Learning from the experiences of parents with children in care
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23 August 2017, 01:30PM to 02:30PM
Teegan Bain, Jessica Cocks, Felicity Kime, Lynette Stoker
This webinar was held on 23 August 2017.
"Kids need their parents in their lives – one way or the other."
The perspectives of parents with children in care are important to children, though are missing from the policy and practice discourse on child welfare in Australia. This webinar presented findings from recent qualitative research that explored parents’ views and experiences of the child protection and out of home care systems. Parents in the study described an ongoing interest in their children’s wellbeing and an enduring parental identity, though they also frequently experienced practice that excluded them from their children’s lives.
This webinar aimed to give participants an appreciation of parent perspectives, and practical strategies for family inclusion in the interests of children. The work of a parent and worker alliance in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales was also discussed.
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?
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.
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1. "Kids need their parents in their lives…one way or the other"
Learning from the experiences of parents with children in care – research and practice in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales
Teegan Bain, Jessica Cocks, Felicity Kime, Lynette Stoker, Lou Johnston, Nicola Ross
2. Acknowledgement of country…
We acknowledge the Awabakal people who have suffered and 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 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be with us today.
- Teegan Bain
- Jessica Cocks
- Felicity Kime
- Lynette Stoker
4. Session outline
- Background to research and practice in family inclusion in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales
- Thematic overview of the findings of the research project – "no voice, no opinion, nothing".
- A parent and worker co led organisation - Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter (FISH)
- Bringing research and practice together – learning from the experiences of parents
5. 1. Background - why research and practice initiatives in family inclusion and why here?
- Numbers of children in care in NSW and the Hunter Valley (AIHW, 2017 and NSW FACS, 2015)
- Growing interest in parent perspectives especially from Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter or FISH
- Need for respectful, relational practice in child protection with children and their parents (Klease, 2008, Harries, 2008, Hinton, 2013, Reimer, 2015)
- Cross-faculty and practitioner-academic collaboration
6. The policy context – is family inclusion consistent with government policy?
National Framework for protecting Australia's children
- Early intervention with a focus on the early years, particularly the first 1000 days for a child
- Helping young people in out-of-home care to thrive into adulthood
- Organisations responding better to children and young people to keep them safe
Practice and policy frameworks in states /territories
- Eg: NSW care and protection practice framework
- WA - Signs of Safety
7. 2. No voice, no opinion nothing…research into the experiences of parents with children in care
1.What are the experiences of these parents with statutory child protection processes and community services?
- processes associated with removal
- services considering parents' perspectives and experiences
- contact arrangements – proceedings and support
- support to prepare for future children's care
2.Is a policy of family inclusion reflected in parents' accounts of their experiences of legal processes and community services?
8. Parent consultants (www.finclusionh.org)
- Consultants and peer researchers
- Unusual in child welfare research
- Challenging the silence in policy discourse
- Brief demographics
- Semi structured interviews
- Focus groups
- We interviewed 18 parents which represented 15 families in total because we – it included three couples. Eight parents went on to take part in focus groups.
- Eight of the parents were caring for children at home 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.
11. Primary themes
- Power and inclusion
- Grief and loss
- Parent-child relationships and attachment
- Professional relationships and relating
12. Power and inclusion
- When it's all these people fighting against one person, it's not a good feeling.
- They will take three or four conversations that you've had with them that might have been months apart, put it in an affidavit and make it look as if it's one conversation.
- They were as lovely as anything until we got to the house and then just said, 'oh by the way, here's the order, we're taking them'.
- They said, 'they haven't done enough'. We said, 'we don't know what we need to do. You haven't told us what we need to do'.
- I feel sick because… I've done so much to get her back. I've done all their minimum recommendations to get her back and yet they're still saying no…it's the scariest thing to go through as a parent
13. Power and inclusion: Catch-22s
- Asking for support or help / Not asking for support or help
- Asking for financial support / Not asking for financial support
- Working / Not working
- Emotional reaction / No emotional reaction
workers] actually judge a parent for being 'unreasonable', 'aggressive', 'yelling', 'overemotional'. Yet, you show no emotion at all, and [they think] the parent is 'clearly on a substance', 'unable to make eye contact'.
14. Professional relationships and relating
- There are two carers I've never met, three actually, and you're going, 'I wonder what these people are like
- Even though I was making bad decisions, I had a lot of knowledge about him that they were not really taking into consideration
- Have this partnership right from the very beginning. Have everything laid out on the table; 'yes, we've taken your children, but we can put in contact plans while we're sorting through this. We can work together. We can link you in with services'.
- That [group program] was very beneficial in helping my mindset change from being angry to trying to work with them.
- The solicitor was - he was good. When I'd get there, he'd - do you want a cup of tea? He was fantastic.
15. Parent-child relationships and attachments
- During removal] …I said 'can I please give them a cuddle?' and they allowed me, while they're holding me, to just reach forward and put my arms around each one and kiss them goodbye….
- I feel like we can't bond properly… we don't have enough contact with him.
- …'you're not going to leave me are you mummy?' … 'You won't leave me mum, where are you?' So, it was pretty hard to have him removed when you'd always told him you are going to be there.
- A bit more support to 'rebuild', that's the word I am looking for, to rebuild my son… in himself, his education, his health, all that stuff.
- If we just sat there [during contact] for an hour and a half talking, that's not rebuilding our relationship, so I went out of my way to get different little things
16. Grief and Loss
- I smile on the outside, but inside I'm dying.
- So, it's like losing a child without a burial, without a grave. It's the only way I could describe that… I still have her bedroom. Nothing has been touched…
- I know they tell you not to cry, please don't let your child see you distressed. So that was really hard. But that's what they say to you, see you next time, they don't…say are you okay, they just go see you next time
- Anybody who's having their child removed, I don't think they are rational. They're certainly not going to be happy
- they were so patient with me….Then they were gentle enough to just keep slowly going and then I kept having light bulb moments
- [A worker] said, we don't consider you really parents. I don't consider you a parent. You're more like genetic material that your child has a right to know.
- I don't get to hurt my children. I get to nurture them and help them grow. I have so much to offer them. Where before, I would have been crippling them.
- She calls her carer 'mum'… the first time I heard that I cried… I understand. The love that carer has for her, it is true… not just for the money… so I can see why my daughter calls her 'mum'. It doesn't hurt so much anymore.
- She doesn't need a visitor. She needs a mother.
18. 3. Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter Inc- a children's rights organisation
[photo array meeting and posters]
- Working with the Family Inclusion Network of Australia
19. Promoting systems change through parent leadership
- Launching the research report – reframing parents as experts and leaders
- Partnering with family inclusion organisations nationally and internationally.
20. Lived experiences of change – challenging stereotypes and introducing complexity – www.finclusionh.org
[photos of website launch]
In order to keep kids safe and do the best we can for them we need all the voices at the table – including parents
Gillian Calvert AO
Inaugural Commissioner for children and young people NSW
21.Learning from parents to improve children's outcomes
- Thankyou for teaching us. You have changed the way I think and will change the way I practice. worker, 2014.
- I have been working in this field for many years but this would be the best, most beneficial training that I have ever attended. As caseworkers we can be arrogant and feel we know better but that is not the truth. The truth is that parents are the experts, parents love their children and parents will fight forever. worker, 2016
22. Peer support and advocacy
- It's great to talk to someone who has been there, who really gets it
- I want to talk to a parent. No offence, I'm sure you're really nice. But another parent will know what I'm going through
- Partnering with Life Without Barriers in the first family mentor role in an out of home care setting in Australia- that we know of.
23. Supporting and connecting with families
- A facebook page and website for parents and family to get information and support: www.finclusionh.org
- Images of posters promoting meetings
24. 4. Bringing research and practice together
- Children and families will benefit from improved support and advocacy with statutory services including OOHC agencies
- Refocusing on family relationships – not just contact
- Acknowledging an ongoing parenting role both to continue relationships and support restoration
- Building relationships between carers and parents that are child focused
- Connecting parents and family to each other – peer support
- Building cultures of family engagement in order to drive practice change – it is not enough to adopt models or write new policies – leadership is needed.
25. Relationships – for workers and carers
- Provide practical support – transport, activities and in other ways as needed. Offer support – don't wait to be asked.
- Be supportive and non-judgmental of parents at all points of involvement
- Use tones of voice to indicate support, non-judgement. Communicate well
- Maintain contact with parents and listen to what parents have to say – don't judge emotions
- Work in partnership, treat parents with respect and as people
- Be open to parents changing
- Acknowledge parents love their children
- Support help-seeking, help parents when they are struggling. Make warm referrals
- Invite trust and be trustworthy. Parents wont trust you at first – why should they?
- Learn about and understand parents' circumstances – be curious
- Be sensitive to emotional and practical impacts of removal and related processes on parents
- Respect parents in conversations with children
- Involve parents in decision making processes that will affect their child for the rest of their child's life
- Be real and genuine – use a human approach – think… if it was you how would you want to be treated?
26. Family relationships – not just contact
- Take an individualised child and family approach to family relationships.
- Use a process and relationship based approach to family relationships – not a family contact event based approach.
- Help parents make time with kids fun and happy.
- Provide practical help and resources when parents need it
- Reduce and remove supervisory arrangements whenever possible. If support is needed then provide it. Supervision on it's own does little to support family relationships.
- Reduce power imbalances – reconsider arrangements where family members and carers are asked to supervise other family members. This can have devastating consequences for family relationships
27. Parent ideas for group programs and service development…
- Specific for parents who have had children removed and do not have children in their care.
- Knowledgeable and supportive facilitators in group programs.
- Relevant to parent's circumstances, e.g., relationship program.
- Intergenerational focus, e.g., your parents' parenting.
- Include content on rights, policy and legal issues. Address the power dynamics in the system
- Gender, e.g., groups and services for men/fathers, not just mums.
- Transport (e.g., provided, proximity to venue).
- Accommodate child care needs – lots of parents with kids in care have children at home too
- Be creative to help parents meet program criteria
- Accommodate parents commitments in planning, especially for self-development and parenting.
- Make "warm" and supportive referrals to make sure the services are helpful and appropriate
- Free whenever possible. Parents often don't have much money
28. Family Inclusive Practice workshop
- FISH and Life Without Barriers are partnering to pilot a one day workshop in family inclusive practice
- It is co facilitated by an experienced child protection social worker and a parent with lived experience.
- When it is finalised in early 2018, FISH will offer this workshop to agencies and workers in the field. Email email@example.com to find out more.
29. References and Resources
- A resource sheet will be on the AIFS website with links to relevant resources and websites as well as the references from today's presentation.
- Feel free to contact us if you have more questions.
- The research team can be contacted via Jessica Cocks at Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter can be contacted at email@example.com
- Join the conversation and access key resources
- Continue the conversation started here today and access related resources on the CFCA page.
- Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter
The Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter website provides provides information and resources to support families whose child has been removed by child protection authorities and placed in out-of-home care.
- 'No voice, no opinion, nothing’: Parent experiences when children are removed and placed in care
This research report explores parents' experiences of the legal and support system when they had children removed and placed in care.
- The experiences of parents and families of children and young people in care
This report is published as part of social research project undertaken by Anglicare WA, on behalf of Family Inclusion Network WA.
- National Institute for Permanent Family Connectedness (USA)
This website provides information about the Family Finding model, which offers methods and strategies to locate and engage relatives of children currently living in out-of-home care.
- Protecting children is everyone’s business: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020
The National Framework is an ambitious, long-term approach to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children and aims to deliver a substantial and sustained reduction in levels of child abuse and neglect over time.
- Bullen, T., Taplin, S., McArthur, M., Humphreys, C., and Kertesz, M. (2016). Kcontact: perspectives of parents, carers and professionals on supervised contact with children in care and parent – child relationships, Paper presented at the Association for Chidren’s Welfare Agencies Conference, Sydney.
- Dalziel, K., Dawe, S., Harnett, P., and Segal, L. (2015). Cost effectiveness analysis of the parents under pressure program for methadone maintained parents, Child Abuse Review, 24, pp. 317–331.
- Family and Community Services, New South Wales (FACS NSW). (2015). Hunter New England, FACS statistics. Available at: www.facs.nsw.gov.au/facs-statistics/facs-districts/hunter-new-england
- Harries, M. (2008). The experiences of parents and families of children and young people in care, Anglicare WA, Perth. Available at: www.finwa.org.au
- Hinton, T. (2013). Parents in the child protection system, Social Action and Research Centre, Anglicare Tasmania
- Klease, C. (2008). Silenced stakeholders: responding to mother’s experiences of the child protection system, Children Australia, 33 (3), pp. 21–28.
- Reimer, E. (2013). Relationship based practice with families where child neglect is an issue: putting relationship development under the microscope, Australian Social Work, 66(3), pp. 455-470.
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