My Kids and Me: Strengthening relationships with kids in care

My Kids and Me: Strengthening relationships with kids in care

29 April 2015
My Kids and Me: Strengthening relationships with kids in care

A course for parents whose children have been placed in care that aims to increase reflective functioning and improve family relationships.

My Kids and Me is a seven-week course for parents whose children have been placed in care either permanently or where restoration is part of the case plan. It was developed by CatholicCare Sydney and CatholicCare Wollongong and was evaluated in 2012/13 by the Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia (PDF).

The course aims to increase reflective functioning and improve relationships between parents whose children are in statutory care and their children, carers, caseworkers and other professionals who may be involved. The course is psycho-educational in nature which allows for therapeutic “moments of change”. The course is highly experiential and uses metaphors and imagery to speak about things that are often too painful and difficult to put into words. 

The course covers the following topics:

  • How Did We Get Here – exploring how their situations may have led to community services’ involvement.
  • What’s It Like For You – looking at high emotions such as loss , grief and anger.
  • Looking After Yourself – talking about the importance of self care.
  • Talking and Listening – communication skills, particularly with case workers.
  • The Legal System – a legal aid solicitor comes to explain the Children’s Court system.
  • What’s It Like For Your Kids – assists parents understand how they can support their children through the changes.
  • Where To Now – exploring local future supports such as counselling, parenting groups, etc.

The parents who come to My Kids and Me usually have a history of abuse and trauma. The evaluation utilised data collected over a 12 month period from 7 groups with 38 participants. The majority of referrals had histories of drug and alcohol misuse, domestic violence and mental health concerns. The reasons parents gave for participating in the course were:

  • to improve parenting;
  • to understand their children’s feelings;
  • to manage their children better;
  • to improve themselves; and
  • to have their children restored to them.

The evaluation drew upon the qualitative data available as part of the sessions; these included brainstorm sessions, a weekly self-reflection tool, photos of creative work done during the session, as well as pre and post questionnaires, evaluations and a facilitator focus group. A six month telephone follow-up was conducted by the researchers using a random selection of the participants.

At the follow up, parents reported feeling supported; something they hadn’t experienced previously. They felt that My Kids and Me was motivating, educational and that the legal information was useful. They said that they didn’t feel embarrassed to ask questions, and remarked that the facilitators were knowledgeable and understanding. They said they learnt self-control, to stay positive and to believe in themselves. The following quotes from participants sum up the learnings generally reported.

"I am different since completing MKM. My child returned and I am being straight, dealing with my own feelings, I was taught to be kind to myself. Learnt about paths so my decisions are clearer; I can choose to change direction and know what’s going to happen."

"I have learnt to take time to reflect and appreciate all the good/positive goals you have achieved during the time your baby’s been in care, also I’ve learnt more communication skills, how to deal with sad emotions before turning angry and erupting and also emotions, especially with young kids/babies."

In 2014 the My Kids and Me course was awarded the Norma Parker Award for Most Innovative New Program by Catholic Social Services Australia, and in early 2015 it achieved Silver program endorsement by the Institute of Group Leaders (IGL).

The My Kids and Me course is currently available across different sites in metropolitan Sydney, Wollongong, Nowra, Newcastle and the Hunter, the far north coast of NSW, Melbourne, Ballarat and Warrnambool in Victoria.  Facilitator training courses are available.

Download the evaluation report (PDF)

For further information contact Angharad Candlin at angharad.candlin@catholiccare.org  or 02 9509 1111.

Feature image: Zoe Silhouette, CC BY-NC 2.0.

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Authors

Angharad Candlin

Angharad Candlin is a psychologist and the Coordinator of the Parent Education Program at CatholicCare Sydney.

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