Audio transcript: Learning from the experiences of parents with children in care

Return to CFCA webinar - 23 August 2017

Audio transcript (edited)

Hunter

Good afternoon everybody and welcome to today's webinar, Learning from the experiences of parents with children in care. My name is Cathryn Hunter and I'm a research fellow and co-manager of the CFCA information exchange here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.  I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet.  In Melbourne, the traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and to the Elders from other communities who may be participating today.

This webinar will explore the experiences of parents with children in out-of-home care and outline practical strategies for family inclusion in the interests of children.  Firstly, some housekeeping details.  One of the core functions of the CFCA information exchange is to share knowledge.  So I would like to invite everyone to submit questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar.  We will respond to your questions at the end of the presentation.  We would also like you to continue the conversation we begin here today.  To facilitate this, we've set up a forum on our website where you can discuss the ideas and issues raised, submit additional questions for our presenters and access related resources.

We will send you a link to the forum at the end of today's presentation.  As you leave the webinar, a short survey will open in a new window; we would appreciate your feedback.  Please remember that this webinar is being recorded and the audio transcript and slides will be made available on our website and YouTube channels soon.  It is now my pleasure to introduce today's presenters:  Teegan, Jessica, Felicity, and Lynette.

Teegan Bain is a co-founder of Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter Inc [FISH] – a parent and worker collaboration to promote family inclusion in child welfare.  She is the mother of five children, including one child in long-term care.  She is a regular speaker and group facilitator on the topic of family inclusion and its importance to children.  Teegan is the first parent peer worker to be employed by an out-of-home care agency in Australia – Life Without Barriers.  She is a strong advocate for parents to have a voice within the system and to help them navigate ways to maintain relationships with their children.

Jessica Cocks is a social worker and researcher with over 25 years' experience in child and family practice including out-of-home care. She is the national practice lead for children, young people and families at Life Without Barriers and has a particular interest in practice and research that is inclusive of families.  She has recently been awarded a 2016 Churchill Fellowship to research family inclusion in child welfare in the USA, Canada, Norway and the UK. Jessica is a co-founder of FISH.

Felicity Kime is a co-founder of FISH and was a consultant with the research team. She is the mother of four children including two daughters now restored to her care, a son who was never removed and one son who remains in long term care.  Felicity’s experience has given her a profound understanding of the struggles parents experience when dealing with the child protection system. Felicity is a regular speaker and facilitator with groups and at events on the topic of family inclusion and is dedicated to systemic change in the interests of children.

Lynette Stoker is a social worker and academic with over 25 years' experience in child and family practice, including out-of-home care. She is a lecturer at the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle.  Lynette is also a co-founder of FISH and, along with other FISH members, has undertaken a range of projects to build and promote family inclusive practice. Lynette is particularly interested in ensuring children’s voices are central and in creating change to enable greater participation by children, including better relationships with parents and family. Please join me in giving Teegan, Jessica, Felicity, and Lynette a very warn virtual welcome.

Cocks

Thank you.  Before we begin, we'd also like to acknowledge country and we're all here in Newcastle, at the University of Newcastle today and we want to acknowledge the Awabakal people, as well as other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country.  We want to acknowledge their suffering and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to suffer from the policies and practices of the child protection system in Australia.  We also acknowledge all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations who may be represented during this session, and pay our respects to all Elders past and present, as well as to any individual and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be with us today. 

Stoker

We thought we'd just introduce ourselves.  So my name's Lyn Stoker.

Bain

Teegan Bain.

Kime

Felicity Kime.

Cocks

And I'm Jessica Cocks.

Stoker

Okay, so today what we'd like to do is give you a little bit of background information, especially in relation to the research that we did in the Hunter Valley recently.  That would include looking at some of the themes that came from that research and talk a little bit about our report:  No Voice, No Opinion, Nothing.  Then we want to actually have a bit more conversation about FISH, what we're doing and we'd like to – we will be chatting to Felicity and Teegan to hear from them their experiences.  So that's our sort of structure for today.

Cocks

Okay.  So just to start the presentation off, we're just going to give you some background about why research and practice initiatives are important in family inclusion and why here.  

The Hunter Valley has one of the highest rates of children in care in Australia.  We also have high child abuse substantiation rates; these high rates can partly reflect the fact that we have a number of regional and rural areas in the Hunter Valley, where the rates of children in care are more than twice those of metropolitan areas.  The reasons for the disparities in the way rates of children in care occur in Australia are not clear, but are likely to be complex and reflect social and structural disadvantage and policy and practice issues.

For example, we know of no particular evidence that parenting skills in the Hunter Valley are inherently worse than elsewhere.  Because of the high and growing number of children in care, our organisation Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter was established by concerned parents and workers in 2014.  This coalition of parents and workers has had a relatively big impact on the Hunter Valley in a short time.  FISH receives no government funding and we now charge fees for services to agencies in order to pay parent consultants and continue our work in family inclusion.

We do urgently need funding to continue to grow and make a difference.  The evidence in support of respectful family engagement in order to promote positive outcomes for children, including high rates of restoration, is growing.  Yet the lived experience of parents and families and children suggest anecdotally and in some previous research, that this evidence is not being used in practice.  In our research project, we wanted to explore parents’ experiences and learn from them what would be helpful in their interactions with the child protection system.

There was also interesting research in this topic from researchers from three faculties in the university, which I'm told is quite a remarkable achievement; from the School of Law, Social Work, and from Health Sciences, as well as from Life Without Barriers, a large NGO doing child welfare work.  The opportunity to collaborate in innovative research like this rarely presents itself and the research team members were keen to take advantage of it and to work with parent consultants.

Stoker

We also wanted to make note that this work is not only being increasingly evidenced by the research but it's also completely consistent with the current policy directions and practice directions found at national and state-wide level.  From a national perspective, we've got the overview provided by the National Framework for Protecting Children and in the current three-year plan, we'd argue that family inclusion meets each of the three objectives.  So, it helps in early intervention. What we know is that parents who have had children removed often go on to have more children.  And so if we're really serious about providing early intervention, then we need to be supporting parents whether their children are with them or not.

Secondly, the second objective is about helping young people in out-of-home care to thrive into adulthood and, again, increasing research says that the more and better quality relationships that children have while they're in care, helps them to build and create positive relationship when they're adults.  And that's one of the major indicators of improved outcomes for children, especially for children in care.  And I guess thirdly about organisations responding better to children and young people to keep them safe; very recently almost currently, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses have also identified family involvement is a quality or attribute of child-safe organisations.

Again, the more relationships that children have while they're in care, the safer they are.  And that parents continue to be advocates for children, even if they're not living at home.  And, of course, at the state level, we've just given a couple of examples there; in New South Wales the Care and Protection Practice Framework; in Western Australia, Signs of Safety; there's a number of programs that are being implemented around the country that are all advocating and identifying that improved family inclusion will provide better outcomes for children in care.

Cocks

Okay. So we're going talk a little bit more in detail about the research project which is called No Voice, No Opinion, Nothing.  The research addressed the questions that you see on the slide; the intention was to gather rich data about parents' experiences around key processes that I'm sure some of you listening are familiar with, such as child removal, the experience of being engaged in service delivery, of legal services, family contact arrangements, and other processes that parents are exposed to when their children are removed.

Lyn touched on this earlier but sometimes we're asked why were we interested in finding out if parents were supported to look after other or future children?  After all, parents with children in care have been assessed as not able to safely care for at least one child.  And sometimes we get responses about how, if parents have been assessed that way, it implies that they don't or won't care for children.  In fact, a significant number of parents in our study continue to care for children at home, despite having children in care and we also knew from our practice that many parents who have children removed go on to have more children.  And it's not actually all that uncommon for parents to have one child removed while retaining the care of other children.

We were really keen to understand if parents had support for this ongoing parenting role in relation to other children, when at least one child had been seen to be at such high risk while in their care that they had to be removed.  Finally, we were interested in the experience of family inclusion, whether parents felt included in their children's lives and in the processes that we've described.

Stoker

Okay.  So Teegan and Felicity who have been working in their role as FISH leaders, I should say volunteering in a role as FISH leaders, were engaged by the research team to be consultants from a number of perspectives; certainly to help us work out the methodology and the approach, but also to make sure the questions were structured and were sensible and understandable, that language was more likely to reflect parents' experiences.  And both Teegan and Felicity were involved in the focus groups and talking with parents and hearing parents' stories.  Teegan, we might turn to you; can you tell us what it was like to be a consultant in this research?

Bain

For me it was one of the first times that I actually felt my lived experience was valued.  That my experience of having a child removed, I had something to offer people like researchers or workers and that was quite new for me.  During the process, we were able to provide feedback on the questions in the way that questions sometimes seem – like from the researchers, sorry researchers – seemed a little bit condescending. Like when they were being asked as a parent I may have taken it the wrong way.  So some of the questions were re-worded and I felt valued in that respect.  

Also during the focus groups, I could actually see that myself being there once explaining to the parents that I was a parent that had a child in care, that put them at ease and they would often look to me when they were answering questions like, you know, did this happen to you too? It sort of created – it felt less isolating, I guess, for me and then I could see that it was like that for the other parents as well.

Stoker

Okay, thanks.  So Jess, just a little bit about the methodology?

Cocks

Okay, just a little bit.  We won't go on about the methodology and just a quick work on recruitment. Parents were recruited using a range of methods.  The research team felt that recruitment might be challenging and it was a little bit challenging.  

Initially, we focussed on recruiting parents through the agencies that we felt would have contact with them, which were out-of-home care agencies.  We thought this would be a reliable way of recruiting parents because there are over 20 such agencies in the Hunter Valley, looking after several thousand children.  

Unfortunately, this recruitment method was not terribly successful with only around four parents recruited this way.  The majority of parents were recruited by the FISH Facebook page and associated sharing on social media ,or through local NGO family support services, some of whom had started to run group programs, particularly for this group of parents.  Essentially, the research is qualitative and we gathered our data using focus groups and interviews and that's what this presentation is focussed on.  

We did collect some demographic and other information and this was collected at the commencement of interviews and genograms were drawn to help researchers conduct the interviews in context, as well as build rapport, and get knowledge of the relevant family situation.  And just very briefly, we'll touch on the demographics so that you've got some idea of the parent participants.  We interviewed 18 parents which represented 15 families in total because it included three couples.  Eight parents went on to take part in focus groups.

Eight of the parents were caring for children at home, which is actually more than half the families interviewed, while also having children in care.  There were around 50 children of parents represented in the study altogether, including 34 children who had been removed.  27 children remained in care at the time of the research, 6 of those kids have been restored, and one had aged out of care.  So I think it's safe to say that it's quite a contemporary piece of research and reflects current practice.

Family contact arrangements varied substantially; from no contact between parents and children to very regular and informal contact.  For some parents, they were currently seeing their children weekly or fortnightly but had been told that contact would be substantially decreasing once final orders were made.  Most parents were having their time with their children supervised or had previously had supervised arrangements.

Stoker

In our report, we've collected, collated the comments and discussions into a series of themes and we thought we would look quickly at each of these themes.  What probably the most important information we got from this was that essentially parents’ experience is that the policy and practice intent of relationship and strengths-based practice was not actually what was in place.  And we also as part of the research asked parents how we thought this could be improved, how the service could be improved and – so we'll come back and talk about that at the – later on in the presentation.  Just now, we'll have a look at those themes.

Cocks

Okay, so we'll start with power and inclusion; there's quotes on the slide which I'll get you to read and reflect on while I talk.  While power and inclusion is presented in the data in the research project as a single theme, it really applies across all themes and all parents' experiences.  Parents described very limited opportunities to take part in the legal and administrative processes that took place after their children had been removed, and found these processes restrictive and exclusive, very complicated, and difficult to understand.

Parents repeatedly and overwhelmingly experienced disempowerment when their children were removed.  Parents described a deficit focus which little or no ability to get their strengths acknowledged, either for them or their children.  They described the power of the written word; it was very hard to challenge or change what had been written down even if what had been written down was false.  For example, one parent said she was continually described as having an intellectual disability, when this was not the case.

Parents described lies, trickery, and deception, including being deceived during removal processes; a lack of clarity and consistency in expectations and requirements, and they often simply did not know what was going on in court and in service systems.

Stoker

One of the things that we observed was that a number of parents talked about being caught between a rock and a hard place, or damned if you do, damned if you don't and, so we've kind of tried to capture some of those thoughts as catch-22s.  So, you can see there some examples; a lot of parents said they couldn't – they had extreme reactions, for example, in terms of their emotions but that the expectation was that they should manage that and not be angry and not be too sad and not be too upset.  On the other hand, if they didn't display enough emotion, then they were seen as cold and uncaring.  So it's just one of the few examples that they gave us and we will – in the resource section that we've given you as resource list we're giving you at the end of this presentation, we've got a link directly to this report so you can look this up.

Cocks

Okay, so the next theme is professional relationships and relating.  Again, there's a number of quotes on the slide that reflect parents' experiences.  Parents described little evidence of partnership approaches from out-of-home care agencies.  They did experience better – have a better experience with other family support type agencies.  They described not getting help to solve the problems that led to children being removed and not receiving help to access services.  Sometimes they were told about services, but very rarely were they helped to access them.  

They described having little or no involvement in decisions and case planning. They described power-laden relationships with carers and challenges maintaining constructive parent-carer relationships.  Their legal representation felt to parents that it was fragmented and aside or apart from the service system, but was also sometimes the place where parents received useful information and experienced kindness.  There was very good feedback about group programs which connected them to other parents and to caring workers and helped parents navigate their relationships with the department and other out-of-home care agencies.

Losing children can be a very isolating experience and improving access to group work support and other parents with similar experiences is an important practice implication arising from this research.  Parents frequently sought relationships with carers; some had never met the carers of their children and for some, this was multiple carers over time.  Many parents felt judged by carers and some described carers seeking to prevent family inclusion and restoration.  

Parents placed an extremely high value on feeling respected and acknowledged by carers. Some parents expressed considerable concern and worry about the quality of care their children were receiving but felt powerless to address these issues because of the inequalities in their relationships with carers and agencies.  And another key practice implication from this research is the need and opportunity to work in ways that build relationships between carers and parents.

Stoker

Parents talked to us about the difficulty they had maintaining relationship with their children.  They recognised that the trauma that the children experienced just from the removal process was sometimes extreme and there didn't seem to be a way that this could've been managed better and generally, was seen to be almost cruel in approach.  Parents talked to us about how difficult it was to maintain any kind of relationship; that there didn't seem to be a serious intent from agencies about maintaining and strengthening relationships for kids;  and certainly parents who had had kids restored said that they felt – that that was the time when they really needed extra help and support which was rarely forthcoming.

Cocks

Okay, the fourth theme was grief and loss, which I'm sure doesn't surprise anybody and it's certainly a finding that the research team anticipated.  However, despite widespread recognition of this aspect of parent experiences in the literature, parents in this study did not experience that acknowledgement and recognition from practitioners of their trauma, grief and loss.  Along with that, they described a misinterpretation of the behaviour and emotions that accompany grief, which we've touched on already.  They described a need and appreciation when it was provided of kind and patient support to process emotions, and they described a need for emotional support after spending time with their children.

Saying goodbye to your children after a contact visit can be pretty tough.  This was accompanied by a feeling of exclusion and social stigma.  Parents often had little or no support from others. However, when parents had the opportunity to engage with caring professionals, they found this very helpful.  Several parents found support, mostly from non-government agencies, but they did tend to find this on their own; they did their own help seeking.  When parents were actively and warmly assisted to find services, they found this very helpful.

Stoker

Parents talked about their identity as parents; they see themselves as parents, whether or not they're living with their children, whether or not, even, they’re having contact with their children.  And as parents, they see themselves as advocates for their children, although often feeling conflicted and confused and not sure about how they can be parents and how to manage that relationship and not really getting any assistance or guidance on that. 

Cocks

Okay, so the next part of the presentation, we're going to talk further about family inclusion through the emerging work of FISH and tell you a little bit more about what we do.  FISH is an alliance of parents with children in care or with a care experience, and workers with many combined years of experience in child protection and out-of-home care.  

FISH was formed in 2014 following a successful family inclusion practice forum.  The report arising from this practice forum is on the FISH website and is called "Building Better Relationships."  Check it out if you're interested because it provides a good background for FISH and the beginnings of building momentum around family inclusion in the Hunter.

FISH is also part of a broader network called the Family Inclusion Network of Australia, which has member organisations around the country.  The photo on this slide is of some members of the current FISH Management Committee; the Committee is currently made up of four social workers with past and current experience in child protection and four parents with lived experience of child removal.  We're committed to parents being at least 50 per cent of our leadership.  Our parent-leaders currently interact with out-of-home care agencies and the department to some extent in their parenting role and their experiences are contemporary reflections of what happens now.  Our parent-leaders all regularly speak and consult with out-of-home care agencies at conferences and parents groups.

Stoker

So, Felicity, you volunteer with FISH and you talk to lots of parents from Newcastle and, in fact, we've got – we had a project to talk to parents from other states as well.  What have you noticed about the other parents' experience compared to yours?

Kime

I guess the biggest thing that I've noticed that is everything's pretty much the same, you know and that's really sad as my story starts back at six years ago.  So to hear the challenges I had six years ago to people having them today and it's still a very big challenge, you know, it's very sad.  Contact is all very similar to how much of a struggle it is, how unnatural the surroundings are, going to court is difficult and especially feeling alone; that's all the same.

Stoker

Okay, so lots of similar experiences?

Kime

Yes.

Stoker

These photos are just some photos from when we launched our website; we had a little ceremony and invited some parents and in fact, some children to come and officially launch our website.  The link is in the material that we'll provide you afterwards.  Teegan, why is the website important for parents?  What sort of information and advice would've helped you when your son was removed from your care?

Bain

The biggest thing that when my son was removed was the lack of information; I didn't know what to do next, where to go, even to contact a solicitor straight away.  My son was removed at birth and I was highly emotional, not just from the birth but the removal process.  So I just didn't know what to do next and I felt like there was nothing immediately available.  So, the idea of the website came – a couple of parents – we were talking about putting together a pack and then we were like “hang on, we could put this together even more so”.  

So the website is basically a one-stop shop for parents by parents.  So our parent-leaders regularly look on that and make sure that it's relevant to what would've helped us and we check with other families whether it's helpful for them.  But it's also relevant for our local area; so it's Hunter-based but it can also be relevant for other areas I guess.  The generic information is definitely relevant and it either provides direct links or direct information that will help parents in the removal process - right from the very beginning:  "My child's been removed" to "I'm not in restoration" to "What next with contact?” or “ideas for contact"; it's literally – we are trying for it to be a one-stop shop.

Stoker

Okay. So, Felicity, one of things that you and Teegan and the other parents do is talk to workers from government and non-government settings and you always get a really positive response from those sessions; why do you think it's so important that workers and carers hear from parents?

Kime

You know, my answer is really simple; it's really important for them and other people to hear that parents with children in care are humans and that we make mistakes like any other human being.  And it's just not a situation; there's a story behind the circumstances and at the end of the day, we're humans, we're no different to the next person in the room.

Stoker

The other thing you've said to me before is about stories changing - so parents are kind of recorded as one thing, but actually change, develop, grow, learn and I think one of the responses we get from workers is, from all of your stories, is to see how much you've changed and grown over time.

Kime

Yes and hearing workers say that to us parents when we're presenting, that's really great that we get some feedback and we get to hear that people can see that we can change and we are still changing.

Stoker

Teegan, we also have been incredibly fortunate in some ways, as you've been able to get a position with one of the agencies as a peer support worker, which is completely consistent with the work that you – the volunteer work – that you've been doing with FISH, talking to parents.  So what's it like to be – to connect to parents...

Bain

I guess – so back to my son's removal; it was one of the most isolating experiences, horrific experiences of my life.  

And throughout the journey since his removal in 2012, the meeting of other parents is what's for me – like, it's given me strength when I didn't think that I could go on any more.  It's given me – you know, they're the people that have held me in those moments that I've truly thought that it was going to be an impossible task.  And as a peer worker, I now get to be that person for other parents and I am one of the only people that gets to sit at their table, at their lounge, or wherever it is that we're meeting and go I get that and I truly do get that.

Then we build this authentic relationship where I'm getting phone calls that are genuine, like I know that you know what to do in this situation.  Can you help me, what do you think I should say?  Can you come to that meeting?  And it's just making this isolating experience – it makes you a little less alone in it.  So that's my thoughts on it.

Stoker

The connecting to parents has always been a really important priority for us in FISH; so what are some of the ways, Felicity, that we connect to parents locally and ideas that other people might use in their local area?

Kime

So it's been said before, we've got a website and we have Facebook and we have an email address where parents can choose if they want to speak to a worker or a parent. I guess most importantly, we have a morning tea for parents to be supported by other parents and a safe place to speak. So I think the morning tea is one of the biggest things.

Stoker

So we started out having a quarterly meeting which we have continued to do, where we have workers and parents, and parents can talk to workers in an informal way, can tell their stories.  But the morning tea seems to be increasingly popular and that's monthly and it's pretty much just parents to parents, isn't it?

Kime

Yes, yes.  Touching back on the monthly meeting with workers and parents, I'll just give a quick example. There was a parent that was quite upset last month and not only could a parent support that parent, but the workers could as well.  

So it's really good to see that everybody's on one side, no one's divided and everyone works together with that as well.

Stoker

Yes and parents have said that they find those activities very validating; the opportunity to tell their story and have people not judge them, they find very validating.

Cocks

Okay. Another thing to sort of emphasise about the peer connection that FISH is trying to create for parents and families in the Hunter Valley is that peer – those opportunities to connect with the other parents are not group processes that are documented and scrutinized and watched.  And parents often find that very freeing and supportive.  Teegan, did you want comment on that?

Bain

In fact, when I meet a new parent that's one of the very first thing that I say, is that I make note of the meeting but I don't take extensive notes in the way that a regular case worker would; it would be – even though I am a mandatory reporter, I don't take evidence-base – like I would just comment on what we are doing in that moment, maybe very briefly what we discussed and when our next meeting was.  But if there was ever any concerns that would require a report, I would be the – the first person I would be speaking to would be the parent and discussing as to why and where that would be going and how we would be doing that.  Because ultimately when we have the open conversations as a peer worker, we build more trust.

Cocks

Okay.  So we're up to the final section of presentation now, where we're going to try and bring the research and practice together.  We've talked about the research project that was done in the Hunter Valley and some of the practice things that FISH has been doing here in Newcastle and the central coast and we want to try and bring that together now to suggest a range of practical strategies that agencies and workers can do to be more family inclusive in the interest of children. These are really key messages that are based on the lived experience of families, as well as on the evidence.  

So just to go through the slide, I think our research and the experience with FISH has demonstrated that children and families need improved support and advocacy with statutory services, including out-of-home care agencies, NGO agencies.  That the system really needs to refocus on family relationships, rather than on individual contact events and we will – we have got another slide coming up that talks more about that.

Acknowledging an ongoing parenting role for parents with children in care, that you don't stop being a parent; I think that's fairly not in dispute, when your children aren't with you that role continues.  Both to continue relationships for children and to support restoration, so regardless of the case plan goal, that we need to build relationships between carers and parents that are child focussed, that we need to connect parents and family to each other, and we need to build cultures of family engagement in order to drive practice change.

It's not enough to adopt models or write new policies; we really need leadership to drive cultural change in agencies and courage is really needed to build family engagement cultures that will facilitate the success of the various family meeting models and other kinds of practice models that are already in place.  Okay, so just to hear back from Teegan again, we're going to have a little bit of a – I'm going to ask you a question about relationships.  Can you talk about why it's important to have a relationship with your child's carer?  And the second part of that question is, how can the case worker help?

Bain

I might answer the second part first. So, case workers initially hold the key to facilitating that relationship. So it's often their opinion or maybe not even their opinion, about how they handle the situation and create the picture of who the parent is.  So they definitely – the case worker holds the key, I've thought that from the beginning.  But the reason for me that it's important for me to have a relationship with my son's carers, is that knowing them makes it not okay but it's easier to understand why he's there and understand that he's being looked at, because it's really as a parent to create stories in your head about what that placement looks like, but when we're meeting them and having that relationship with them, those fears are for me, they were lessened.  That's not to say that the relationship between my son's carers and myself hasn't been hard and without trouble.  Well, not trouble but without its ups and downs—it definitely has—but like any relationship, it's worth the effort.  And for as long as my son is with the carers that he's with, I'll continue to try and have a relationship with them, because at the end of the day, it's for the best interest of my son.

Cocks

Okay.  So the next slide is about family relationships, not just contact.  So certainly, we're on about having a process and relationship-based approach to family relationships.  

So, Felicity, you've got experience of having supervised contact and other kinds of contact with your kids when they're in care.  Can you tell us what it was like to have supervised contact with your kids and how did things change over time?

Kime

Yes, so at first to sum it all up, it would've been - the word would be "crazy."  My children were removed, we went on a visit and we were put into a room that didn't have very much toys.  You know, it didn't really look too kid-friendly.  And we had a lady sitting taking notes that none of us knew.  So my children were introduced to multiple strangers over the time and with my supervised visits, I'd have three different workers; my children would be brought in three different cars and pretty much in unnatural surroundings.  I was having—Lyn spoke on it before—I'd have to watch what I'd say, how I presented, what emotions I used.

I guess when I was thinking about this question earlier, is that the biggest thing to me is all the different people coming into mine and the children's life that weren't staying.  You know, one week we'd have one worker, the next week it'd be a totally different worker or next couple of months, it'd be a whole new person.  And it seemed to be every time my children or myself would build a connection with a worker, we would get a worker the next time.  So the biggest thing was my children being picked up strangers all the time.

Cocks

Thanks, Felicity. Okay, so the next slide is about parent ideas for group programs and service development.  So I won't go through it because we are a bit short on time.  But ultimately, I think a key practice implication from this research and from the FISH experience is the value of group work and connecting parents with others.  There are group programs emerging with this group of parents, so they should be used.  But we also need to be innovative and develop group processes that meet parents’ and communities' individual needs.

Stoker

Okay, now it's time for the commercial break.  We just wanted to give you the heads up about our project that we've been working on; a short training program for carers and practitioners which will be co-led by parents.  We're piloting it next month and we hope to have this available for other agencies at the beginning of next year.  So, stay in contact with us through our website or Facebook and we'll keep you updated on how that goes.

I also just wanted to say here at the end, we're really excited that Jessica has received a Churchill Fellowship. So she'll be jetting about all over the world, trying to see how other countries and programs are – have been developed, how they're run, what are some new ideas that we can – or that she can – bring back home to us and we can try out here.  I think it's – this is a journey; we certainly don't have all the answers.  We've got lots of suggestions and we've worked with parents to come up with strategies that we think are feasible and realistic and workable.  But we're always looking for new ideas and new approaches and I think that's the important message of this work; is this is about people and relationships.

So there isn't just the one thing that is going to work for everybody; it changes, it develops.  We need as practitioners, we need to be changing and developing and working with parents and kids to find out what's going to work best for them.  So, we've given you our contact email and our website address.  You'll get a list of references and resources that we've used and we'd like to thank everybody for hanging in with us today in our conversation and we'll throw it open to some questions now.

WEBINAR CONCLUDED

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