement, Jane believes that Australia should utilise the technologies available to us today in order to provide youth with more accessible, online mental health services.
She contends that while Australia is one of the leading nations in service provision, we are living in an opportune time to decrease the still apparent disparity in health care in rural societies through mental health professional providing services online, building connections with and between young people.
Working with Movember, Beyond Blue, University of Sydney, and The Black Dog Institute, the YAWCRC conducted a national survey in 2012 to produce a research report on the impact of technologies on young men’s mental health and wellbeing.
Implementing the gold standard of survey-taking, they interviewed 1,400 young men aged 16-25 from all states and territories around Australia, of which 30% were from regional, rural or remote areas, and 2% identified as Indigenous.
Interesting stats from the research:
99% of Australians aged 16-25 y.o. use the internet,
95% of Australians aged 16-25 y.o. use it everyday or almost everyday.
Most are online for 2-4 hours a day,
20% are online for 5+ hours a day.
The top three ways young people use the Internet:
94% email in 2012 (up from 13% in 2008),
93% facebook in 2012 (up from 32% in 2008),
86% YouTube in 2012 (up from 7% in 2008).
How young people use the Internet:
74.8% access the Internet by phone,
69.9% access the Internet by laptop,
34.3% access the Internet by tablet,
30.8% access the Internet by desktop computer.
Where young people use the Internet:
75.9% access it in their bedroom,
56.2% access it in a social setting.
The main issues that concern young men aged 16-25:
47.6% said coping with stress,
26.6% said depression,
26.3% said body image issues,
19.3% said bullying or emotional abuse.
Finally, 42% of young men experience ‘moderate’ to ‘very high’ levels of psychological distress. Young men aged 22 to 25 years consistently reported higher rates of suicidal thoughts.
Almost 1 million young men are experiencing moderate to very high levels of psychological distress. Regardless of psychological distress, use of the internet is almost universal (98%) and in similar frequency. Even with advances in mental health services, young men do not seek help and many young men are not using services until they reach crisis point.
It appears that many men who are experiencing psychological distress tend to go online and use digital tools to express, share, distribute, and discuss their issues with others in a private, confidential setting. This acts as a cathartic tool and mental wellbeing exercise that can translate into their everyday lives.
Jane concluded the workshop by stating that further research needs to be conducted, and more data needs to be collected in order to understand the effects of technology on mental health and wellbeing. She is interested in knowing how we can tap into and use gaming and social media to use and create content for mental health services.
“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”
Day 1 of the Good Childhood Conference 2013 wrapped with a youth panel consisting of four young people, all of whom work actively in areas relating to youth affairs and leadership.Facilitated by UN Youth Representative 2012, Dan Ryan, the panelists discussed issues related to modern childhoods from their own experiences and work, and answered various questions posed by Dan and the audience. The panel was made up of:
Marlee-Alice Gorman of the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC) who’s been described as “the most compassionate speaker Parliament House has ever seen”.
Sarah Faithful of the Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre, Youth Brains Trust, who is interested in utilising technology to improve mental health and well-being in young people.
Crystal Goetz, A Mirabel Foundation Youth Ambassador, who is passionate about a world that is fair for all.
And, Linh Do, a Melbourne-based social change advocate.
The panelists spoke eloquently and honestly about their interests, passions and opinions regarding topics facing youth today:
On the (often negative) perceptions of youth in society the panelists all agreed “I’m gonna defy this stereotype of me”,
In regards to the boundaries that young people face Crystal argued that “You need to be allowed to make bad decisions”,
And, when asked what they would tell their 10 year old self if they had the chance, Marlee summed it up perfectly saying “What the other kids think about me doesn’t matter”.
There was united consensus among the panel on the notion of treating young people as equals and a strong belief in the idea that anyone is able to change the world.
Connect with the organisations or young people on Twitter:
Victorian SRC @VicSRC // Young & Well CRC @yawcrc // Mirabel Foundation @MirabelFndation // Linh Do @lmdo
Young people should be at the forefront of change.
This was the sentiment of the 2012 United Nations Youth Representative for Australia, Dan Ryan, in his keynote address Architecting new expectations for youth.
There didn’t seem to be a more appropriate person to speak at the Berry Street Childhood Institutes’s Good Childhood Conference, and Dan provided the floor with an invaluable, youth perspective during the day’s events.
The key issues Dan addressed explored the fundamental question of the conference: what does a sustainable, good childhood look like?
Dan spoke about what fantastic influences he had growing up, being raised and home-schooled through natural learning. No limitations or restrictions were placed on himself or his siblings – what subjects they learnt, what time they woke up, whether their homework got assessed or not, the jobs they could pursue, and so on.
Dan believes that this freedom allowed him and his siblings to make mistakes, learn from them, and develop and grow as people.
Because of natural learning and the influence of making his own decision, Dan believes he has been inspired to live a fulfilled life. He spoke a bit about how failure is a tool for reflection, that it shouldn’t be stigmatised and shamed, but welcomed as a learning curve for young people.
Speaking about his website, Dan outlined the abilities of young people to develop solutions and create change around Australia. On his website, youth can participate by:
Entering a solution they have seen working in their local area;
Browsing, discussing, rating and sharing solutions; and
Following in Dan’s journey as Youth Rep. with stories, surveys, photos and videos exploring issues related to youth.
Dan also touched on the conference’s contentious issue of social media, and claimed that while social media could be an invaluable, innovative tool for youth to learn about and create change, real change comes from people and communities. So long as there is a real community behind a movement, change can be achieved.
Dan’s keynote address concluded that the most important thing is including youth in the decisions that organisations make.
It’s important that we look for those moments, … look for opportunities to include youth in choices so that we can have societal change.