A small number is in residential care or living in hotel rooms because a carer cannot be found for them, or all the placement options available have been exhausted. Put simply, this means that they have often been moved from placement to placement.
Pause for a moment and think about what a Safe Home for Life means to you. I had a stable home to go to every day after school. The people in that home loved me and wanted me there, even when I was having a bad day. My home was safe − no-one was going to hurt me or abuse me and there would be enough food to eat. Sadly, for many children and young people, this is not reality.
Now imagine that you are a young child who has been removed from your home and family because it was unsafe to remain there. You are placed with strangers, possibly separated from your siblings and you have no idea how long it will be before you go home, if ever. This probably means that you have to leave your friends, change schools and adjust to a different way of life. You may feel anxious, angry and scared and so you may act up. Sometimes the placement is not sustainable and a new home needs to be found.
According to a 2010 AFIS study into the average number of placements for children in care, “40% of the sample had between two and five placements, 14% had between six and 10 placements and 32% had moved between placements more than 11 times.” Multiple placement breakdowns are associated with poor outcomes for children in care. This group is grossly over-represented in terms of unemployment, teen pregnancy, drug use, incarceration, poor mental health and youth suicide. This group is also much more likely to have children taken into care. It is tragic that these children, who have already experienced loss and hardship, should have to endure yet more when they leave the system.
The Safe Home for Life reforms aim to address these issues. One of the main areas of change is the Permanency Planning Principles. These principles outline the need to place an urgent focus on identifying a long-term, stable placement for children when they are taken into care. The principles dictate that the first placement option to be explored is restoration to the child’s parents or family. This process often requires intensive support to ensure that the home environment is safe for the child to return. In many Out Of Home Care (OOHC) services, this intensive support work is beyond the capacity of already overloaded caseworkers.
To address this issue, CatholicCare Social Services initiated its Family Restorations Project. The project sits within CatholicCare’s Early Intervention portfolio, separate from OOHC. The purpose of the Family Restorations team is to provide intensive support to the families of origin, where Family and Community Services have identified family reunification as a viable option. Families are assisted with understanding the legal process and are provided with support to aid them in meeting the minimum outcomes for restoration as outlined by Family and Community Services and the Children’s Court.
Over the past eight months the Restorations Team, in close partnership with OOHC, has identified a need for this same support to be offered to extended family members who are interested in assuming care for these vulnerable children when their parents are unable to do so. This aligns with the Permanency Planning Principles and maintains a strong focus on achieving the best possible outcomes for children in care by allowing more children to stay with their family. This is especially important for our children and young people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities, where a connection to culture is vital in supporting the child to maintain his/her sense of identity, belonging and security.
Providing intensive support to families in a timely manner aids in reducing the time a child spends in care. This in turn leads to better outcomes for the child, the family and our community. CatholicCare will continue to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of the children in our care by constantly monitoring and improving our service to ensure we support as many children as possible in attaining their Safe Home for Life.
We have also set up a separate project at CatholicCare specifically designed to offer in home intensive parenting support for Carers. The Sinergie program can support carers (new or old) to implement strategies and routines or to help people understand the effect trauma has on child development and behaviour.
Our mission is to help build a “stronger, fairer and kinder society”. One of the ways we do that at CatholicCare is by walking in another person’s shoes – no matter what size those shoes are.
If you are interested in providing a short or long-term Safe Home for a child or young person, we would love to hear from you. Please P 4979 1120.