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Connection for children and young people is In the Spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 31st March 2016

Home -> Articles -> 2016 -> March -> Connection for children and young people is In the Spotlight

The vast majority of professionals who work with children and young people understand and acknowledge the power of connection. The importance of connectedness in building resilience, assisting healing and ensuring long term wellbeing is well known. Furthermore this is not a new concept. It is decades old.

Whilst so many in our sector understand this construct and the importance for children and young people being connected to family, kin, culture and community, it is perplexing to understand why so many children and young people in the care system note a disconnect with those they either identify as persons with whom they feel connected or are connected to due to familial or cultural relationships.

Last year a G-Force member and CREATE Foundation (CREATE) Young Consultant raised the issue of connection at a G-Force meeting. She noted the vital importance for children and young people remaining connected throughout their time in care and as they transitioned from care to independence. In unison with this young person, G-Force members including the numerous young people involved agreed that the common denominator in ensuring positive life outcomes for children and young people in care appeared to be the degree to which they experienced connectedness with others in their lives. As such, G-Force members decided to hold the Staying Connected Forum.

G-Force is a state wide working group comprising government and non-government agencies across the child protection continuum. Chaired by CREATE, young people are directly and indirectly involved in lending their voices and sharing their experiences about issues pertaining to children and young people in the Queensland Child Protection out of home care system.

The G-Force Staying Connected Forum aimed to delve into the issues of connection as raised by G-Force members. Key stakeholders and forum participants were then asked how they viewed connection, what they saw as the barriers to connection and how the sector may collectively overcome such barriers to ensure that those within the Queensland Child Protection system can truly understand and respond to children and young people with regard to their essential need for connection.

The Staying Connected Forum Master of Ceremonies Julia, a CREATE Young Consultant and member of G-Force stated:It is widely accepted that part of ensuring the health and wellbeing of children and young people, whether they are in care or not, is about ensuring they remain ‘connected’ to positive people, family or communities. In reality connection can be easier said than done for children and young people in care, especially when we consider research from the Carmody Report (Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection, June 2013) which shows that of those who have been in care for 5 or more years, 34 percent have experienced 6 or more placements“. Julia further stated that: “Policies and legislation can sometimes get in the way of the best intentions, making young people feel disconnected”.

Connectedness to others may come in various forms, through many avenues both expected and unexpected as often cited both by young people involved with G-Force and through research and practitioner wisdom. It has become clear over the past few decades that those who offered a sense of acceptance and positive interaction and a desire to stay and ‘hang in there’ with children and young people have made a significant difference to the wellbeing of children and young people. Lucas Moore, Chair of G-Force and CREATE’s Queensland State Coordinator is clear about the role of this group and the importance of connection: “G-Force aims to share knowledge, practice, linkages and advice to practitioners and policy makers. Participation of children, young people and professionals in the child protection system is vital to ensuring that children and young people have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Highlighting the importance of connections for children and young people was a significant process for G-Force in resourcing and supporting the sector’s input and learning through the Staying Connected Forum.

Research spanning decades as well as practitioner wisdom echoed what young people had been saying so clearly – that children and young people can thrive when they are genuinely connected to family, kin, community or significant others such as carers, professionals or community members to whom children and young people are attached. Research noted during the Staying Connected Forum and in the subsequent report highlights that resilience and healing comes from connection – those who ‘hang in there’ with children and young people, go the distance, endure the ‘testing’ born of distress and mistrust and never give up. This factor is of paramount significant when addressing trauma and abuse.

Whilst children and young people may experience difficulties, the role of the practitioners, carers and other significant people in their lives is to understand their behaviours and even appreciate their behaviours as a roadmap to the intervention required. Behaviours exhibited by traumatised children and young people is the greatest indicator of what they need. Professionals and carers in the sector are well placed to acknowledge the importance of such behaviours and require support in analysing and addressing pain based behaviours that demonstrate a need.

Caitlin, a G-Force member and CREATE Young Consultant committed to connection for children and young people states:Highlighting connection and really promoting the need for children and young people to be connected in meaningful ways is really important. The positive impact on children and young people with a care experience who are connected to others seems so obvious to me. Yet it isn’t often given priority in decisions made about them. That’s why I thought this forum and report was so important. Connection needs to be a major consideration, not something that is seen as a nice idea.

When practitioners and supportive persons remain cognisant of the holistic needs of children and young people as they work through the processes necessary for their growth and development and remain solid in their capacity to provide support; healing, recovery and long term wellbeing become an absolute possibility. The Staying Connected Report aims to draw together the experiences of children and young people and practice wisdom highlighted during the Staying Connected Forum. Drawing from the shared experiences, insights and solutions developed, the report makes recommendations for policy, practice and legislation that enables holistic connections for children and young people in care.

All groups partaking in the Staying Connected Forum noted the paramount importance of connection whilst also stating that connection comes in many forms and involves many individuals and groups in society. All connection is significant and potentially life affirming and transforming for children and young people in out of home care.

The acknowledgement of the importance of relationships and connectedness for children and young people for whom trauma has been a significant factor in their lives and viewing this factor as pertinent for those in care is not new. Action to address this issue requires no further research or practitioner wisdom, it requires attention to the need for connection in all facets of life and interventions for children and young people in care.

Click here to read the Staying Connected Forum Summary Report

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