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A Child Safety Officer's relections on young peoples' involvement in decision making is In the Spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 16th September 2016

Home -> Articles -> 2016 -> September -> A Child Safety Officer's relections on young peoples' involvement in decision making is In the Spotlight

For almost a year the CREATE Foundation has been undertaking the Voices in Action project in the South West region. This project offers an opportunity to hear from young people with a care experience about their perceptions of care, what worked well for them and the areas they noted that could be improved. Young people have made suggestions for change. As part of Voices in Action workers passionate about young people being involved in the decisions that impact their lives and prepared to champion this work were identified.

During the Voices in Action journey in the South West region, CREATE staff met Vishal. Vishal is a Child Safety Officer working in Roma’s Child Safety Service Centre in remote South West Queensland. He primarily works with children who are already in out of home care. He previously worked in child protection in Carnarvon, Western Australia before returning to Queensland. “I have three beautiful children of my own and a lovely wife who spends a lot of her time looking after them. I work with an amazing bunch of people, including foster carers, support workers and other agency workers who work really hard to give young people the best possible experience of foster care that they can” said Vishal.

Vishal identifies the participation of young people in the decisions and planning about their care and their futures as central to his practice. “I believe that we are truly experts in our own lives. Without the young person participating in these decisions, that expertise, knowledge and lived experience is completely lost in the process. How can we, as statutory officers, understand what young people need or want if they are not involved in the process of decision making?”

A significant amount of his time is spent explaining complex departmental and systemic processes to young people to assist them in their understanding of the system. “Whilst I never force anyone to participate, I make every effort to break down any barriers stopping the young person from participating and I usually find confidence to speak up one of the first issues we have to overcome. If a young person does participate in decisions or processes, I do whatever I can to ensure that they get something extra from that process to ensure that they are rewarded for their courage and bravery.”

Vishal has advice for other front line practitioners who understand the complexities of the system and the difficulties young people experience in engaging with practitioners and the process in general. He asserts that young people’s participation is key and it is essential to keep making offers and attempts at engagement with young people. “I would say just keep trying. Keep turning up, even if you get told to go away. Be ready for what can happen when a young person starts to participate. Sometimes it doesn’t go as planned and can appear to have failed in the short term. Sometimes young people need the opportunity to express their frustration and anger about a decision that hasn’t gone their way. Think about your discussions when decisions don’t go your way and how you process that information with team leaders and colleagues. It’s the same thing for young people, just that you might be the only person in their life where it is safe for them to offload these feelings. Be ready to take it and help the young person through it.”

Vishal sees the engagement of young people as a journey through a complex system with young people who often find the system confusing and have prior experiences of not being heard. Most have also had decisions made on their behalf without being genuinely consulted. These experiences amongst other disappointments can lead to a lack of belief in the positive opportunities for speaking out and believing they will be heard. Hanging in there whilst understanding what young people have experienced whilst also acknowledging their prior frustrations is important. When practitioners are tenacious and understand the checkered experiences of young people, engagement is absolutely within their reach.

“I am proud to say I currently have young people attending case plan meetings, attending court proceedings and also attending and completing training opportunities with organisations like CREATE so they can learn to tell their stories and have their voices heard. They can also become an advocate for other young people in the system. In particular, I have had a young person attend court and speak directly with a Magistrate on multiple occasions. Through this process the young person has been successful in having the Magistrate make some decisions and receive support for things they might not have received without their participation.”

CREATE Foundation’s Community Facilitator Kelly Bucknall is delighted that practitioners are so prepared to engage with young people: “CREATE is super pumped to have practitioners willing to be participation champions for young people to further advocate for children and young people in care.”

For further information about the CREATE Foundation go to www.create.org.au

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