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Reflections of a Child Safety Service Centre Manager Committed to Listening to Children and Young People is In the Spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 22nd September 2016

Home -> Articles -> 2016 -> September -> Reflections of a Child Safety Service Centre Manager Committed to Listening to Children and Young People is In the Spotlight

Following on from last week’s In the Spotlight, this week we showcase another champion identified through the CREATE Foundation’s Voices in Action project. This project offered an opportunity to hear the perspectives of young people with a care experience in the South West region. They were invited to talk about what experiences and processes work for them and assists their progress and development. They were also encouraged to offer suggestions for improvement or change. Identifying workers passionate about positive life outcomes for children and young people who are focused on involving young people in the decisions that affect their lives was a significant aspect of the Voices in Action project.

Along the Voices in Action journey in the South West region Allyson, the Manager of Toowoomba North Child Safety Service Centre shared her thoughts. Allyson was clear that she believes that children and young people participating in decision making assists them in feeling heard, valued and knowing that they have some sort of control over their lives. “I have a post it note on my computer screen which has a quote on it which I feel strongly about. It says ‘Whatever it takes for as long as it takes, we are here for you. Nothing you can do will make us give up on you’. I really believe that if we are consistent and committed to our children and young people in care, then we can make a difference. We can only do that if we listen to them.”

What Allyson espouses through her practice as the Manager of a Child Safety Service Centre is backed by decades of research. The research about children and young people who have experienced complex issues which include abuse and trauma who are then supported towards their healing speaks overwhelmingly to the essential need for connection in their recovery, healing and overall wellbeing needs. The acknowledgement of the importance of relationships, being heard 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. Research on this topic spans decades.

The pertinence of positive relationships with significant adults and practitioners was strongly highlighted by resilience researcher Norman Garmezy as fostering successful outcomes amongst children and young people experiencing trauma. Following on from his body of research, Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith undertook the most comprehensive research ever in this area. They spent 41 years studying children considered to be at risk due to multiple factors they faced such as violence, substance abuse and mental ill health. They found that the majority of children and young people subject to their research developed personal strengths to overcome barriers. Throughout the course of their research, they made one key observation of the children and young people they researched over time: “Studies have shown that the most resilient youth all had at least one person in their lives who was absolutely crazy about them” (Werner & Smith, 1992).

Hence Allyson’s comments about hanging in there and never giving up are poignant. Allyson is adamant that keeping every child and young person at the centre of every discussion and decision about them is key to successful child protection practice and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people. This is achieved by ensuring relationships are positive and by encouraging children and young people to talk to their Child Safety Officer (CSO) and tell them what they feel, need and want. “This is encouraged even if young people think their comments may be out of this world” says Allyson.

Young people are invited to case meetings and engaged in conversation each time Allyson or her staff see them. If a child or young person is not in the room at the time they are being discussed Allyson is cognisant that she needs to consistently ask the workers what the child or young person wants and needs.

When considering what her advice to other workers would be with regard to prioritising the participation of children and young people in their care experience and the decisions that impact their lives and wellbeing, Allyson states: “I would ask them: How can you make a decision about that child or young person without them being involved? It would be like someone making a decision about you moving 100 kilometres away, changing jobs and being isolated from your family and friends with no-one talking to you about it first. You would wake up one day and BAM your whole world has changed. Including children and young people in the decision making processes that affect them and their immediate and long term lives and wellbeing needs to be one of their highest priorities.”

Allyson speaks to a success story she has experienced as the Manager of a Child Safety Service Centre: “Through the audit panel process undertaken last year, cases for all children and young people on Long Term Guardian (LTG) orders were put before a panel to ensure that the order was the most appropriate. During these panels I saw many children and young people attend and talk about what they wanted. Some were angry at the Department as they had not felt heard prior to the panels. We were then able to take that feedback on board and adjust how we involve children and young people in decision making. From that point on, we actively asked children and young people how we could have improved their time in care and what we had done well. It was great to hear from young people. They certainly didn’t hold back! This experience reminded me of why I do what I do every day and why it is so important to listen to children and young people as major decisions are made about their lives.”

Allyson’s comments are echoed by the CREATE Foundation’s Community Facilitator Kelly Bucknall. “It is so important that practitioners really hear what children and young people are saying and ensure that they are at the centre of their own care plans, lives and decisions that impact them so significantly. Positive relationships are central to this. Even if a child or young person is told ‘no’ to a request, provided they are given a fair reason as to why, this can be empowering if they are genuinely heard and receive an appropriate response. It is heartening to see improved awareness and the practice of those embracing the vital importance of listening to children and young people.”

For more information, please visit the CREATE Foundation website.

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