Children in out-of-home care need investment in carers
Building carers’ capacity and confidence is critical to keeping children safe and settled in out-of-home care, our experts told the Child Aware 2019 conference in Brisbane.
Director of Policy and Practice Annette Michaux and Practice Design Specialist Catherine Murphy said carer-child relationships that helped children heal and enhanced their development were at the heart of successful out-of-home care placements.
But to provide this level of parenting, carers need the right skills, resources and confidence.
Where coaching comes in
“We know carers come with many skills but we also know their role can be stressful; they regularly face complex challenges,” Ms Murphy told the conference, held by Families Australia.
“This is where active coaching when working with carers comes in. Adopting this model supports carers to develop, building their confidence and competence. But for coaching to be effective, practitioners who work with them need to form collaborative, trusting and intentional relationships.”
A new practice framework
Ms Murphy outlined how this way of working was a central plank in the new practice framework we have developed. We have done this together with leading children’s services provider Key Assets.
The framework was built using our PracticeWorks method – a flexible new way of making evidence-based practice a reality when working with children and families.
“The the key principles of supporting adult behavior change underpin the approach,” Ms Murphy said.
“But making change is hard, it requires effort. And supporting people to make those changes, no matter how important they are, can be challenge too. What we’ve aimed to do with this work is unpack not just the theory behind how to support change, but the process – the ‘how to’. We are zoning in what social workers and other practitioners can do to support this change process.”
Turning what works into common practice
Ms Michaux told the audience that to improve outcomes, the out-of-home care system needed to turn what we know works for all children into common practice in out-of-home care.
“Carers are key influences and potential change agents for their children,” she said. “This is whether they have a direct effect, a buffering effect or a modifying effect. And it makes them natural and logical partners in any effort to improve child outcomes.”
“If we’re serious about changing outcomes for children at greatest risk, supporting carers to provide nurturing care has to be a key strategy.”
Evaluating new service reforms
Parenting Research Centre Principal Research Specialist Dr Catherine Wade also addressed the conference. Dr Wade detailed our evaluation work on two key elements of government service reform to improve outcomes for children in out-of-home care.
Results from our evaluation of the Queensland Government’s Intensive Family Support Service show that the service has reduced rates of escalation to child protection from 12% to 7%. The service was introduced after the 2013 Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry as part of a raft of reforms. This noted reports to Child Safety had tripled in the previous 10 years.
In NSW, early results from our evaluation of the LINKS Trauma Healing Service show a high level of satisfaction among staff and carers. The service is part of the NSW Government’s Their Futures Matter reforms. These are designed to improve outcomes for vulnerable children, young people and their families.