Child-centred approaches to supporting children in out-of-home care

Content type
Event date

28 March 2024, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Meryl Klimczak, Paula May, Dana Shen, Nicole Rollbusch




About this webinar

In Australia, over 45,000 children live in out-of-home care (OOHC). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are significantly over-represented among these children. While the causes of this over-representation are complex, they include colonisation, policies of forced removal and the impact of intergenerational trauma.

The children in OOHC are some of the most vulnerable in our society and often report experiencing a loss of voice, self-worth and identity. Not only are they more likely to experience poor mental health, but they can also struggle to form healthy bonds and relationships due to prior experiences of abuse and neglect. 

Including children’s voices in important decisions about their lives is critical to their mental health and wellbeing. By increasing children’s participation in decision-making, and listening to their voices, they experience a greater sense of agency, recognition, self-worth, dignity and self-determination.

Importantly, the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities and cultures should be considered when working with children in OOHC. Understanding the unique role culture plays for First Nation’s people, and drawing on approaches that are First Nations led, is essential for supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care.

This webinar outlines practical ways to prioritise the voices of children in OOHC that can support their mental health and wellbeing. It includes a First Nation’s perspective and advice specific for those working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

This webinar will help you:

  • understand the effects of being in care on children’s participation, identity and self-worth
  • understand the importance of culture and identity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in OOHC
  • understand how conversation and activities that increase participation, identity and self-worth can boost children’s mental health and wellbeing
  • develop strategies to effectively initiate and engage in conversations and activities that enhance children’s participation, identity and self-worth.

This webinar will interest practitioners who work with children in foster care, kinship care and residential care settings, and primary and allied health professionals who work in any service where they may encounter children who live in care.

This webinar was co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds in a series focusing on children’s mental health. They are working together as part of the Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

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Audio transcript (edited)

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Welcome, everybody, to today’s webinar. My name is Nicole Rollbusch, and I’m a Practice Development Officer with Emerging Minds. I’m here to facilitate today’s discussion.  It’s fantastic to have you all here with us, and also welcome to those of you who might be tuning in later to the recording.  

Before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge the Kaurna people, who are the traditional owners of the lands in Adelaide, which is where I’m coming to you from, and I’d like to extend that acknowledgement to all of the different lands across the country that you’re all joining us from today, and you’re welcome to share in the chat the lands you’re on today.  I’d like to pay my respects to the elders, past, present and emerging, the young ones coming up, and recognise the deep connection that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have with the lands and waterways and kin and community and culture, and extend that acknowledgement and pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here with us today.  

So, before we begin, I’ve just got a little bit of housekeeping to cover before I introduce our fantastic panellists.  So we have a live Q&A at the end, the last 15 minutes of this webinar, so please submit questions via the question tab that you’ll see on the GoTo Webinar dashboard, and we’ll try and get to as many of them as we can.  

The webinar is also being recorded, so that will be available in about two weeks for you, so keep an eye out in the AIFS News, and that will be on the AIFS and Emerging Minds websites as well.  We do have a great list of related resources which are available in the handouts tab which you’ll see on the GoTo Webinar dashboard as well.  Being mindful it’s a big topic, we’re not going to be able to cover everything, but just to say the panellists have some amazing experience.  I feel like we are covering a lot of ground, but we do have those extra resources there for you as well.  And a short feedback survey will open at the end of the webinar, and we’d really love it if you could give us your feedback.  It helps us to make these even better for all of you in webinars to come.  

Before we begin as well, I just wanted to give recognition to people with lived experience.  I want to recognise that children and young people and adults that are within families and diverse communities with many and varied experiences, lived experiences, who’ve come before us, and just really appreciate the experiences of people whose pain and trauma and heartache, including harmful systemic practices, they require recognition and compassion, and I recognise the strengths and the knowhow that children and families draw on during difficult times, and respect those skills that people have developed to continue their lived experience.  

I know at AIFS and at Emerging Minds we’re really deeply committed to listening and responding with integrity to their voices and expertise, and really appreciate when lived experience can be shared with us.  This is a complex topic, we’re talking about child protection, so it might include discussion of why children are living in care, potentially including topics like child abuse and neglect, so please, if you do require assistance or would like to talk to a trained professional if anything comes up for you today there are resources in the handouts tab of the GoTo Webinar dashboard as well for you.    

So we have a pretty great webinar here today I must say so myself.  I just wanted to give a little bit of context before our panellists jump in.  As of June 2021 there were about 46,200 Australian children in care, so we’re talking across foster care, kindship care, and residential care.  And at this time it included approximately 19,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, which is about 42.3% of all children in care.  So a huge, continued overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in many systems in our country.  And we know from the vast literature out there on out-of-home care that children who do live in care are more likely to experience anxiety and depression, issues with aggression and impulsivity, and engage in self-harm when they’re compared with children who’ve never lived in out-of-home care.  

But what often gets missed from the conversation is the way that children in care can grow up to be adults who are resilient, and kind, and amazing contributors to society as well.  So while we’re acknowledging these numbers and these outcomes, and the significant challenges within the child protection system as well, and today we’ll cover some of those, but we really want to focus on what practitioners can do despite these challenges, particularly in terms of supporting children’s voice, sense of self-worth, identity and belonging. And just to note we’ll be focusing on children up to 12 years, so care leavers won’t be addressed in this webinar.  

So I’m very lucky today to be introducing these three people to you.  I’m joined by Paula May, Meryl Klimczak, and Dana Shen.  So I might just get you to all jump in and introduce yourselves briefly, and just a bit about your role, and if you can share something about what sustains you in this role that would be fantastic.  So Dana, I might jump to you first.  

DANA SHEN: Sure.  Thank you so much Nicole, and it’s so lovely to be joining all of you today.  So my name is Dana Shen.  I’m Ngarrindjeri Chinese.  I’m based in South Australia.  The Ngarrindjeri are people of where the river joins the sea.  My role is I’m a consultant, but much of my experience is in the public sector.  So I’ve worked in social service delivery, and as a consultant I’ve worked with many different NGOs, ACCOs, Aboriginal community, et cetera.  And in terms of what sustains me is I really believe in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and I believe in the philosophy and principles of First Nations ways of being and doing that can actually help all of us.  So that’s why I do it, and that’s how I’m sustained.  Thanks.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Fantastic.  Thanks Dana, it’s great to have you here.  Meryl, I’ll invite you to jump in.  

MERYL KLIMCZAK: Hi everyone.  My name is Meryl.  I am coming to you today from Peramangk country in the beautiful Adelaide Hills.  I am a mum to two heart babies who are 21 and 25, and three belly babies who are 11, 13 and 16.  You might be wondering what’s a heart baby, what’s a belly baby.  Heart babies are my kids who’ve come into my life through my heart, so foster, adoption, tagalongs, hanger-on-ers, all of the above.  And belly babies are my biological children.  So I try to make sure that others understand the value that I place on all of my children regardless of how they came into my life.  

Why do I keep continuing as a foster mum?  Really it’s down to my core belief that we all deserve to have one in our lives, every human needs one person that they know backed them, championed them, cared for them, nurtured them, held them on their ugliest days, celebrated them on their best days, and if for a day, a week, a month, a lifetime for my 25 year old who came into my home as a six year old, if for that short period of time I can actually be a visual and a heart representation to a child that they actually are deserving of the one person who believes in them, and that maybe down the track they’ll remember this old lady who believed in them, then I’ve done my job, and it’s – yeah, that’s what keeps me going.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Fantastic.  Thanks Meryl, it’s great to have you.  And Paula.  

PAULA MAY: Hi everyone. Paula May here.  I come from Kaurna land in South Australia today.  I think throughout my career mainly focusing on residential care in and around child protection programs, I think what motivates me the most is more so what comes first which is early intervention and reunification, supporting families to stay together through therapeutic intervention, holistic support, and targeted education is pivotal.  I think secondly though, if we’re not able to achieve that reunification, once a child is in care, what really motivates me is more so that reconciliation with family. That deep connection that children hold to their families and culture is so important.  

So, whilst they may not be able to return home to their families, a huge factor in my career is supporting more programs to focus on reconciliation, at a minimum, to ensure that that connection can continue between the child and their birth family.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Fantastic.  Thanks, Paula, great to have you as well.  So, let’s jump into the conversation.  I wanted to start by asking you, Paula – and I’ll get you to jump in later on this one, Dana.  So, we’re focusing today on conversations or activities that can increase participation, identity, and self-worth.  Why should practitioners take time to focus on that, and what difference can these things make for children in care?  

PAULA MAY: Yeah thanks Nicole.  Children in care have already experienced extensive trauma, both from the events that took place prior to being removed from their families, and these events have often gone on for years prior to child protection services becoming involved.  Children in care have then experienced a second wave of trauma from the actual process of being removed.  We know that most children in care don’t want to be taken away by services.  The process itself of removal is brutal to say the least.  Parents want their child back but don’t have the capacity to understand their actions, or often they lack the ability to actually enact the change that the child protection agencies is asking of them.  And children, they just want their mum and dad.  Despite what might’ve gone on in the family home they want to be a family unit.  

To be honest once a child’s removed if they’re lucky they might be placed in the one household that can provide the care that they so desperately need, but generally what research and statistics tell us is that they’re likely to have multiple placements following that initial removal from family.  So having these multiple placements, getting moved around, it could be for a number of reasons.  A carer might have a change in circumstances, there might be a change of residential funding, and often it can be due to a child’s actual behaviours.  We know that they’ve often got complex trauma with associated complex behaviours, and so a carer or agency might not be able to cope with that young person anymore, so the placement might be terminated.  

So what you are then often left with is a child that has complex trauma, poor attachments, loss of connection to family and community, loss of identity of who they are and what their place in the world is, and really little to no connection to anyone.  So attachment being that key word there given it’s pivotal for childhood development.  So when you look at all of those things considered, the importance that we all play as practitioners and anyone that’s listening to this webinar today, the importance that we play in actually supporting that child to have participation, have identity, and a real true sense of self-worth so that they can go on to thrive and lead meaningful lives is just so important to all of us.  

Pivotal to this is these children need to be given a chance, and a meaningful chance at life that’s full of kindness and love is everyone’s business.  So the importance of attending these webinars, and just as practitioners just be continuously learning and examining our own practices and seeking better outcomes for young people, it should be a never-ending journey for any practitioner to just be, like I said, just continuously evolving how we practice, looking at our systems and our methods of support.  It’s vital.  

DANA SHEN: And from me Nicole, if I can jump in now.  I think Paula said that all beautifully, but very briefly a couple of things that I think’s really important.  The question is really posed for practitioners, and I’ve taken that to mean people that are paid to do this work as a professional in the system.  We come in to do this as a job. It is our job that we do, and we get paid for that job, and then we go home to our lives.  But actually the job that we’re doing when we’re working with children and young people in out-of-home care, we’re working with someone’s life.  This is their whole life that we’re working with, and we get to go back to our lives, but that is their life.  So it’s really important that we can always remember that.  Despite any of the challenges which we’ll talk about a bit later, in the end the most important thing is that this is a human life.  

And the second part of it I think that’s really important is that so much of our lives are about stories.  They’re about the stories that we tell ourselves, they’re about the stories that have been created by the people around us, and they can be very hurtful stories, and as people in this role we can actually help and work alongside young people to be able to rewrite their stories.  They can tell it in the way that they need to and want to, and they can be the authors of that for their future.  I’ll talk a bit more about that later, but I think that’s an opportunity for us to really give them a sense of a different kind of story in their life.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Absolutely, thanks Paula and Dana.  It makes you think about that a lot of the conversation around the child protection system and children in care can be deficit focused, and those deficit stories can come through, and obviously really impact on those things that we’re talking about, identity, self-worth, and feeling like you’ve got a voice.  I think it’s certainly important that we acknowledge that there are those system constraints and that sort of thing, but thinking about what practitioners can do within their sphere of influence to support children’s mental health, and Dana, I’ll start by asking you this one and then invite Meryl and Paula to jump in.  

What are some examples of the constraints that might exist in the system that perhaps some of the people or many of the people listening will be very familiar with, but also some of the things you’ve been able to do in your work to support children despite these constraints or in the face of them?  

DANA SHEN: Thanks Nicole.  I think there’s two frameworks that I’d like to bring in here that have made a big difference to how I think about how I walk alongside people.  So I think the first one is that I want to introduce the concepts of systems theories, or complex systems.  So really if we think about our human social service system a lot like an organism.  We have lots of different parts to it that interact with one another.  It’s complex.  Sometimes we can’t control how it works.  But ideally what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to have a particular aim, and move the system or the organism that we’re in towards a common goal.  So if I give Dana as an example.  

So Dana, what is Dana?  Is Dana just my hands, or is Dana just my heart or my liver?  No.  Actually Dana is a combination of all the things that are not only inside me but are outside of me that create the movement towards whoever Dana is, similar to the system that we’re in.  Working in social service systems, we’re all different parts, but we’re trying to work towards the same thing overall.  So what we want to try to do is at every level of that system, whether you’re an individual or you’re a team or you’re an organisation or you’re relating to other systems or whatever it is, you’re trying to build a system that is working together in a congruent way towards caring for people, being trauma-responsive in the way we do it, and really doing things where we’re bringing in compassion and ways of working that really, really benefit human life in what we’re doing.  

So I want to introduce that because I talk about it a bit later. But the other one I really want to introduce is something that I really believe because it helps us to see the strength in people is I like to see – when I think about children and young people I like to think about them as the heroes of their own journey.  So we’re not there to save them, or be saviours of them.  Actually they have strength, they’ve been through adversity, and they can get through, they can get through.  But who are we?  Around us, we’re their band, we’re their people that can join them and bring the skills that we have, if I can say the magic that we have, when we think about stories like Lord of the Rings and Frodo Baggins and the band that walked alongside him, we’re walking alongside these young people to actually provide what we can.  

But we always know that at the centre of this they’re the ones that will – it’s their life, we’re there to be with them, and they have the strength, and the wonder, and the magic to do this for themselves.  So I just wanted to introduce those two concepts because I know Meryl and Paula will give very great examples about that.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Meryl, I’ll get you to jump in.  Thanks, Dana, love that hero aspect.  

MERYL KLIMCZAK: Yeah, and I agree, Nicole and Dana, that’s such a beautiful mind picture of how we can approach our care.  And I come today with a foster mum lens, not a practitioner lens, and I’ve seen it play out for children where we’ve – we, being the systems, have prioritised fitting children into the system, as opposed to creating and making systems, designing them, and then implementing systems that are actually supportive of children.  So, we’ve kind of sometimes got it a bit backwards.  And I’ve seen instances where decision makers have been so focused and vigilant about following the rules, the procedures, the policies, the system that children have actually missed out.  I’ll just give two quick examples today of where that’s happened in my experience.  I’ve been a foster mum for over 20 years, had lots and lots of kids for varying lengths of time.  

So I will give just two examples today, one being confidentiality.  Confidentiality is a really important part of protection for children, and a really important aspect of the system, but what it does in its outworking is it creates this idea of fragmented parts in children’s memory bank of the significant people, the significant moments, the significant events, the good, the bad and the ugly events in their lives.  And it makes it difficult for those who children are with today to kind of piece together and validate what it is that children are trying to say, and the stories that they are expressing to you to find that sense of belonging and to find that sense of place for themselves.  I’ve had kids come who’ve had – ‘I’ve got nothing.  I’ve got a first name and that’s about it’ and they’ve stayed for a while.  

I haven’t been able to support them and nurture them and reassure them that their experience has been true and valid, juxtaposed to other instances where I’ve had a couple of kids come and they had a remarkable – just a little booklet that had some key about me things.  Their favourite book, their favourite TV show, their favourite story, their biggest worries today, what happens to their body and their voices when they become really anxious and when they’re scared, and what do they like to eat.  Those things matter for children.  I had a child arrive, six years old, and I’d had this little booklet, and I said to this young boy, ‘Okay, first night, you want Hungry Jacks, you want KFC, you want Maccas?  What do you want?  Anything you feel like’ thinking any six year old young lad might actually like to have a Happy Meal and a Coke and a sundae.  

He wanted baked beans.  And I knew about the baked beans on his arrival, or just prior to his arrival, so I could prepare a pantry of baked beans.  And what that said to him was I matter, she knows, she’s – without even necessarily that mental connection for the child there was the sense of welcome and the sense of familiarity for them.  The other part just very quickly is around attachment and that uncertainty of life.  Most practitioners will know about the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the triangular system. The bottom two in our systems of physiological needs and safety we tend to address really well in children, but then it gets a little bit lost after that.  The idea that we can’t always be certain of what’s going to happen in a child’s future, but somehow we need to create a sense of certainty in that uncertainty.  

And allowing children to verbalise their fear of what’s going to happen in the future, and in my role as a foster mum, and perhaps for practitioners as well in a clinical setting, is giving permission for that uncertainty to be okay, and supporting the young child or the young people, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, but whatever happens let me see if I can help you.  If you’ve got a question and I don’t have the answer to it that’s okay, I’ll go and ask someone who might have the answer and I will come back to you with what it is that you’re needing, or help you to figure out the next bit of your question.’  

My 25 year old son who’s with me now, I remember when he first came, he was on a GOM12 order.  He was six years old.  His hearing was going to be in a couple of months’ time.  His first tangible painful, sad, sorrowful moment for me was when he said to me, ‘Where am I going next?’  He’s six years old, ‘Where am I going next?’  He didn’t want to put his roots down because he assumed.  We ended up – he stayed, got through to a GOM18 order in 2017 and I remember him saying to me, ‘Oh mum, so this means we can be a forever family.’  It mattered to him, but there was still not that certainty in his mind because he knew that there were instances – he was still under Guardianship of the Minister, something could happen.  

In 2012 when he was 15 we were granted OPG, other person guardianship, for him which meant that guardianship came to me.  I remember laying on our bed in the front room in my room with the court papers and he said to me, ‘So mum, does this actually really mean that no one will ever come and be able to take me away again?’  It matters.  Finally at 15 he had certainty.  That’s not afforded to all children in care.  But what is afforded to them is our commitment to stay with them, and to not leave them alone  emotionally, mentally, psychologically, physically.   Stick by them, lean into them.  We can work the system.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Thanks Meryl, thanks for sharing that.  Paula.  

PAULA MAY: Thank you.  I’ll touch on parts that both Dana and Meryl have spoken about, but to be honest language is key, and when we consider language it’s not just about how we speak about the system, it’s more so the language we use regarding children in care and what we want to focus on.  And to be honest the old saying of water what you want to grow comes to mind.  So if we want to look at developing identity, self-worth and giving young people a voice, children need to hear beyond the behavioural and situational focus of their lives and more so need to understand the world around them and their place in it.  Conversations should, in fact all practitioners, focus on who they want in their lives, and what their definition of a happy and fulfilling life are.  

So if we look at perhaps the overall goal is to focus on that deep listening for practitioners, deep listening for that young people, who they want in their lives, what’s their definition of a happy life et cetera, you need to ensure the young person or the child feels heard, and to be honest the secret ingredient to all of this is authentic engagement.  What we know about the challenges though, if we look at residential care which is certainly my area of experience.  So one of the major barriers in fact in residential care is having this truly authentic engagement with young people.  It’s hard mainly because one of the biggest focuses in residential care is maintaining appropriate boundaries to ensure no abuse in care takes place, which we totally get, abuse in care is not okay, it does happen, and we always need to be vigilant and always be really mindful of it.  

However this focus on risk, this focus on managing boundaries has often prevented the key thing that children in care actually need which is that authentic engagement. And authentic engagement, like Meryl was just talking about, these children have been through so much, so when they get to residential care they’re often in rotation care, staff are moved around, there’s no – not always anyway, there’s a real lack of love and care, and that genuine, authentic engagement that these young people so desperately need.  So some examples of what you might be able to do, and where I’ve perhaps challenged it in the past.  

One of the key examples that I have in residential care is ensuring that the child protection agency knew the different model that you were going to be working under.  So, I made sure they knew that we were really mindful of boundaries, really mindful of keeping young people safe, but that we weren’t just going to follow a risk management process for engagement.  We were more so going to work within the risk, to ensure that we could have that meaningful, authentic engagement with young people.  So, an example, if a child needed a hug, which they do, they need to have a hug to feel that sense of wellbeing and connection and identity, so making sure that a child in residential care can have a hug when they need it.  We manage that risk by making sure the caseworker notes it, and why it was given, what is the actual meaning behind and the need behind, I guess, exploring some of those risks.

If the worker shared photos of themselves perhaps in their own school days, making sure the caseworker would note that, why that was done.  All of these types of authentic engagement are so vital for that young people developing that sense of identity and self-worth, and to ensure that there’s that authentic engagement so that a child can feel that their voice is being heard.  If you’ve got the relationship and you’ve got the connection you will be able to support that child through no end of challenges.  So I’ll finish on that, but I can’t stress enough the importance of that authentic engagement.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Fantastic.  Thanks Paula, so important.  I might just jump ahead a little bit with you guys and move onto how do we create a sense of identity and belonging and self-worth for children living in out-of-home care?  What are some things that you might’ve tried, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked?  I might throw to you Paula just to answer that one first.  

PAULA MAY: And look, to sound like a broken record, that authentic engagement needs to come into it.  So for all practitioners to be investing the time in the relationship, and to be honest you need to have an element of likeability.  You need to have a connection with a young person, because if you’ve got likeability you’re going to have a connection, and with connection comes authentic engagement.  So the importance of explaining boundaries yes, but above all having that connection with that young person is vital.  That’s probably key for me.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Great.  And what about you Dana, what things have you tried in your work?  

DANA SHEN: I want to introduce some thinking regarding identity, and in particular in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and what’s been useful for me to best understand what this all means.  So I’ll talk a bit more about it over time, but as Paula was touching on by the time a child gets to be in care they’ve already gone through so many complicated experiences, and they’ve gone through a lot of painful experiences.  For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we have another layer of issues that sit alongside that, and that is that we’re in a world where, and in a country where, we experienced colonisation.  And what that meant for us is that it creates very, very different understandings of what culture can mean for us now.  

So we can have children and young people or adults in our community who have no connection at all to where they come from, what their practices are, et cetera.  We can have those that, due to removal, can lose a lot of that because of what’s happened in their lives and the need to be elsewhere in their lives.  Then we can have those that have really, really deep connections as well, they do understand where they come from.  So the question is how do we, with some nuance and some skill, respond to the spectrum of that identity. What I think is really important in this is that we can understand that, but also we come back to the individual in front of us, as the hero of this journey, as the leader of this story.  How do we work alongside them with all that knowledge for them to make choices about what’s best for them when it is the right time for them to make those choices.  

So I’ll talk a bit more about that, but I think fundamentally it’s the nuanced understanding of cultural identities, if more of us could grow that for ourselves, that would actually make us more useful for people, and more useful for children and young people that are looking at that.  So I’ll stop there, but I’ll talk about that a bit more later.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Thanks Dana, thanks for that intro to that.  Yeah, we’ll chat about that more in a minute.  What about for you Meryl, how have you tried to create this sense of identity and self-worth for children?  

MERYL KLIMCZAK: It’s so interesting because each time each of us panellists answer a question there’s the similar thread that always comes through, and in this question it’s about the time, and like Dana touched on, that hero idea that children have in themselves already everything that they need to be and know about themselves, and we are there to support them to flourish from that point.  We’re not there to tell them their worth or to tell them, but we’re there to guide them to discover their self-worth and to discover who they are.  There’s an old idiom time is of the essence, and I if you look in a legal sense that speaks to time being an obligation in law, but in a child protection or in an out-of-home care setting, as a foster mum time is of the essence is about those micro connections of time being so incredibly important and valuable for children.  

We try to have this idea, and maybe speaking in a practitioner sense you’ve got an hour session with a child and so you’ve got a block of time to input, but maybe as part of that block of time instead of inputting from your skill, if the child or young person is giving those indicators that they want to show you a little bit about themselves, they want to bring out a bit of their story, they want to share or disclose something that’s funny, interesting, memorable, good, bad, amazing, even if it’s what they had for lunch yesterday, that’s really valuable, and if we take the time just in that little micro connection.  Brené Brown talks about bids of connection that we give to people where we’re trying to offer an opportunity for someone else to lean back into us and to create that. I think that that experience is where maybe beyond theory, maybe under theory, maybe outside of everything that we learn as adults and that knowledge, it’s about that heart time.  

There’s one very quick story, if I’ve got time.  I had a young boy who was utterly, utterly, utterly distressed, and he just – no words were working.  I found him after a few minutes in a cupboard amongst stinky shoes, and I spent probably two or three hours tucked into the stinky cupboard with the stinky shoes in the dark, door shut, no words.  What he needed was time, and he just needed me to lean in, without speaking, but my heart to connect to him and say, ‘I can see you. I’m here with you. I believe in you. I’m making the time. Dinner’s cooking out the back, the other kids are rumbling around, but this is our moment.  And you’re showing me that you need me to come into where you are and help to draw out the best of you.’  And after a few hours we came out of the cupboard and everything ticked along, but it was the time, and the time was of the essence for him in that moment.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Yeah that time, and I think Meryl before you’ve spoken about those micro opportunities, those micro chances, and it doesn’t have to be big blocks of time, but finding that time to connect.  

MERYL KLIMCZAK: Absolutely, yeah.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: And Dana, I wanted to invite you to speak a little bit more about what you were just talking about, and really how can practitioners support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to maintain their cultural connections and identity, and links to kin and community, where perhaps their link may be known or unknown, depending on their circumstances.  So, can you share a little bit more about that with us?  

Dana Shen  
Sure, yeah.  I think the first thing to really say here is that we want whatever we do in a child and young person’s life to be living and alive.  So, we can get – and I understand why we need it, we need to write things down, we have the Cultural Identity Plan and we’ve got to document things properly, but what we want to do is actually create something that’s adaptive and really walks alongside young people.  So, where it’s documented, it needs to be living and changing.  So, that’s the first thing that I would say.  It’s not enough just to write something down and just to leave it; it’s living and it’s alive.  

The second thing is that I want to deal with the practical reality of this here.  I know that there are times when practitioners don’t actually have the information to even know where to start about someone’s identity.  In the referral they don’t even know.  So that’s part of the challenge.  This is part of the barrier of this system, this can happen.  So I think in those cases what we don’t want to do is get frozen or freeze around this.  That’s actually the reality.  That happens all the time, and yet we have this human being in front of us that has a life to live.  So for me it’s about how do we help children and young people explore what identity means in different ways, even if we don’t have all the answers.  

And what I really want to invite people to think about is that whilst core national weeks and days and things like that are super important for our community, and are respectful about our elders et cetera like NAIDOC and Reconciliation Week and – they’re very, very important, that we see that as one part of identity learning for children and young people, and that actually it’s much more than that. So what else can we explore here?  Whether or not we’re clear about where people come from what can we explore?  We can explore the magic and the wonder of First Nations knowledges.  Anybody can experience that.  Is that about actually being in the world on someone’s country.  So my country is the Coorong and the beauty of being on that land.  I know children and young people love that too because I’ve seen them there from all over the place coming to this place.  

For example how to explore what it means to actually have traditions and practices like bush foods and medicines and things like that, what does that mean?  What does that mean for children and young people to learn about healing practices and things in our world? And also just to be able to go in deeper the more that we find out about a child and young person and as we go along, knowing that the complexity of identity can be mixed, and sometimes children and young people aren’t ready.  They don’t want to go there.  Ot’s okay that they don’t want to go there.  But because we have an authentic relationship as Paula talked about, we have an unconditional regard for this child and young person, we believe in them, we’re going to follow them where they want to go, and we’re going to take them where they want to go to learn this stuff.  

So that’s all I would say is that make it alive and don’t feel that you need to be frozen because wherever a young person’s at the First Nations wonders and magic of what our people have done, that’s good for anyone, and you can explain that to people and show them that.  So that’s what I would say.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Thanks Dana, that’s great.  And it’s that connection, regardless of whether a child is living within their community or not in their community that those opportunities are, like you said, they’re everywhere to connect with that.  So that’s –  

DANA SHEN: I remember hearing an Aboriginal – so I did this random thing where I was facilitating this thing for landscape architecture.  That’s really outside of the realm of work that I normally do.  But this beautiful woman said this quote.  She said, ‘We try to create centres, the centre of this – this is a building and we’re going to call this culture.’ That’s so important in our world because that’s what we live in, and we’re having to regenerate and recreate things.  I don’t want to say that that’s not important, but one of the things that she said which I think is so important for us to remember is that culture is everywhere.  Everywhere.  So you can find those micro moments of culture and connection with the world everywhere for a young person.  It’s just that are your eyes and your ears open for that?  Are you the one that can help that because you’ve done it and you understand that.    

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Great, thanks Dana.  Fantastic.  I just wanted to ask one more question before we jump into the Q&A, and I wanted to talk about voice and giving children in care a voice, I suppose a voice in participation but a voice about their story as well.  We’ve talked a bit about that already.  So Dana, I might jump to you again first around that, what are your thoughts on this?  

DANA SHEN: So I think the really important thing, and I know there’s a level of repetitiveness in this, but I think it’s important to say these things.  I think the first thing is that sometimes the voice of a child isn’t the things that they say.  It can be the things that are experienced and the way that they communicate with us in all sorts of ways.  So we have a responsibility to have our ears, our eyes, our whole selves really, really deeply listening to what happens.  Another thing that I think’s really important is that we know of course that we don’t want to hurt kids by having them retell stories and things like that.  That’s important.  We don’t want to retrigger or do any of those sorts of things.  

But when children and young people in their own time get to mention something or say something and they sense an unconditional regard and a real listening from the person, then actually this can be a really important experience for them to make sense of these things.  So I would say that the more that we can create space to do that in their own time where we’re in the right place to listen, that’s very, very helpful to really hear a child’s voice.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Great, thanks Dana.  And what about for you Paula, what comes to mind for you?  

PAULA MAY: A bit of a generalisation, but I think as practitioners we often fear going into a young person’s story.  We don’t want to retraumatise them like what Dana said, we’re scared of triggering something.  So often we do dance around it to be honest, and we’re mindful of what can we say, what can’t we say.  But what we’re actually doing to a child in that process to actually support their identity and self-worth is we’re just watering down what their experience was, and we often water down what their experience was in telling them.  You know, we might not tell them all the bits and pieces.  So it lacks authentic engagement when we’re not giving them the truth behind their own story.  

Now of course we need to be mindful.  We can’t tell them all the bits and pieces because often there’s some really tricky things that a young person might not be able to comprehend, but what we need to do as practitioners is constantly challenge our understanding of how much we need to be talking to young people about their story and their journey in care to be honest.  We need to ensure that they feel acknowledged for their experience, and actually understand that we’ve heard them, we understand what went on.  What we also know about child protection is that it can form a cycle, and parents were often in care themselves.  So if we’re not able to have a really genuine conversation with some of these young people about their story, why they’re in care, where to from here, we’re actually not supporting that breaking of the cycle.  

So more than anything we just need to be encouraging ourselves and speaking with all the other people involved in that child’s life to have a mutual understanding of sharing that child’s story with them, and giving them a deep sense of understanding of where they are at that moment.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Fantastic. And what about for you Meryl, what comes to mind, how have you given the children in your care a voice?  

MERYL KLIMCZAK: I think it’s about the time, it’s about the opportunities, it’s about creating the space.  But at the end of the day for me it’s about my own insight into my own fear, and sadness, and sorrow about what they’re sharing with me, what their story is.  Like all of us here I’ve heard some pretty awful stories, and some pretty awful recounts, and if that’s too much for me that shows on my face and it then becomes I want to take that away, I want to remove the pain of that sorrow from them.  But that’s not actually my job.  That’s not my role.  My role is to allow them safely to tell their story, and to hold it with them.  I’ve not met a child yet, in over 20 years, that has divulged more than what they felt comfortable with.  What I have seen is instances where other adults in their life have pulled more out of a child than what they were willing and ready to share and felt comfortable to share.  

So, that idea of be just – for that storytelling, and that – be mindful, where’s my heart at?  For me, it’s okay if I cry, it’s okay if I generate and show that emotion when a child is telling me a story that is devastatingly sad.  Maybe no one let them even tell the story. Maybe the last time they tried to tell the story to an adult, they were shutdown, or it was clinical, or they were belted for sharing a sadness or a sorrow. But if I can be a mirror to them of another way that you can respond, another way that you can feel, as that child, about that situation, and creating a safe place for them, ‘I’m really sorry, I’m really sad that this happened for you, but I’m here, and I’m sorry that it wasn’t safe then, but it’s actually safe now.’ And kids will go on, as they trust and feel comfortable.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: The really common thread has been that relationship hasn’t it, and building that and -


NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Thank you, really appreciate you sharing all of that with us and with the audience.  I wanted to move onto some live questions now.  So we’ve had a few coming through from the audience, so thank you to those of you who have submitted some.  And I also wanted to let you know as well before we jump into those questions that the panellists will be taking some extra time offline as well after the webinar to answer some additional questions.  So that extended Q&A will be available when the recording’s available in a couple of weeks as well. I wanted to go back to – so I think one of the challenges that comes up a bit for workers in out-of-home care is that violence and aggression can be present for children in care towards workers and those sorts of things, and I know that we’ve talked about this before about how it can switch people off to children’s voice and things like that.  

Meryl, I wanted to start with asking you what your experience of this has been and what advice you might give practitioners to support children when they’re experiencing these really big emotions and what we can be mindful of?  

MERYL KLIMCZAK: A while ago I heard someone say, ‘I can be really scary when I’m scared’ and for children coming into care is terrifying. Imagine the idea of heading to school one day thinking it’s a normal day and you don’t go home, and there’s police officers and adults that you’re not really familiar with saying, ‘Quick, quick, quick, get in the car, we’re going to take you to safety.’  But that’s not safe for the child because the child felt safe at home in that environment of abuse and neglect.  Not that that was right, but that was their sense of normal or of norm, normality and safety.  You scoop a child up, you put them in the car, you’re taking them to safety, they come into my home, I’ve got soft sheets and the house smells fresh and it smells beautiful, and everything’s in order, and I’ve got food that’s crunchy and fresh, but that’s not their normal.  They’re terrified with that confronting environment.  

So in the context of how do we support children through those challenging behaviours, at the core of it they’re scared, and because they’re scared they become scary to us as adults.  When I put that lens on as a foster mum and I remind myself that what I think is normal and what I think is safe and what I think is secure is like chalk and cheese for the child, I can then create the space and maybe I just adjust the way that I do things a little to provide some sort of scaffolding and structure for them, and some safety netting for them while they go through the big emotion.  And then when they’ve come out the other side and they’re a bit more regulated, then maybe we can talk about what happened.  Keep them safe from their own sense of imminent harm and risk of harm to themselves and to others, and remind ourselves that it’s scary for them.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: And Meryl, I know you’ve mentioned before about knowing it’s not about you.


NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: That it’s not a personal thing…

MERYL KLIMCZAK: It’s not, it’s not.  And the safer children have felt with me, the more I’ve seen the behaviour.  So, it’s almost like there’s a honeymoon period, where everyone’s on good behaviour bonds. We commit to being kind and nice to each other, and then you’re still here, the children are still in my care, and they haven’t moved on yet, they haven’t gone somewhere next.  And as they start to feel safer and more comfortable, the challenges in their behaviour start to escalate, and that makes sense, because they’re feeling safer with me, they’re feeling like I’m someone who’s not going to give up on them, they feel like I’m someone who can be trusted.  

So, as awful as that is, to be the adult, it’s also the privilege and the humbling experience that a total stranger who has lost all control in their life for their life and for their destiny, when they’ve walked into my home is now finding safety in an adult enough to say, ‘I’m going to be my ugliest and see what you do with me.’  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Thanks Meryl, thanks for sharing.  Was there anything that you wanted to add to that Paula?  

PAULA MAY: Touching on what Meryl said around the mirror, we know that young people particularly in residential care often come with complex trauma and associated often really challenging behaviours, and so hearing their voice through some of those really challenging behaviours is tricky, and I’ve lived it, I’ve worked it, I totally understand how hard it can be.  But I think what we often see in residential care is that staff are almost taught to be very bold, be strong, don’t show any emotion or response, and often it’s those workers that get put in the toughest of homes to be honest because they can manage the behaviours.  But this approach actually does nothing to support what these young people need. If anything what residential workers or child protection workers need to do more so than anything is actually show genuine reaction to being hurt.  

Hurtful words do hurt me, and maybe I’ll cry because it was really mean.  Or if you use violence, if you use aggression I’m going to be really upset, and it might take me a little bit of time to get over it.  We might need to talk, we might need to have a meeting, but I’m still here for you.  So I think with that violence and aggression just more than anything, I know we’re running out of time, but just making sure that workers at the frontline, it’s not just about being strong and being bold and putting up a strong face, you actually need to give a real world parental response to these young people to show that you are human, and that it’s not normal to be abusive, it’s not normal to be violent and aggressive, and I’m not just going to disappear on you and be moved to another house when you do that.  I’m here, I’m here for the long run, I’m here to support you, and your words do mean something to me because I’m a person.  

That is one of the key things we can actually do to make sure that young person feels an authentic engagement.  They’re then more likely to share their true voice with you, and obviously hopefully sustain the placement so that the young person doesn’t keep getting moved around every time they become violent or aggressive.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Thanks Paula.  And what about for you Dana?  

DANA SHEN: I think just a final word that really just builds onto both what Meryl and Paula are saying is that I think in all of this we really need to understand our own selves in this.  What is it that triggers you, what is it that your body goes through when you experience these things?  It’s really learning about that and understanding that, and by doing that in various whatever techniques you can apply to do that, whether it’s applying polyvagal theory and exploring it for yourself, somatic experience, embodied practices, mindfulness, awareness, whatever it is, that you do do practice in that, because that will help you bring your very best self when these things happen.  

MERYL KLIMCZAK: Yeah, definitely.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Absolutely. Thanks, Dana, thank you.  And yes, I’m mindful of the time, that’s absolutely flown.  I’ll wrap up now, but we will, as I said, have some more questions answered by the panellists in the extended Q&A.  But I just want to say a massive thank-you to Meryl, Dana, and Paula.  Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us today.  I want to thank the audience for joining us as well, and also to the AIFS Communications Team and the Child and Family Evidence and Evaluation Team who have been doing lots of stuff behind the scenes for us.  Please subscribe to the AIFS newsletter if you’d like to be notified when this recording will be available, it should be about two weeks.  

And just a reminder about that feedback survey that will pop up, we do really appreciate your feedback so please do share with us.  Also just wanted to note some of you might not know that the AIFS Conference is coming up in June.  That’s really about showcasing research for the wellbeing of families across Australia.  Early bird registration’s available in another couple of weeks, and you can visit the AIFS website to find out more, and you can register now to get updates too.  So really look forward to you all joining us at our next webinar which is on next week, and it’s about how a village approach can support infant and toddler mental health.  So take care, we’ll see you again, and bye for now.  


NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Okay, well, thank you for joining us for this extended Q&A with Meryl, Dana and Paula.  Just a couple of extra questions to ask our panellists, and I wanted to jump in first and ask you to kick us off Paula.  So when we’re talking about providing children with a voice, having input onto the things that impact them, how do you manage what the child’s asking for, what the child needs, and perhaps those obligations to meet certain criteria within the system?  

PAULA MAY: Yeah, thanks. I think what we often find is that the child protection worker has obligations to make decisions around that child’s life.  They are given a whole range of powers in their scope of their role to make the decisions to enable that young person to have all that they need in their life.  Then if you look at residential workers which is certainly my area of work, they have an obligation to provide care.  Now what this often creates is a power dynamic that is particularly challenging, not only for the young person to understand their place in it, but it’s also challenging for the child protection worker, and also the residential care worker, and you’ve often got a scenario of everyone pointing the finger at someone else to try and work out who’s going to meet this young person’s needs and who gets to make the decisions around their care.  

If I more so focus on the residential care side of things, the young person goes into their care, often what we do see is some challenging behaviours might come up because children in residential care have often had a range of failed placements perhaps in family-based care prior to going to residential care.  So you’ve got a facility that’s got a young person who’s got some fairly confronting behaviours, really hard to manage, and that residential facility also has no power and control over some of the decisions around that young person’s life.  The young person looks to the child protection worker.  The child protection worker decides when they see their parent, what school they go to, if they’re approved for a  new iPad, if they’re approved for clothes, if they’re approved to see their mum an extra day.  

So you’ve got this really uneasy power dynamic of the residential care provider trying to mimic a homelike environment and mimic a normal parental response, but yet the young person sees them as nobody.  And so putting any kind of boundaries or structure around that care is particularly hard because the young person will just always revert to the child protection caseworker.  So my main advice or encouragement to any practitioners, child protection workers to work with the residential care facility around empowering them to make more decisions around that young person’s life, and that to be honest the residential facility working with the child protection worker to identify what decisions are within their realm of the role.  

This would create more so the young person seeing the home that they’re in, the residential service, as their main primary caregiver.  It will then enable the residential facility to manage some of those behaviours in a more effective way because the young person sees them as being in a position of power, in a position of being able to make decisions around their life. So above all else really it’s about that child protection worker identifying and recognising that the residential facility is best placed to perhaps make some of those decisions around the child’s needs.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Great, thanks Paula.  What about from your perspective as a foster mum Meryl, how do you balance those sorts of things?  

MERYL KLIMCZAK: It’s very similar to what a residential care experience is where it’s about normalising decision making and the processes of decision making for children within a family unit, and part of that is empowering foster parents to actually be able to navigate and respond and put in those decision making processes in as normalised way as possible.  So I spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the child.  I’m not suggesting that I’m the only one who knows best, but we’re a collective of people who all know something about the child.  When it comes to those small day-to-day decisions, allowing the foster parents to be able to actually implement those decisions, giving us guidance and parameters for what decisions we can make and we can support the children to make. Things like iPads or new shoes or those sorts of things, connecting in with foster parents in the process of that.  

The other part really is uncertainty is actually a valid and normalised experience for everybody. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, children don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and the idea that everything has to be certain isn’t actually a normalised experience.  It’s okay as a practitioner or as a foster mum to say, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen next time you go to a placement, I don’t know when you’re going to go to a placement, I’m really not sure when you’re going to be able to see mum and dad again, I’m not sure which school you’re going to be able to go to, but while we’re together let’s see if we can find that out. And if I can find it out by asking your child protection worker or your social worker or your psychologist, I’ll help you to make sure that you are heard, and that what it is that you are wanting to say is understood by all of the other adults in your life.  I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I’m going to make sure you’re not alone in that process.’  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Fantastic, thanks Meryl.  It’s a good reminder that none of us are ever quite certain all the time.  One final question for our time today, I wanted to ask you Dana, what advice would you give to practitioners on how they can work more collaboratively with child protection agencies?  

DANA SHEN: I want to answer this in a more broad way, and really invite people to really reflect and be aware of their position in the system.  So I think first of all I mentioned earlier around complex systems and how there’s so many different people and parts and levels et cetera.  One of the things that I’ve observed in my years of work inside the system and alongside it is that we end up creating stories about us and them.  The us is the people that are doing the good work.  We know what’s best, we do the right thing, et cetera.  The them are the people that don’t know what they’re doing, that don’t do the right thing, that make the mistakes, that aren’t doing what we ask them to do, et cetera.  What happens when we set up that kind of dichotomy is that we end up focusing on each other and not actually what we’re doing.  And what are we really here for?  Yeah, it’s children and young people in out-of-home care.  

So, what I’d be really focused on is – and I really want to invite people to do this over the next couple of weeks, after you see this – where are you seeing that happening, where you’re starting to see blame occur and othering, ‘they do this, we do that’, comparisons, whatever it is.  But also, I want you to really be aware of how power influences that.  How is power in the system and how does power in a room change the way you behave and the way others behave? And that we bring an awareness to that, and that we make sure that whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it with a deep awareness for the benefit of children and young people in out-of-home care.  Not for our own egos, not for the system’s ego or any of that, but that we’re really aware of what we’re doing.  So I ask that very, very broadly because I think all of us can have a greater awareness of how we better collaborate in a system as tricky as this one.  So yeah, really inviting you just to look around and listen.  

NICOLE ROLLBUSCH: Yeah, a great point for reflection.  As you say after people watch this have a think about what you’re noticing about those things.  Fantastic.  Well we will leave it there for today.  I just want to say another big thank you to Dana, Meryl and Paula for joining us and for sharing with us today, it’s been a pleasure.  So thank you so much, and bye for now.  

Related resources

Practice Guides

  • Recognising and strengthening the stories of children in care  
    This practice guide from Emerging Minds, co-authored by the webinar facilitator Nicole Rollbusch, identifies practical ways professionals can help bring children’s histories to life in out-of-home care settings - even when children’s experiences with their birth families included trauma or neglect.
  • Take Two Guide: Healing childhood trauma 
    This practice guide from Berry Street is for people providing therapeutic services to children in out-of-home care. It is intended to support you to plan engagement with children and their carer and outlines ways to consider the child’s experiences.
  • Engaging with parents who have children in out of home care: Key considerations 
    This practice guide from Emerging Minds outlines some of the key considerations for engaging with parents or caregivers that have children in out-of-home care, and encourages you to reflect on the relevance of these issues to your own practice.
  • Child participation in decision-making processes in the child protection system: Key considerations for organisations and practitioners    
    This guide from Emerging Minds is part of a suite of resources focusing on children’s participation in decisions that affect them.  
  • Supporting children’s participation through shared decision-making in child mental health care  
    This guide from Emerging Minds is part of a suite of resources focusing on children’s participation in decisions that affect them. It introduces practitioners to the concepts of children’s participation and shared decision making in children’s mental health care and discusses the benefits this has for children. It also discusses the challenges practitioners may face when doing so.  
  • Children’s attachment needs in the context of out-of-home care
    This practice guide from the Australian Institute of Family Studies is intended to provide an overview of what we know, and what needs to be better understood, about children’s attachment needs in the context of out-of-home care. It focuses specifically on disorganised attachment, which is thought to be common in high-risk populations.  
  • What contributes to placement moves in out-of-home care?
    This policy and practice guide from the Australian Institute of Family Studies presents local and international evidence from a scoping review on the factors that influence placement moves for children in out-of-home care. The paper aims to support practitioners in making evidence-informed placement decisions when working with these children and their carers.
  • An overview of child participation: Key issues for organisations and practitioners
    This practice guide from Emerging Minds is part of a suite of resources focusing on children’s participation in decisions that affect them. It provides an overview of children’s participation in decision-making processes; highlights the benefits of participation for children, organisations, practitioners and the community; and provides an overview of key factors that practitioners and organisations should consider when consulting children.


Journal Articles

Short Articles

  • Supportive practices for young people in out-of-home care who are at risk of suicidality  
    This short article from the Australian Institute of Family Studies summarises the evidence for two core interventions that significantly decreased suicidality and might support practitioners when working with children and young people in out-of-home care who are displaying suicidal behaviours.
  • The multiple meanings of permanency 
    This short article from the Australian Institute of Family Studies discusses the concept of permanency across multiple dimensions, along with rights to culture. It presents research on what young people in care value in permanency and the implications of this research for practitioners supporting families to develop a sense of permanency for the young people they work with.  

Fact Sheet



  • Therapeutic residential care: The example of Jo’s
    This podcast from Emerging Minds features webinar panellist Paula May. In it she discusses her experience of setting up and managing a therapeutic youth residential care program in South Australia called ‘Jo’s’.  
  • Looking after the mental health and wellbeing of children in out-of-home care
    This podcast from Emerging Minds features webinar panellist Meryl Klimczak who has over 20 years’ experience as a foster mum. In it she discusses the physical safety being in out-of-home care can offer, as well as the mental health and wellbeing support that the children in her care receive.  
  • A storybook approach to supporting children in care
    This podcast from Emerging Minds features a discussion between webinar facilitator Nicole Rollbusch and the creators of ‘One of a Kind’ (Natalie Papps, Alice Morgan and Sally Groom). ‘One of a Kind’ is a children’s storybook created for children who are in foster or kinship care due to their parent (or parents) experiencing mental illness, to help them understand their circumstances.


  • Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge
  • Twenty Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed by Sherrie Eldridge

Children's book

  • The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr
  • Maybe Days by Jennifer Wilgocki

These were recommended by panellist Meryl Klimczak – who found them helpful for herself and for the children who have come through her home.  


Meryl Klimczak

Meryl has fostered children for two decades and still has a number of ‘hanger-ons’ who, many years after leaving care, still call her mum. She speaks of her foster children as her ‘heart babies’ and her three biological children as her ‘belly babies’ because, regardless of how they arrived into her home, all her children are equally loved as her ‘babies’. She has meandered her way through health and community services all her professional life, working as a registered nurse before stepping into mental health, suicide prevention, youth training, child protection, community engagement and volunteer supports, across Australia. In a 2021 redundancy-induced pivot, Meryl founded her own specialist and support coordination organisation bringing opportunity to meld all the parts of life and career into innovative, human right’s driven, compassionate supports for people with disabilities accessing NDIS (National Disability Support Scheme). Brave is kind.

Paula May | Has worked in the Human Services sector for two decades, specialising in management of Child Protection Services, Family Reunification, Domestic and Family Violence Services and Homelessness support for Youth, Adults and Families.

Paula has worked in the Human Services sector for two decades, specialising in management of Child Protection Services, Family Reunification, Domestic and Family Violence Services and Homelessness support for Youth, Adults and Families. After starting out as a Senior Coordinator for the Rubys Reunification Program, Paula quickly became a service manager for community services, where she designed and wrote service models for child protection programs. These models continue to be invaluable in supporting staff to build quality skills and practices to support young people and families.

Dana Shen | Aboriginal/Chinese and a descendant of the Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia and has a passion for working with Aboriginal people and communities.

Dana is Aboriginal/Chinese and a descendant of the Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia and has a passion for working with Aboriginal people and communities.

Dana has over 20 years’ experience working across the public and not for profit sectors in the areas of health, families and child protection. She commenced her career as a Youth Community Development Officer in both the Adelaide Hills and the Murray Lands. In this role she worked with young people, many of whom were at risk, to create better environments for young people in their communities. Dana went on to work in a number of senior roles with the SA public sector in which she had responsibility for program management, service delivery, policy development and strategic planning and worked with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) where she held the role of Principal, Social Services, Systems & Aboriginal Policy and Director of the Family by Family program.

Dana’s current work includes supporting organisations to plan for the future and elevating the voices of lived experience to make service and systemic change. 


Nicole Rollbusch | Her areas of work have been in child mental health, domestic violence and homelessness, and post-separation support for both children and parents..

Nicole has a background in psychology and social work. Her areas of work have been in child mental health, domestic violence and homelessness, and post-separation support for both children and parents. Moving into content development in child mental health with Emerging Minds has provided Nicole with a different perspective on the work and she enjoys the challenge of translating knowledge from research, practitioners, and the expertise of those with lived experience to support the learning of health and social services practitioners.