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Re-shaping the System. But into What?

Widespread media commentary has noted that, whilst most inquiries into the abuse and neglect of children are ‘crisis-driven’ and prompted by scandalous treatment of an individual child or family, no such impetus has underpinned the establishment of Queensland’s current Child Protection Inquiry.  Rather, its stated rationale is to deliver a ‘road map’ for child protection over the next decade.

Jurisdictions across Australia and internationally are struggling with re-shaping or reforming their child protection systems.  Queensland is similarly struggling and, despite the absence of a high-profile scandal relating to ways in which an individual child or family has been dealt with by the system, it may be easily argued that Queensland’s child protection system is nevertheless in crisis.

The Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Foster Care completed by the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) in 2004 led to significant increases in funding to and for government and non-government services.  Despite this, or even because of it, ‘demand’ for statutory and non-statutory services has increased, while ‘supply’ is outstripped.  For example, notifications of abuse or neglect that have been assessed as a ‘high priority’ are not being promptly investigated and less-than-suitable placements in out-of-home care are often occurring.

Queensland’s situation has characteristics and elements that are the same as those that exist in other jurisdictions within Australia as well as some that are significantly different.  Queensland is the ‘same’ in so far as the ‘child protection system’ as it exists within all States and Territories is complex, it encompasses multiple government and non-government service providers and child and family needs are becoming increasingly complex.  ‘Differences’ in Queensland which must also be accounted for stem from, for example, the spread of population across a vast and diverse geographic area, the comparatively more recent provision of government-funded services by community-based organisations and rapid expansion of out-of-home care placements.  Despite knowledge about the economic and human benefits of investing in prevention and early intervention, resource allocation as it is managed by all States and Territories, remains skewed towards tertiary interventions to a greater or lesser extent.

At the commencement of this inquiry, the most recent publicly available data (2010/11) indicates that while there has been movement up and down in the number of children entering and exiting out-of-home care each year, the actual rate/1000 children entering care in Queensland decreased from 2.5/1000 in 2009/11 to 2.2/1000 children in 2010/11. Children are however staying longer in out-of-home care, and a contributing factor to the overall situation is that children who entered around the time of the CMC Inquiry have remained in the system.

Despite the examination of components of the system by previous inquiries, demand increasing and resources tripling, the pathway provided to children and families through Queensland’s ‘child protection system’ remains fundamentally the same as it exists in other jurisdictions, with more or less attention given to the pathways into or those that sit alongside the system.

Inquiries typically fail to conceptualise the child protection system in a different way and therefore focus on doing the same things ‘better’ or doing ‘more of the same’, rather than advocating for different and new approaches.  Usual recommendations have included standardising or automating procedures, introducing structural changes for administering the system and underlining ‘reforms’ requiring legislative changes.  Examples from the CMC inquiry include the recommendation to regulate kinship care in the same way as foster care which has become problematic to the recruitment of potential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship carers, whilst more fundamental issues such as the need for a devolution of responsibility for protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to community-controlled and led organisations were not addressed.

This inquiry has an advantage over previous inquiries in that the Commissioner has been charged with making a “full and careful inquiry in an open and independent manner of Queensland’s child protection system”.   In taking advantage of this opportunity, It is imperative that the inquiry works back from the desired outcomes being sought for children, families and communities, informed by what is known about ‘what works and doesn’t work’, rather than simply recommending ‘more of the same’ in terms of existing solutions (eg. more resources, training and early intervention) or approaches (eg. adopting a public health model).  Whilst recommendations of this kind may, at least in part, carry some benefits, they are unlikely to significantly re-shape the child protection system or pave the way towards the adoption of a new paradigm.

To really make a difference for children and families whose circumstances lead them to being at risk of entering the child protection system or those already in contact or entrenched in the system, this inquiry must question the drivers that are immobilising the child protection system and making it resistant to change.  These are the drivers that are apparent not only in Queensland, but elsewhere as well.  They are the drivers that lead to the under-inclusion of some children and families and the over-inclusion of others, the ongoing insufficient capacity to properly service children and families arising from mismatches between the interventions individual families need and what they are offered, and the inequitable spread and access to services.

From the start of the inquiry, the Commissioner should be thinking about how to focus the recommendations on ‘outcomes’, rather than confining his examination to a review of ‘outputs’ or ‘processes’. The Commissioner should also be mindful of the ways in which the development and implementation of responses to his recommendations will be independently monitored to ascertain that the outcomes being achieved for children and families actually improve, in preference to simply reporting on the progress of implementing responses to recommendations.

In addition, a major challenge that exists concerns the context of fiscal restraint in which the inquiry is being conducted.  In accordance with the terms of reference established for the inquiry, the recommendations made by the Commissioner must be “affordable, deliverable and provide effective and efficient outcomes”.

This imperative sits within an environment where a major scaling back of the Queensland public service is taking place that has included the shedding of employees (albeit those who are purportedly not in ‘front-line’ positions) who have exercised roles and functions within a number of government departments that are related to the administration or delivery of child protection services as well as the discontinuation of grants to a number of non-government organisations.

The concern that must be considered by both the Commissioner and the government is whether the reduction in numbers of personnel across both the government and non-government sectors will deplete capacity to properly and adequately implement the recommendations which may arise from the inquiry.  Reductions in ‘policy’ and ‘program development’ personnel and system administrators within both the government and non-governments sectors may not be an effective cost saving measure in the longer term if there is insufficient capacity left to undertake the detailed policy analysis, program development, change management and monitoring functions that will be needed to implement major reforms.

Forewarning of what may be required to re-shape the child protection system comes from the United Kingdom.  With more than a year having transpired since the conclusion of the review of the United Kingdom’s child protection system that was led by Professor Eileen Munro, those charged with the responsibility of shifting the system away from being overly bureaucratised and procedurally driven have warned that the past ‘scaffolding’ of the system must be removed incrementally and with care.

In anticipation that this inquiry will make recommendations intended to reduce the over-reliance on tertiary interventions, it may also be expected that there will be challenges posed in not prematurely shifting resources away from the tertiary end towards prevention and early intervention without giving sufficient time for the demand for tertiary services to be effectively and genuinely reduced, thereby exposing some children and families to even higher levels  of risk than those that currently exist.

The Commissioner has been assigned the responsibility of charting a ‘road map’ for the next decade.  This is viewed as a realistic time frame for re-shaping the child protection system and it may be expected that every year of those ten years will be required to implement the extent of changes that are needed.

A key question that the Commissioner will need to wrestle with concerns what the new paradigm that we are seeking looks like.  Will the new paradigm constitute a re-vamping of the child protection system as we currently understand it or is it better to seek the establishment of a system focused much more broadly on ‘child and family well-being’ – a system that integrates the full range of programs and services required to support and respond to the needs of children and families that relegates the overall approaches to child protection as they are undertaken today to the pages of history?

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director – PeakCare Queensland

If you have a view about the matters raised in this post, make sure that you read all of PeakCare’s Child Protection Inquiry Issues Papers that can be accessed in the Members Only section of our website and enter your feedback into the accompanying questionnaires.

You may also wish to enter some comments below.  What do you think are the drivers that immobilise child protection systems and make them resistant to change?  If we are seeking a re-shaped child protection system, what should the system look like?  If a new paradigm was to be created, how would you describe it?

Launch of Cultural Diversity and Child Protection Report

On 17th July, I was able to launch my report, Cultural Diversity and Child Protection: A review of the Australian research on the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and refugee children and families in Brisbane with the kind support of the Queensland Commission of Children and Young People and Child Guardian, there were more than 40 people who attended the launch. The video from today’s launch will be uploaded to my website later on today.

I will be holding similar launch events in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart over the upcoming months. A copy of the report was sent to each Minister responsible for Child Protection in all states and territories and Children Commissioners, as well as senior policy makers in each state and territory. It is my hope that this research review will provide the necessary ‘evidence’ to ensure the needs of CALD and refugee communities are included into the Second 3 Year Action (2012-2015) under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children and also inform the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry.

You can access and download the PDF report from which has also been listed onto the Australian Policy online website.

This research report is the first publication of its kind to review the available research literature on the CALD and refugee families in the Australian Child Protection System (CPS).

This review was able to identify 13 publications describing Australian research completed between 1996 up to June 2012. The Research reviewed all the available Australian research evidence to establish ‘baseline knowledge’ for policymakers, practitioners and researchers.

The Report includes research on:

  • Cultural diversity in CALD and refugee communities
  • Risk factors for child abuse and neglect in CALD and refugee families
  • Communication and language considerations
  • Child protection assessment frameworks
  • Key messages from the Australian research on CALD and refugee families in CPS
  • Presentation of CALD and refugee communities in CPS and their experiences
  • Scoping Study on CALD and refugee children and young people in OOHC in Victoria.

This review identifies the emerging research on CALD and refugee communities coming to the attention of Australian child protection systems and proposes a number of recommendations to practitioners and policy makers to address the current gaps in service delivery data collection, policy and practice guidelines.

If you would like a hard copy of the report email Jatinder at support@jkdiversityconsultants.com.au

Jatinder Kaur, Director, JK Diversity Consultants

No Closed Doors

Inquiry Opened with a Promise of No Closed Doors

Yesterday, Commissioner Tim Carmody opened the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry.  His recommendations for the ‘road map’ for Queensland’s child protection system for the next decade, are due in 10 months.

In his introductory remarks, the Commissioner stressed that this is an Inquiry that would generally not be held “behind closed doors”.   A commitment was made to conduct the Inquiry in an open, inclusive and accessible manner so that the community can be kept informed and able to debate the issues.

The Commissioner explained that because it is a Commission of Inquiry, he was able to exercise discretion in choosing the best methods and tools for gathering information.  He invited everyone with a genuine interest in the matters being examined by the Inquiry to participate by, for example, lodging formal or informal submissions, describing their experiences and telling the Inquiry about their complaints and grievances as well as “giving credit where credit is due”.

Other methods to be used in gathering information that were outlined by the Commissioner included conducting public hearings as well as in camera hearings where confidentiality was required, examining departmental records, releasing discussion papers and holding on-line forums, listening to peak bodies and other stakeholder groups throughout Queensland, and consulting experts.

The Commissioner explained that the best source of information about the Inquiry will be their website www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au.  It will contain details of public hearings, written submissions and transcripts of proceedings.  Hearings will also be streamed live through the website.

PeakCare is very pleased that the Inquiry will offer a range of ways for stakeholders – peak bodies, service providers, parents, children, carers and researchers – to make their views and experiences known.  This means that the ‘road map’ is more likely to deliver well-informed ‘solutions’ to some seemingly intractable and entrenched problems.

Tonight, PeakCare is holding our first Roundtable Meeting about the inquiry with members and key partners invited to join with us in collaborating about key issues we wish to bring to the attention of the Inquiry and the best means for developing well-informed and useful submissions.

We are delighted that over 70 people have registered to attend and are committed to ensuring that this will be just the start of our collaboration with member agencies across the State.  Other on-line opportunities will be created for member agencies to participate in the development of our submissions as well as obtain information that may assist the development of their own submissions. Very importantly, we are looking forward to our face-to-face discussions at our “Meet the Protectors” Expos  that will be rolled-out over the rest of 2012.

Watch out for next week’s e-News to read about what happened at our initial Roundtable Meeting and the ways in which you can collaborate with us in preparing our submissions and contributing to the important work of the Child Protection Inquiry.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director – PeakCare Queensland

Meet The Protectors Expos

You’ve heard of The Avengers, you’ve heard of the Justice League of America, now meet The Protectors!

PeakCare is pleased to announce that the Child Protection Expos we will be hosting in five locations during 2012 will be named Meet The Protectors.  In keeping with our aim to ensure that the Expos are events about the people, by the people, for the people, this seems to be a very apt and appropriate title.  It is a title that gives due and proper acknowledgement of the many hundreds of people who, despite their mild-mannered appearance and demeanour, never waver in their quest to achieve the safety, wellbeing and equitable life opportunities of Queensland children, young people and families.   They are the often unsung heroes, like you, who continually wear a badge of child protection close to their hearts.

 

Key Expo events

Key events that will feature at each of the Expos will include the following:

  • Displays and presentations

A wide and diverse range of organisations – government and non-government – will be invited to show-case their work.  This may include providing a “trade display” where staff members are available to discuss the work of their organisation, verbal presentations delivered at regular intervals during the course of the day, audio-visual presentations and whatever other creative methods are devised by organisations to show-case their programs and services.

At each of the Expos, a prize will be awarded to the organisation that delivers the most innovative and appealing display or presentation, so start planning your organisation’s presentation now!

  • Roundtable discussions about matters relevant to the current Child Protection Inquiry

At each of the Expos, a number of roundtable discussions will be held about matters relevant to the recently announced Child Protection Inquiry being led by the Honourable Tim Carmody SC.     These facilitated discussions will be conducted in a format similar to the ABC’s Q&A.  Panel members will include local identities as well as others who have a State-wide focus and audience participation will, of course, be encouraged.

You may expect that the views and opinions expressed during these discussions will come to the attention of the Commission of Inquiry so make sure that your organisation’s voice is heard!

  • Recruitment of future staff

A major issue facing the child protection sector concerns our ability to attract a future workforce.  To this end, tertiary education providers are being invited to participate in the Expos and strategies will be implemented to engage secondary school students in visiting the Expos and considering a future career in the field of child protection.

Watch out for more information about these strategies in future editions of our eNews!

When and where the Expos will be held

Negotiations are now well underway to conduct Expos at:

1)      Logan City to cater for the corridor extending from southern Brisbane to the Gold Coast

2)      a location to cater for the corridor extending from northern Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast

3)      Toowomba

4)      Rockhampton, and

5)      Townsville.

You may expect that the Expos will be held in late September, October and early November.  As soon as confirmation of venues and dates are confirmed, this information will be widely advertised.

PeakCare is committed to keeping the costs of your organisation’s participation and attendance at the Expos low.  To this end, hosting the Expos in five separate locations is intended to eliminate much of the travelling and accommodation costs to organisations in enabling their staff to participate in events of this type.  Plus PeakCare believes in the importance of promoting a regional flavour!

As venue arrangements are finalised, details of costs will be included within the Expo advertisements.

 Your feedback and ideas

As we finalise our planning for the Meet The Protectors Expos, your feedback and ideas continue to be important to us.  If you have suggestions to make about your local Expo, please feel free to enter comments to this post or email groberts@peakcare.org.au.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director – PeakCare Queensland

Finding the Missing Link between Missing Persons and Child Protection

Julie Clark is a Lecturer at Griffith University and has conducted research into missing persons and their families.  Julies research inspired The Disappearances Project.

Julie is this weeks Child Protection Warrior.  Here is a guest post by Julie, about Julie.

While it may seem a stretch for some, establishing a better response for missing people, their families and friends is strongly related to supporting families and child protection. The largest group of the 35,000 missing people each year are children and young people, mostly 13-17 year old young people, some of whom are or were in care. While most are located and missing only short periods the numbers suggest there is more we need to do to understand and prevent the need for young people to cope negotiating adolescence and difficult childhoods by going missing. Young women are the largest group under 18 years. For others the transition to adulthood is a struggle and more young men become long-term missing people in the years after adolescence. My research has been about siblings of missing people and they spoke about their troubled brothers and sisters, sometimes troubled by experiences of abuse, neglect or difficult family relationships. All those who went missing had struggled with mental health issues. These are the complex issues family support workers, across all professional backgrounds struggle with on a daily basis.

Why people should come to the Missing People: Issues and Implications Conference and TRAMP

The conference is a rare opportunity to come together as a community of people interested in people who have a troubled start to life and the issues around going missing as well as the support of those people left behind. They impact across the lifespan. The issues are complex and different for each group affected. It may be young people, mothers who have relinquished a child for adoption, people fleeing violence, a child abducted, an older person with dementia. Many families will have experienced the loss of someone going missing. This area of practice is under developed, there is so much we do not know and need to better understand to provide more informed and useful responses. We need to intervene early and effectively to avoid young people developing patterns of behaviour that will not be useful to them over the longer term. The police are expected to respond to episodes of going missing but there is little or no sense of a ‘continuum of care’ once the person is located. Rather than a raft of new services we need existing services to include an understanding of going missing in the work they are already doing. The conference will be a place for like minded people to discuss issues of importance to them with a view to influencing the agenda for the next 10 years.

The Disappearances Project was inspired by my research (I read this in a press release so it must be true!). It tells the story from the perspective of people who live with the experience of having a family member who is a long term missing person. It is 50 minutes of powerful theatre. It helps us to understand the cost of going missing from the lived experience of people who live with ‘missingness’ every day. TRAMP (Theatre Raising Awareness of Missing People) is the project title for the theatre production funded by Arts Qld and associated activities (it must be excellent because we were successful with funding even in these difficult times!). As part of TRAMP we invite people to make connections with other local community members interested in this issue and develop their understanding about the impact of someone going missing. People can come together when they attend the theatre productions in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Ayr and Cairns. There is a Q and A after each performance with both the actors and myself. Young people interested in using theatre to express themselves may really be interested in the opportunity to talk with two accomplished writers and performers. Bringing social issues to light through theatre is the mission of Version 1.0.

Agency and professional staff and community members are also invited to be part of a workshop in their local community ($30 for a 2 hour workshop. You can register online through Eventbrite) on one of the days the theatre is presenting in their location. See http://www.griffith.edu.au/health/school-human-services-social-work/partnerships-collaboration/tramp for more details or our facebook site www.facebook.com.au/theatreraisingawarenessofmissingpeople.

Don’t Miss the Missing People’s Conference

Every week, children and young people in care go missing – sometimes for only a few minutes or hours, sometimes for weeks, months or years.

Children, young people and families with whom you are working may also be experiencing the turmoil created when a member of their family is missing.

Make sure that you have registered to attend the Missing People: Issues and Implications Conference to be held at the Logan Campus of Griffith University on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th July 2012.

Two sessions incorporated within the Conference Program that have special importance and may be of great interest to you include:

  • A key note address by Dr Susan Robinson from Charles Sturt University about missing children, assumptions, investigative issues and outcomes, and
  • A Panel Discussion about children who go missing from care.

The Panel discussion will be facilitated by Professor Clare Tilbury (Griffith University) and the Panel Members will include Dr Julie Clarke (Griffith University), Lindsay Wegener (PeakCare Queensland), Detective Senior Sergeant Damien Powell (Missing Persons Unit, Queensland Police Service) and Belinda Mayfield (Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services).

Other themes for the conference include definitional and ethical issues, specific groups at risk, research and policy and service delivery frameworks.

The Conference will be held:

WHERE – Logan Campus, Griffith University

WHEN – Thursday 5th and Friday 6th July

COST –  One day $290, 2 days $450

Click here for further information

Child Protection Expos – Coming Your Way Soon

Planning for five Child Protection Expos to be held in different locations across the State is now well and truly underway.  We have selected a much more exciting title than Child Protection Expo, but you will need to wait before that is revealed in a future edition of eNews.

Our aim is to make the Child Protection Expos events that are about the people, for the people, by the people. 

About the people

Child protection is a “people-business”.  Our key asset is the people who design and deliver the services provided to thousands of Queensland children, young people and families every day of the week, every week of the year.  Our Child Protection Expos will be about show-casing your work so that others can meet and hear from you about the challenges you face as well as the success you experience every day in making a difference in the lives of children, young people and families.

To this end, a broad range of organisations – remembering that child protection is everyone’s business – will be invited to set up displays and presentations.  In addition, a series of facilitated “roundtable discussions” will be held during the course of each Expo to hear your views and exchange opinions about topical issues concerning child protection.

For the people

The Expos will be held in five locations – we would hold them in even more locations if we possibly could!   This is to maximise the capacity of people to attend an Expo and to keep the costs of their attendance low.

At this stage, we are planning to hold an Expo:

1)      within the corridor extending from southern Brisbane through Logan City and Beenleigh to the Gold Coast

2)      within the corridor extending from northern Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast

3)      at Toowomba

4)      at Rockhampton, and

5)      at Townsville.

By the people

We need your participation and support to make the Expos a success – so that we can truly say that they are events about the people, for the people, by the people!

To this end, we are inviting expressions of interest from people who would like to be our “sounding boards” and “fonts of local knowledge”.  Your major role would be to serve as contact people with whom PeakCare staff can consult about:

  • local venues that might be suitable for an Expo and their preferred dates
  • local organisations that can be invited to set up displays and deliver presentations
  • ways in which news about each Expo can be distributed amongst local networks and attendance encouraged
  • local people who may be invited to participate as panel members during roundtable discussions, and
  • the topics that should be addressed during the roundtable discussions to ensure that there is a mix of State-wide and local issues covered.

If you are interested in being a local contact person, please send an email to groberts@peakcare.org.au. Your email should briefly state the name of the organisation you work for, the position you hold within this organisation and your contact details.  You may also like to add any particular ways in which you may be able to provide assistance such as your membership of a local interagency group.

Over oncoming weeks, you will hear more about a range of promotional activities that we will be conducting to make sure that the Expos are events to remember.  Please feel free to enter comments to this post or email groberts@peakcare.org.au about any ideas you have or features that you would like us to incorporate within the Expos – remember that the Expos are to be about the people, for the people, by the people so your comments and feedback will be very much appreciated!

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director – PeakCare Queensland

Shining the Light on Residential Care

In recent weeks, a bright light has been shone on residential care services in Queensland.  On 30th May, ABC Lateline aired a story questioning whether residential care is “serving as an incubator for a lifetime of crime, violence and prison”.

A particular concern highlighted within this story was a reported trend concerning the frequency with which Police are being called out by the staff of residential care services to deal with resident young people, the subsequent charging of these young people with offences and their unnecessary and damaging entry into the youth justice system.

Prominent Queensland advocate, Ms Debbie Kilroy from Sisters Inside stated to Lateline’s Margot O’Neil, “Calling the police has to stop, it absolutely has to stop. You can’t rely on the police to solve issues of trauma and abuse.”

In supporting Ms Kilroy’s argument that excessive and unwarranted number of Police call-outs was resulting in residential care services “criminalising” young people, Mr Damien Bartholomew from the Youth Advocacy Centre said to Lateline, “I’ve had young people being charged with offences as minor as flicking a tea towel at a worker, or a young person I’m representing at the moment has been charged with damaging a cup and a mug”.

As briefly noted within the Lateline story, a Queensland working party has been meeting for purposes of addressing factors that may be contributing to the large number of call-outs by residential care services to the Police.  Initiated by the Department, this working party comprises Ms Kilroy and Mr Bartholomew as well as other legal advocates and representatives from the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian, the Queensland Police Service, non-Government residential care service providers, Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak and the CREATE Foundation.  I also participate in this working party as a representative of PeakCare.

As has become increasingly apparent during the deliberations of this working party, the factors contributing to the high number of Police call-outs to some residential care services are many, varied and complex. It would, of course, be a foolhardy and dangerous approach to simplistically point a finger of blame towards any residential service provider or staff member of a residential care service without proper and comprehensive analysis of the factors that have led to the high rate of Police call-outs.  It would be similarly foolish to “lump together” all residential care services as “problematic” in relation to this issue when such wide variations exist in relation to the program design of these services, the profile and needs of the children and young people being referred to individual services, the level of funding they receive and resources available to them, and the purpose and functions that individual services are contracted to perform.

The contributing factors examined by the working party have ranged from mistaken understandings about requirements to report property damage to the Police Service in order to lodge an insurance claim through to conflicting interpretations of the Department’s “matter of concern” and “positive behaviour support” policies and the meaning attached to some of the service standards associated with licensing.

Amongst the range of complex factors that have seemingly led to the high rate of Police call-outs, there are some simple “truths” that stand out and must be upheld.  Quite simply, these “truths” are:

  • All children and young people should, wherever possible, be diverted from any unnecessary contact with the youth justice system and, in the event that this contact does occur, it should not be prolonged.
  • In relation to the reporting of certain behaviours to the Police Service, children and young people living in residential care should not be “penalised” simply due to their circumstances of being “in care”.  If, in accordance with generally accepted community standards, a parent would not call for Police intervention in response to certain behaviours of their child, neither should residential care workers be calling Police to deal with young people in their care who are displaying similar behaviours.  Clearly, it is a nonsense if, as stated by Damien Batholomew in the Lateline story, Police Officers are charging children with offences such as “flicking a tea towel” and courts are dealing with matters as trivial as this.  This would not happen in relation to children and young people who are not in care.  Neither should it be happening for children and young people who are.  Residential care workers should not be calling the Police in relation to these types of matters and the Police should not be charging these children and young people with offences.
  • Children and young people often act out the trauma of abuse and disrupted attachments through periodic demonstrations of “rage” and “anger”.   The behaviours of children and young people in these circumstances must never be simplistically defined and dealt with as “acts of defiance” or as a “criminal offence” when, at a much more significant level, they often represent young people’s reactions to grief about the trauma they have experienced, the loss of relationships with family members, their doubts about their ongoing safety and security, and fears about the potential for further loss or trauma.
  • Primitive behaviour management practices based on notions of reward and punishment must be seen, at best, hopelessly inadequate in providing care of children and young people who have experienced trauma and, at worst, likely to significantly exacerbate behaviours that are perceived as “difficult”.  Trauma-informed practice requires much more sophisticated approaches be taken to the therapeutic care of these children and young people.
  • In keeping with the need for well-informed and educated approaches to the therapeutic care of children and young people, there is no place within contemporary residential care practice for behaviour management practices that simply serve as an outlet for a residential care worker’s hurt, anger or outrage about a child or young person’s behaviour.  Whilst fully acknowledging the personal stress and demands that are often placed on residential care workers on a daily basis, these are feelings and reactions that must be dealt with elsewhere through appropriate de-briefing processes and professional supervision.

Whilst it may be seen that the above “truths”, when applied in practice, should work towards preventing unwarranted calls to the Police, there are also some “truths” that dictate circumstances when Police must always be called.  For example, when it is known or alleged that a young person has been sexually assaulted by another resident young person, the Police must be called.  This is not the kind of matter that can be dealt with “in-house” and to do so would be to deny certain rights held by the young person who was the victim of the assault and significantly undermine progress that has been made over many years in ensuring that sexual assaults are viewed by all of society as acts that are against the law.

Of course, between the extremes of not calling the Police for trivial matters and calling the Police at times when people’s safety is at a significant and imminent risk from extreme levels of violence, there is a considerable expanse of “grey”.   Guidelines being produced by the working party about circumstances when Police should and should not be called may assist, at least in part, in informing the decisions to be made by residential care workers and managers.

It should never be assumed however that the answers to issues of this kind can ever be totally found in the production of yet another set of guidelines and rules.  Inevitably, if the spirit and intentions of these guidelines and rules – the underpinning rationale for their existence – is not understood or accepted, “loopholes” will be found.  As clearly highlighted in the recent review of the United Kingdom’s child protection system led by Professor Eileen Munro, whilst guidelines, rules and regulatory controls may be useful to some extent, they will never be a match for sound professional judgement and practice wisdom in making well-educated and informed decisions.

From my perspective, the issue of excessive numbers and frequency of call-outs to the Police Services by some residential care services is symptomatic of some much larger issues of concern in relation to residential care and should be dealt with in that context.

Over recent years there has been rapid growth in the use of residential care without sufficient attention having been given to developing the ‘program logic’ for this type of care environment.  It should not be a surprise that there will massive differences in the outcomes being achieved for children and young people who reside in residential care services that have and those that don’t have a clearly defined program model where the integrity of the model is maintained through:

  • rigorous and disciplined attention being paid to the referral and matching of children and young people
  • the supported and case-managed transition of resident children and young people to independence, other alternative care arrangements or their own family’s care
  • a clearly articulated “fit” of the residential service with other types of out-of-home care and support services that exist locally where service providers engage in collaborative practice to ensure a continuity of service delivery to individual children and their families
  • the use of a consistent team of well-trained, qualified and professionally supervised residential care staff who are all well-known to the resident children and young people, and
  • an active commitment to a service philosophy that perceives a child or young person’s “placement” as providing an environment suitable for facilitating their healing and recovery, a safe haven in which children and young people are supported in learning and practising new ways in which they can self-regulate their behaviour, and a venue that provides them with the opportunity to engage in safe and meaningful relationships with caring adults.

Similar statements could also be made however in relation to the need for well-defined and rigorously maintained program models for kinship, foster and intensive foster care.

I have been around long enough to see the pendulum swinging between residential care and family-based care models as the preferred option for the care of children and young people.  Both have been improperly viewed from time to time as either holding “all of the answers” or “none of them”.  Of course, neither viewpoint is sensible and can lead to poor policy decisions and service planning.

The challenge is to continue to learn about the best possible means for delivering both residential care and family-based care options.  In particular, our thinking should not be confined by definitions of family-based care or residential care that have been around for way too long.  We must remain open to investigating, trialling and evaluating other options such as shared care arrangements that confront the dichotomies that have been created between residential and family-based care as well as between all forms of out-of-home care and in-home support that can be provided to children and their families.

Whilst a spot light has been shone on residential care, it could just as easily swing to family-based care as it has done in the past.  The question now seems to be whether we become blinded by the light that has been shone on residential care services in ways that polarise opinion or make use of this light to further illuminate the debates that need to occur in ways that are constructive and lead to service improvement.

Enter your thoughts and opinions about these matters as comments to this post – anonymously if you prefer – or email your comments to groberts@peakcare.org.au.  It is important that your voices are heard as we enter further into the discussions that we must have about all forms of out-of-home care and what shape they will take in the future. With a Child Protection Inquiry looming, it is important for these debates and discussions to start now.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director 

PeakCare Queensland

Intensive Foster Care Program Description Now Available

You may recall that in late 2011, PeakCare hosted the “What’s Special about Specialist Foster Care?”  workshop that brought together non-government organisations and representatives from the (then) Department of Communities.

This workshop was used to consider findings of a literature review undertaken by the Department about this form of out-of-home care and inform the development of a new program description by the Department.   PeakCare also initiated the collection of feedback from providers of these services to further inform our discussions with the Department about the new program description.

Now known as “intensive foster care” in preference to “specialist foster care”, the “intensive foster care program description” was approved earlier this year, and is now available on the Department’s website

Also available on the same page are the literature review and consultation report that informed the development of the program description.

The program description provides a definition of intensive foster care and sets out the requirements for the delivery of this program.  In summary, intensive foster care is described as a program offering placements and intensive support for children and young people in out-of-home care who require therapeutic support for complex and extreme levels of needs.  Children or young people are placed in the home of an approved foster or kinship carer (or provisionally approved carer), with intensive support provided to the placement by a non-government intensive foster care service.

The core components of the program detailed within the program description include:

  • a therapeutic focus for service provision
  • the conduct of intensive case management for each child or young person
  • a clearly articulated teamwork approach to caring for the child or young person
  • additional training requirements for carers of intensive foster care placements, and
  • a clear process for determining whether a carer is suited to providing intensive foster care placements

Click here to read more

TRAMP Update

Drumroll please!

Julie and Miff here at TRAMP HQ are excited to announce that tickets to The Disappearance Project at the Judith Wright Centre are on sale now!

The Helpmann Award-winning ensemble (This Kind of Ruckus) version 1.0 comes to the Judith Wright Centre this July with their extraordinary production The Disappearances Project.  Exploring the effects of long-term missing persons cases on family members and communities drawn from years of police investigations and research, The Disappearances Project looks at what happens to the “left-behind.’

Do they hope or do they grieve?  How do they navigate their everyday existence?  Version 1.0 quietly traces the edges of this void, shedding light on the emotional journeys of those left behind.

As many of you will know, Julie’s research was utilised in the crafting of this script and the production promises to be a unique and moving experience.

Here’s what the critics are saying:

“The Disappearances Project is a compelling piece of theatre, unorthodox enough to generate unwavering interest yet believable enough to be deeply relatable. In the final blackout, the fraction of a second’s hesitation before applause signified the audience’s lingering entrenchment before surfacing for breath. There’s no substitute for witnessing genuinely original live theatre; what a privilege!”

Courtney J Pascoe, aussietheatre.com

“This is far from a bleak production, despite its painful subject. I can’t recall an hour in the theatre going by more quickly, driven by the poetry of the text, the quality of the performances and the sounds and images in which they are framed”.

David Zampatti, The West Australian

Click here to purchase tickets from the Judith Wright Centre

Tickets range in price from $25 (student) to $35 (full price), for evening performances on 3rd, 5th and 6th July with a matinee performance on the 4th July.

Alternatively, our event coordinators at e-Kiddna are offering the purchase of tickets via their website.

We would love it if you’d join us for our VIP event which coincides with the official opening night of The Disappearances Project on Thursday 5th July.  Even if you’re not attending the Missing People Conference, you can still purchase a $55 VIP ticket to the conference social event which includes:

  • your ticket to The Disappearances Project
  • entry into the exclusive VIP event at the Judith Wright Centre Shopfront
  • drinks and light canapés, and
  • optional bus transfers to and from the Logan Campus, Griffith University and the Judith Wright Centre.

Click here to purchase your VIP ticket, or if you’d like to simply purchase a theatre ticket for the reduced group rate of $30

Julie and I would be thrilled to see you there.

More news to follow . . . . . . . . . . .

Miff Trevor

Theatre Raising Awareness of Missing People (T.R.A.M.P.)
Masters of Social Work (Q) student on field placement
Ph: 07 3382 1124 | Email: miff.trevor@griffithuni.edu.au
 www.facebook.com/TheatreRaisingAwarenessofMissingPeople
www.griffith.edu.au/health/school-human-services-social-work/partnerships-collaboration/tramp

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