Preventing placement breakdown and promoting stability in out-of-home care

Content type
Event date

22 September 2021, 01:00PM to 02:00PM


Wade Mahoney, Stacy Blythe, Greg Antcliff




About this webinar

This webinar was held on Wednesday, 22 September 2021. 

Placement stability is a critical objective for child and family welfare services and is associated with better outcomes for children in care. The number of times a child moves placements can be a useful measure of stability; however, this measure is also limited and sometimes moves are in the child’s best interest, such as a move to kinship care.

This webinar explored the concept of stability and offered strategies for achieving positive outcomes for children and young people in care. Specifically, it:

  • Summarised the evidence on factors influencing placement moves
  • Outlined strategies for identifying and preventing placement breakdown
  • Explored how supporting carers can promote stability for children in care.

This webinar is of interest to professionals working with young people across out-of-home care, housing, mental health, education and other child, youth and family services.

Featured image: © GettyImages/Sneksy

Audio transcript (edited)

NERIDA JOSS: Welcome everyone to today’s webinar, Preventing Placement Breakdown and Promoting Stability in Out-of-Home Care. I’m Nerida Joss and I’m the Executive Manager of the Child and Family Evidence Program at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Today I’m speaking from Melbourne where AIFS is located on the lands of the Bunurong and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation. I would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal owners of this land and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to any elders and First Nations people attending the webinar today.

So, today we’re talking about placement stability in out-of-home care. We know that placement stability creates better outcomes for children in care, and the number of moves a child experiences can be a useful measure of placement stability, but it doesn’t tell us the whole picture and sometimes a placement move can be in the best interests of the child. Drawing on research, clinical practice and lived experience, we’re going to explore today what stability means and discuss what helps achieve positive outcomes for children and young people in care.

So, our presenters joining us today will be providing insights based on their unique and shared experience in out-of-home care. I invite Wade Mahoney, Dr Stacy Blythe and Greg Antcliff to now join the webinar. Wade Mahoney has worked with the child protection and out-of-home care sector for almost 20 years and is currently the operations manager of the permanency support program for an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation called Wandiyali in the Newcastle area.

Dr Stacy Blythe is a registered nurse and has completed a PhD on the health and wellbeing of children in out-of-home care and their families. Stacy has also been an authorised foster carer for more than 16 years. And Greg Antcliff is the national principal practitioner at Life Without Barriers. Greg is a registered psychologist with over 20 years’ experience working in the not-for-profit sector including child protection and out-of-home care. Welcome everyone.

WADE MAHONEY: Thanks, Nerida.


NERIDA JOSS: In mid-2019 there were nearly 45, 000 children in out-of-home care in Australia. CFCA has recently conducted a scoping review, drawing on both local and international evidence to understand what contributes to a placement move in out-of-home care. So, if the audience are interested in more detail about the findings from the review, you can download the paper from the CFCA website.

But the findings indicated several key factors that are likely to increase the risk of a placement move and reduce the duration of the placement, including the age of which a child first enters out-of-home care, presence of externalising behaviour and the number of previous placements. The review also found that placement in kinship care reduces the risk of a placement move and increases placement stability, especially for older children. And there was actually mixed evidence on the impact of placement with siblings on placement stability.

The review also highlighted the significant gap in Australian evidence on risk and protective factors for placement moves for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are over-represented in out-of-home care. The evidence also showed that planning for placement stability and supporting both the child and the carer can help to increase placement stability.

So, that’s where I probably want to kick off our discussion with the panel, given that the review highlighted factors associated with placement moves, but this is only one way to measure stability. I’d be interested to find out from you all through your experience, what are the key factors that you observed contributing to placement stability or breakdown. Wade, we might start with you. As a practitioner working in an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation, what are your insights?

WADE MAHONEY: Thanks, Nerida. I was really quite interested to read the review and learn that we’re absolutely experiencing all of the indicators of placement stability and/or breakdown that were captured within the review. But from an Aboriginal perspective, and the current Aboriginal org that I’m working with, Wandiyali, I’ve noticed – and have previously with Aboriginal orgs – that an indicator of stability that is intrinsically linked to the Aboriginal org which has case management of the children or young people, and supports the carer household in that, our carer families feel a part of the broader family of that organisation.

Aboriginal community-controlled organisations generally start as a family venture to improve circumstances within and for their community, and grow because of need. Where that sense of family is able to endure within those organisations, inevitably carers and carer households come into that organisation and feel a part of that family. Carers often know each other or are known to each other, and children have existing relationships with a number of different carer households. And we’re seeing that today at Wandiyali.

So, we end up in a situation where children and young people – generally young people – do move in care because of challenging behaviours, carer circumstances, etcetera, but that child or young person remains connected to the organisation and/or the staff of that organisation. Which is representative I guess of an Aboriginal community of theirs, again, intrinsically linked to the organisation for whom supports the carers and the children and the young people. And that’s a sense of stability despite movement in care.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Wade. So, really that sense of connection. Greg, did you have some insights, building on what Wade’s just shared with us?

GREG ANTCLIFF: I did. I wanted to acknowledge the findings of the report. My experience has been when there’s the presence of externalising behaviours, unless you act early and act quick, it is the highway to placement breakdown. You can always predict it. Where there’s emotional and behavioural problems expressed by a child or young person, we then expect our carers to have extra parental skills to be able to deal with that. And often we’ve got new carers that are coming in that there’s a mismatch then, they’ve got a lot to give and then in the presence of these extraordinary behaviours, feel like they’re not sure how to deal with it. And that can lead to very fast placement breakdowns.

And it’s no surprise that with age it’s more likely to have a placement breakdown with the increase in age because those behaviours become bigger and more pronounced and people feel disempowered or they don’t know what to do in the presence of them. So, that leads us I suppose to what do we then do about this? Carer support, carer support, carer support. How do we front end load carer support into the way that we do our matching and have intense periods of supporting in those first periods of time so we stabilise families and enable them to grow and to flourish into the future.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Greg. And I guess a good segue to invite you into the conversation, Stacy, from a lived experience perspective. And also, drawing on your research in your PhD.

STACY BLYTHE: Thanks, Nerida. I think it’s really interesting, this question. Because we looked at factors associated with instability, and often that research looks at here’s a child who’s had X number of placements and this placement broke down, what are the things that correlate. And I want to point out that often the research can be somewhat skewed because children who have achieved placement stability can sometimes have multiple placements.

So, for example, one of the children currently in my care has been with me for 16 years, but if he was involved in this research, it would list that he’d had five placements because he had multiple placements prior to coming into my care. And sometimes those placements are a matter of policy or administrative functioning, because we have a short-term placement for emergency care and then a short-term placement while a long-term placement person is being looked into. Or they might be placed with a sibling to see whether or not they get along. But he’s had stability because he’s been with me now for 16 years. So, I think it’s important to understand that there are limitations to the research.

And I think in terms of your question is this the only way to measure stability, I don’t think so. I think that we have families in society who aren’t necessarily in the out-of-home care sector where there’s dysfunction and there’s breakdown, but it doesn’t mean that the children don’t have stability. For example, when you look at a divorced family, you can have a child who feels very stable, very loved, very much like they belong, but they’re living between two households. And I think sometimes we get so focused on placement breakdown and the number of placements, that we can lose sight of the fact that children can feel loved and feel like they belong, and still move. And I think that’s something that we need to kind of keep in the back of our mind, it’s not just about the number of placements.

But I couldn’t agree more with Greg that we need to be better at preparing our carers. I think often because of the shortage of carers that we have and the need to expedite placements for children, that we don’t take the time to actually give them the training that they need related to the specific placement that we give them. Sometimes we’re just trying to train them on the go, and that does a disservice to both the children and the carers.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Stacy. And we’ll touch a little bit later on around the challenges and support required for carers who are working in out-of-home care. But I just wanted to stick briefly with the key factors that contribute to placement moves. And you talked about the number of placement moves certainly not being the only way to measure stability. From your research and also from your experience, what do you believe are – if there are better ways to think about stability and understanding how we can determine whether there’s placement stability or instability.

STACY BLYTHE: I think one of the important things is making sure that everyone’s on the same page. In New South Wales where I currently live, the new permanency support programs have been put into place. And I think that we still have a lot of work to do in order to understand whether or not everyone views permanency the same way. So, often foster carers hear the word ‘permanency’, and they think permanent placement. Whereas the permanency support program actually has the goal of permanency for the child, but that might be permanency through reunification with their family, which is always the first and best option when it’s possible. Or it might be placement into out-of-home care. And I think it’s important to make sure that everyone’s on the same page.

My own research when working with foster carers found that foster carers perceive their role differently when the goal changes. So, if the goal is for the child to stay in their care long-term, they position themselves in a parental role and they commit for the long-term. But if they think that they are a temporary care giver of a child, the way that they approach their role is very different because they reserve that position for whoever will be taking that long-term role. So, I think it’s really important that we be clear with the carers about what the goal is.

And the research also says that children and young people in particular, the way they perceive belonging differs to what policy makers and case workers and carers may even think. And that for them, the most important thing isn’t necessarily the number of moves, but the depth of the relationships that they have with the people who are in their lives. And we need to understand that and prioritise that when we’re working with these families.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Stacy. So, in the face of frequent placement moves then, how do we build stability for children in out-of-home care? What sort of strategies do we know work to help build that stability? I might throw to Greg first and then get answers from the others.

GREG ANTCLIFF: Thank you. I wanted to just build on from what Stacy said around stability of people and stability of place. So, if you can’t have the stability of place for whatever reasons, we could look to who are the people in the children’s lives, using that ecological framework around aunties, uncles, foster carers. How can we help all of those people be on the same page, as what Stacy said, to have the best interests of the child at heart. How do we work in a way that communicates and promotes family inclusion in that way in the out-of-home care sector. But it seems to be relatively reactive, but we can be planned and purposeful in the way that we work.

And part of that would be how can we keep children engaged in education or early learning, because they’re their friendship networks. How can we promote those routines of their talents and interests where they’re connected to the community where there’s high prosocial areas and people within the communities. So, if you’re not able to impact on place, look at all other domains in a child’s life, of people, of talents and interests, of education, and things that are anchored into the community with high prosocial values that cement that feeling a sense of belonging. And we know that that is important for positive trajectories.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Greg. And that belonging and that connection is really what you were talking about, Wade, at the start of the webinar. Did you want to add to that?

WADE MAHONEY: Yeah, look, absolutely. And I agree, all of those things are so important to create that sense of belonging, and with it, that sense of stability. And in terms of supporting carers, having moved from Victoria some time ago to New South Wales, I was really quite amazed I guess at how dislocated the relationship was between the care team, as it was described, and carer households. As soon as we stop communicating with carers and treating them in us and them terms, they feel totally alone.

And when you’ve got a challenging child or young person in your home and you’re not getting communication from the care team and you’re not kept informed in terms of future plans for that child, young person, visits with family, etcetera – when a carer isn’t considered and a carer’s lifestyle – and the daily grind of having to care for themselves, their own children and foster children often, and often holding down a job, it just becomes too much. And we’re doing it here at Wandiyali, keeping kids in placements by communicating often and regularly with foster carers.

And letting them know they’re part of the team so that in those really dark hours when things are just too challenging, there’s somebody at the end of the telephone. And it’s somebody who they communicate with often and regularly who knows what they’re going through. It’s amazing what just communicating regularly and often does to maintain a placement.

NERIDA JOSS: So, are there early signs that can be addressed to help prevent placement breakdown? Are there key early signs to look out for?

WADE MAHONEY: Yeah, I think. And we do see it and it’s often part of that reflective practice activities that I do here regularly with case workers around identifying missed opportunities for intervention or interactions with a child, a young person or a carer household, where we didn’t recognise because we’re swallowed up in a busy world and it was a missed opportunity to potentially support a carer, take a child for a short interlude away from a placement to give them some breathing space.

And there are signs. Young people isolating themselves from the rest of the family and remaining in bedrooms, not returning home when they normally would, not contacting a carer and letting them know that they’re going to be late, as per normal. So, any sort of sudden change in behaviour, a young person. Coming into those sort of early teenage years when identity becomes really important to them and they’re looking for that connection, etcetera, it’s those opportunities that we’re often reflecting on as missed opportunities to prevent something that we then inevitably have to deal with down the track.

NERIDA JOSS: I’m just going to pass to Greg and Stacy to see whether you want to build on that. Because I think it’s a really useful conversation to have, what are the early signs.

GREG ANTCLIFF: I think if you see every single placement breakdown that I’ve seen and you go, “Was there a sign?” Whenever anyone reflects, they go, “Well, the carer said this in the beginning, but I didn’t think anything of it.” So, I think in addition to the frequent contact, we need deep listening. If a carer comes to you and says something, “I was just wondering about that.” Then they go, “Don’t worry about it.” Worry about it. Because underneath that, they were trying to convey something that they weren’t yet feeling comfortable to convey. Or they may not have been sure about their approach or confident in their approach. And for them to share that with a third party is admitting they’re not sure on what to do.

So, I feel like that that’s a really big thing that we need to listen really early on, and for any early signs that there may be an escalation in child behaviour, we need to increase that support tenfold. We need to be on the front foot with carer coaching, day or night and not nine to five. So, they can apply the new skills in the rhythm of normal life. Because those every day moments is when we teach new behaviour models. So, I think we need to listen deeply and look for those early signs of any form of escalation of externalising behaviours, them also associated with the difficulties that arise with trying to support the child with those behaviours.

STACY BLYTHE: I’d like to build on what Greg was saying there, and what Wade was saying earlier. It is so important that the relationship between the carers and the caseworkers be a positive relationship. The carers need to feel like they can trust their caseworker. And unfortunately there’s a lot of anecdotal and empirical evidence that suggests that those relationships are often fraught with tension. And if a carer is struggling to care for a child, they may be hesitant to ask for help if they feel that their request isn’t going to be well received. And that’s a real problem because carers – we don’t know everything. And every child is different. And you might have had 50 different kids in your care and now you’ve got number 51 who’s got a whole different set of behaviours and you’re not sure what to do with them. If you don’t feel like you can reach out and ask for help, that’s a real problem.

We had an issue not long ago in my own home and we had a change of caseworker in the middle of it. And one of my children said to me, “Mum, why is it every time something goes wrong, we get a new caseworker?” And that just points to the instability with the entire sector. And that’s a real issue too because stability in the placement is affected by whether or not you’ve got a caseworker who knows the family and can work well with the family. And that goes, again, back to having the same goals and understanding where everyone’s headed. So, I think it’s really, really important that we recognise that.

In terms of signs, sometimes the signs just aren’t there. And sometimes it can take everyone by surprise, because you can’t predict necessarily what’s happening with internalising behaviours for children. If they’re struggling with anxiety or depression or other mental health issues. And that’s where the deep listening that Greg was talking about is so important. And a lot of times what carers need is for someone to listen and affirm and say, “Yeah, that must be really hard.” It’s not just about here’s the answer. You don’t need to be Tim The Toolman Taylor from the old Home Improvement show. We don’t necessarily want you to give us the answers, we want you to work with us and listen to us and acknowledge that sometimes it’s really hard. And when you do that, that goes a long way to helping breathe some more stability back into that placement.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Stacy. In talking about externalising behaviours – and you gave the example of changing caseworkers – are there other areas of a child’s life that you can support? If placement stability isn’t something that is working, are there other parts of the child’s life that you can support to try and build that stability for them?

STACY BLYTHE: Well, I think it goes back to – I think it was Greg was talking about earlier – drawing on the strengths of the other people in the children’s lives. So, the caseworker is one person, but they’re a very important conduit through which stability is achieved because of their involvement with the sector and with the family. But there are mentors and there are teachers and there are family members, and wherever possible if carers can have a good relationship with the biological family, that’s so important as well. And a lot of carers do that really effectively and they should be supported to do that where that’s possible.

But I think it’s really important that we also understand, like I was saying before, you can’t always see the signs coming. And I know you said we were going to talk about support later, but one of the things is helping carers know in advance before we get there, that these are possibilities down the road and let’s get you equipped so that when it happens, you’ve got some idea of what’s going on.

And a good example of that are children with a history of being prenatally exposed to addictive substances or alcohol. This is one of my specialty areas. We know that when they’re born, they might go through withdrawal but then they settle for a period of time before the externalising behaviours start to manifest. And we can have a really stable placement for four or five years and then all of a sudden, the wheels all fall off and carers are caught off guard because we haven’t used that period of time to prepare them. So, it’s really important that we keep that communication open and that we look ahead. That’s a predictable placement breakdown if we’re actually planning in advance.

NERIDA JOSS: We have talked a lot about carers. So, how can we better support carers for the challenge of fostering? I’m interested to hear from you all what you believe are kind of the key strategies or the key approaches that would help prepare carers? That certainly came out in the evidence review as an evidence informed practice implication. We know that there’s evidence, but I’d be interested to hear from your experience in practice.

GREG ANTCLIFF: I think this is the real opportunity for us to improve upon the work. I think the assessment part of the process is really quite tricky. It takes a long time. But on top of that, we need to then support carers post- the suitability of assessment. What are the skills and knowledge that they need to be able to be successful? How can we be proactive around that and design services that are developmentally anticipatory? So, we’re anticipating the development of children and that we’re equipping carers with the skills that they’re going to need at the right time. So, front end loading respite into every single placement. It may seem like an extreme idea, but doing that, how much can you stabilise a placement over a longer period of time because you reduced ongoing or cumulative impact or stress to the carers.

So, I’d say be proactive and anticipatory, increase carer coaching in evidence-based parenting skills that help you deal with both externalising and internalising behaviours, and have that as part of your everyday program. And then the regular support and contact and top ups around that. Because the more skills that they’ve got here, the more stable the placement’s probably going to be in the long-term. Which then fits with that evidence, if the quality of that caring relationship is well, it really impacts on placement stability now and into the future.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Greg. Wade, did you want to jump in?

WADE MAHONEY: Yeah, absolutely. Greg, you’re right. It begins right at that assessment phase where carers are applicants. And of course they want to, they dearly want to, and sometimes that desire to be a foster carer might sit with them for years and years and at some point in time, they’ll act on that and reach out to an organisation. For Aboriginal carers, I guess the widely used assessment tool here in New South Wales is a competency-based assessment tool. And it is really quite comprehensive, it is really quite thorough, but I’ve seen a number of Aboriginal carer applicants who as soon as you mention competency-based, they’re out to prove that they’re competent. And what you learn as an assessor isn’t always necessarily what the reality is within that carer applicant’s history, current circumstances, current household.

And an incredible tool developed for with oversight for Aboriginal practitioners, the Winangay carer assessment tools actually allow carer applicants to tell their story and be given an understanding and an awareness of the skillset and some of the challenges that they might face. And it allows those carer applicants – and often kinship carers – to self-assess in way to be able to say these are the skills that I’m going to need to grow because you’re saying that they’re really important in a foster care setting.

So, immediately setting up a relationship where carers are generally honest with assessors, rather than trying to prove their competence. They’re learning about the skillset that they’re going to at some point need to call on in challenging situations, and they’re often giving a really quite accurate self-assessment of I would like some growth in that area. And they’re opportune times to be able to – and those tools developed by Winangay actually really prompt you to develop a development plan, to grow a development plan, with that carer applicant during that assessment period. It’s another great tool developed for and by Aboriginal people that works really well.

Of course it’s not failproof. No assessment is. The proof is always in the pudding when there are challenging circumstances and children within homes, that’s when a carer applicant’s default position becomes apparent brought on by stress, and it’s then that regular communication, that sense of safety that Stacy was talking about, that carers need to feel from the organisation that they’re caring for. That it’s okay to ring and say, “I’m drowning here, and I really need help.”

And without those tools that start right from the very first phone call where an applicant says, “I’d like to be a carer, " to that late night phone call where you’re supporting a carer through a potential placement breakdown, all of the steps in between are so important. Miss one of them and you’re going to deal with placement breakdowns.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Wade. Stacy, I’m going to get you to finish with a response to that question because I think your insights will be really valuable as well. And then we’ll kick off with some questions that are coming through from the audience.

STACY BLYTHE: Sure. Thanks for that. Look, I agree with what’s been said here. Most of the professionals that I speak to within the sector always ask me the same question, how can we better support carers? What can we better do to support carers? Because we need our carers. They’re so important. And I think that first of all needs to be communicated to the carers. I know many carers who don’t feel valued, who don’t feel like they’re a part of the team. Carers who complain of bullying and who are afraid to voice when they need assistance.

I think we need to remember that carers are volunteers. They are people who put their hand up and said, “Yes, I will make room in my home for a child who needs to feel safe.” And when they do that, in all honesty I don’t think there’s any amount of preparation that we can give them for them to fully understand what it means to take in a child from someone else’s family and make them part of your own family.

We can’t mandate that they love the children. That’s impossible. And yet that’s exactly what we need them to do in order for these children to feel safe and like they belong. The truth is, we grossly inadequately prepare carers. Because it’s very difficult to prepare them for what’s ahead. And each state and territory in Australia varies in what kind of training they offer. Some mandate a particular number of hours. But we’re not strategic enough with the training that we provide carers in order to give them the skills to equip.

So, for example, I do training with carers related to looking after children who have a history of substance exposure during pregnancy. So, Mum was using addictive substances or alcohol. And often carers come to my training when the children are five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years old, and they find out that there were things they could have been doing when the children were one, two, three, four and five, but no one ever told them, that would have helped them manage their behaviours better. And they’re distraught. They’re absolutely beside themselves because they missed a window of opportunity to build into these children. And I think we need to be more strategic about offering the right kind of training to the right people.

Another really good example, a kinship carer who’s looking after his grandson came to my training one day. Grandson was not exposed to substances during pregnancy, was removed for a different reason. But he had to do his 20 hours of training, so he just picked something. It was a ridiculous waste of time for him, and he might have taken the spot of another trainer who needed to be there. So, I think we need to be much more strategic.

And going back to the concept of reflective practice, we don’t do this with carers. Why do we only have our professionals do this? Why are we not facilitating reflective practice with our carers and allowing them to share their experiences with one another in a constructive way? Because who better to sit and listen and share strategies and ideas than someone else who has experienced something very similar. It might need to be facilitated so it stays positive, but I think that would be really important.

And just one final note related to training and support for carers. We do a lot of training with carers in relation to trauma and understanding children’s trauma, but we do very little to prepare carers for the experience of vicarious trauma. And if anyone is going to experience vicarious trauma, it is going to be the carer who the children are disclosing to. And the carer who is watching the children struggle with trauma symptomology. We must do much better at preparing carers for vicarious trauma.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Stacy. A question’s just come through from the audience and it actually builds on what you were saying before about what motivates people to become carers and the values that drive their desire to be a carer. So, the question is what can help carers to stay connected to the values which motivated them to apply to be a carer? I think that’s a pretty good question.

STACY BLYTHE: Well, I can answer that one if that’s okay with you two? I think, again, going back to the idea of reflective practice and reminding themselves – actually taking the time to say, “I went into this to do X, Y or Z. The reason I became a carer, ” or, “The reason I love this child, ” or, “The reason that I’ve been here for the last four or five, six years with this child is because, ” – and going back to those initial moments.

We can’t control children. You can’t control someone else’s behaviour, you can only control your own. And when you’re watching a child have trauma symptomology or externalising behaviours that are challenging, you can have all of the empathy in the world and say, look, I totally understand that this child is yelling at me and telling me they hate me, and they don’t really mean it because it’s trauma, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still the experience that you’re having. And it hurts and it’s horrible to think you’ve invested in someone and they’re telling you they hate you and you can go wherever. Because we can be very creative with language when we’re angry. But it’s taking those moments to stop and actively reflect. And I think we need to help carers learn to do that better, and we don’t teach that.

NERIDA JOSS: Greg, and, Wade, did you want to weigh in on the values and supporting the values that motivate people to become carers in the first place?

GREG ANTCLIFF: The only thing I would say is how can we validate and normalise the caring experience? Of all my friends who are parents, they get constant validation, you’re okay, you’re doing okay parenting. But as a carer, I’m just not sure that system automatically kicks in. Increasing the validation, normalisation of the experience that they’re having to be just like other people across society is really important as well. Because sometimes people say, “Today I felt like I had a parenting fail.” They may feel like they’ve had a caring fail that day. Being reminded, as Stacy said. The key thing is validating and normalising that that’s part of the process as well.

WADE MAHONEY: I’d like to add. I think, yes, most of us have a core set of values that pretty much endure, but other sets of values that we carry change as our circumstances grow, as we mature. And I guess, again, looking at the very first phone call and those early conversations around somebody’s values and throughout the assessment process, which is, when done properly, really quite thorough, really quite probing. And as a practitioner, you should walk away from that assessment feeling as though you’ve known those carers forever. And if you don’t do that, then potentially you’ve not spent enough time, you’ve not asked the right questions, you’ve treated it as an assessment rather than a conversation.

And through that process, whilst you may be told what was your motivation to become a carer, in a really good assessment you should also be able to identify a number of other reasons that that person is keen to become a carer and where I guess those motivations are shallow or in a point in time, thought bubble type motivators. That needs to be challenged and it needs to be spoken about and carers need to be made aware of the challenges that they’ll face and will those motivators pull them through those challenging times I guess.

NERIDA JOSS: So, I’m just looking as the questions are coming through. Just building on what you said, Wade, there’s a question here when practitioners are building rapport with new carers, how do they spot the signs that carers are struggling when they might be masking it well? Are there any tips?

WADE MAHONEY: And that absolutely occurs. Nobody new in whatever role, voluntary, paid, relating to caring for others or whatever the role, nobody wants to feel inadequate by the very person who’s supporting you in that role. And I guess that relationship is established really early and it’s conversations from carers and realistic conversations with carers – sorry, from caseworkers. And from the agency. The message needs to come from the top of an agency and filter down through staff.

It’s okay to not know how to do something. You don’t know what you don’t know, and be willing to learn. And if you make mistakes, that’s what you learn from, that’s how you grow. Where a punitive response is given to a mistake taken, that’s when you’re going to have that exact scenario where carers are too afraid to speak to caseworkers or carer support staff about mistakes they have made. And those things snowball. Those mistakes and that feeling of I’ve done something wrong, I need to bury this, those things snowball. I can’t help but feel carers are just that, they’re caring people, they have a conscience. Those things are hard to live with. So, it’s about just an open honest conversation that if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn and you don’t grow.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Wade.

STACY BLYTHE: Can I add to that, Nerida?

NERIDA JOSS: Of course.

STACY BLYTHE: It all comes back to the relationship. It absolutely 100% comes back to the relationship. I had a caseworker once who I’ve actually – she’s no longer a caseworker for my children, but I’ve remained in contact with her after she moved on to bigger and brighter places, because we developed great rapport. And the reason we developed great rapport is because she could acknowledge my experience as a carer and she respected that I knew these children better than she did, because she was a new caseworker and had only been with our family for a short amount of time. And that goes a long way to creating that rapport.

When you have a caseworker who can look at a carer who’s experienced and say, “Look, I can learn from you, ” then you’re going to have a carer who looks at the caseworker who says, “And I’m going to ask you for help when I need it.” Because there’s an exchange of information and respect at that point. And I think that’s so very important that we have in order to support our carers. It’s really, really important that that relationship be intact and that’s fundamental. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing in terms of being able to identify when something’s going to go wrong and being able to step in and fix it.

GREG ANTCLIFF: I also think that there’s a practice that we can do here because let’s face it, the carers have been through an assessment. So, people are taking information, assessing it, weighing it up, about what it means for risk and suitability and attributes and all those sorts of things. And then they’ve got the caseworker who’s going, is this good for the child? So, that needs to be acknowledged and upfront.

And in establishing that relationship, how can you establish the relationship so you can say very hard things that doesn’t personalise the relationship, but actually then protects the relationship but still gets the issues on the table? So, I think if you contract with your carers about how we’re going to work together, how do you receive feedback? If you don’t agree with me, how would you let me know? In the future when there’s a problem in the road – because we’re going to hit it where we don’t agree at some stage – what’s the plan that kicks in? So, we’ve done pre-emptive problem solving for when we hit that stage, then the plan does the talking, the relationship is protected.

But it’s a really good question and we do have to realise where’s the starting point in the trust of the relationship, and acknowledging that. And then how do we put that away to be led by carers at times, instead of taking the lead authentically. And preparing just in case there is those problems that we hit down the road.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Greg. Now, there’s actually quite a few questions coming through about the tool that you were referring to, Wade, at the start of the webinar. The audience are asking for you to repeat the name of the tool and what it’s referring to. So, I’m wondering whether you could give a little bit more information about that.

WADE MAHONEY: Sure. Winangay. Winangay which it’s basically a group of ladies who have vast amounts of experience in and around the care sector and personal care experiences for some that are currently involved. Overseen by an Aboriginal elder from inland New South Wales, Aunty Susie Blacklock, who at one point in her care experience was the carer of the year. And together these ladies developed a kinship carer assessment tool. And developed by and for Aboriginal kinship carer applicants to be delivered by Aboriginal practitioners who have been trained and are supported by Winangay.

It’s partially self-assessment tools that allows a carer applicant to learn of the skills, the attributes, the attitudes, the values that they’re going to require in a carer environment, that are also going to be tested within a care environment. And it allows them to self-assess in terms of identifying where they think they’re going to need ongoing support and development to be able to weather the storm that might challenge their values, their attitudes or their coping mechanisms.

So, they’re really good slow-paced tools that prompt a conversation basically. And it’s that relationship where it’s non – I mean, of course it’s judgemental. We are trying to determine the suitability of an applicant to care for somebody else’s children under a set of really quite strict guidelines and with various eyes upon them constantly. So, it is a tool of judgement, but these tools are developed to prompt a conversation. And that’s how the relationship begins.

It sets an agenda for development of a relationship so when things do get tough, those conversations can be referred back to. “Remember during that assessment you said you felt really strong in this area, but needed development here. Absolutely this is a development opportunity and we’re going to help you to do that to combat this challenging behaviour or this challenging scenario.”

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Wade. Greg, or, Stacy, did you want to add to the conversation around tools and assessment? I know you touched on it briefly earlier too, Greg, in the conversation.

GREG ANTCLIFF: I’m more looking at evidence-based parenting programs. I mean, I think we’ve done a crackerjack good job of filling up knowledge-base of carers coming into care, but not preparing them for the care experience. So, if we turn to parenting programs and evidence-based parenting programs as tools, how can we select different parenting practices and coach people on how to use them with the children in their care at the same time as providing support to the child.

For instance, if we’re looking at emotional outbursts and that, how can we actually support the carer to parent that, and how can we support the child to develop appropriate behavioural models? So, I think we should, in carer support, be looking at different tools across evidence-based parenting programs and matching those to the needs of carers and providing bespoke solutions for households.

STACY BLYTHE: I would just like to add, if I can, Nerida, having gone through the process of being vetted to be a carer and successfully stayed a carer for 16 years, it is an extremely humbling and vulnerable process. You let all of your skeletons out of the closet because you have to be assessed to care for someone else’s child. And every time that there is a change of caseworker and every time that there is an annual review and you are sitting in a room with yet more professionals who you’ve not met before, there is always this sense of you know everything about me, and I know nothing about you. There’s a real power imbalance.

And for a new carer – and I can speak for my own experience, I was so eager to share everything because I really wanted to be a carer and I wanted to love someone else’s children. It was what I wanted. And you go through this process – it’s extremely humbling, you’re very vulnerable at the end of that. But then to have a poor relationship caseworker who doesn’t respect that you made that sacrifice. And by the time you become a carer, someone else knows everything and it’s all documented for whoever comes in and becomes part of your family care team. They can read whatever they like after that. And that’s a very humbling position to be in. So, I think we need to remember that carers go through that when we’re looking at their motivation. Anyone who’s actually gone through the whole thing, has to really want to do it in order to be that upfront and honest about who they are and why they want to do what they do.

But to be able to then go through all of that and build on it and grow, to have a caseworker who knows you well enough to say, “Hey, you said this was a weakness, let’s use this opportunity to grow, ” what a fantastic strategy to move forward for the whole family. It’s improving the carer as a person, it’s improving the parent and it makes a better home for the children. So, I think, Wade, you’re right on the money there, I think we need more of that.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks all. I think we’ve got time for one more question before we finish up. And I’m just looking at some of the questions coming through. I’m going to change tact a little bit. There’s a question that’s come through, which is how can school staff and school social workers support a child in out-of-home care? So, I thought that might be a useful one to think about, given that it’s looking at a different setting.

WADE MAHONEY: Anyone want to jump – that’s a challenging question. The Department of Education and I guess the rules of engagement that sits around the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the whole school population, is really quite uncompromising. And as it should be generally, in terms of keeping everybody safe. We often, as out-of-home care providers, our caseworkers really struggle with matching the needs of one of our children or young people who have absolutely experienced bouts of quite significant trauma-based behaviour.

And in a pressure environment where potentially they are behind the eight-ball in terms of their peers, the peers that they’re sitting amongst, it creates a situation where things can become really quite explosive. And once that’s occurred, of course the safety, welfare and wellbeing of every other child or young person in the school becomes really quite important. And lots of our children are excluded from schools as a result of that. I mean, similar to what we’ve discussed earlier is early identification of the potential for that happening.

I mean, our guys here send out a letter half-yearly and then at the beginning of the next school year to let schools know that these children or young people are being case managed by Wandiyali and are in a care environment. And please at the very outset of any concerns that you have in relation to that child or young person, please reach out to us. And it is around that early detection and engagement with the ecology that sits around that child or young person.

GREG ANTCLIFF: I also think how can we create an agenda of inclusion, not exclusion, when it comes to education. We know that the educational outcomes for children in out-of-home care lagged those of their peers who aren’t in out-of-home care. So, I think this needs to be a priority area. And how can we influence the education system for inclusion agendas of children that sometimes are hard to include or we need to accommodate to do so? And where a child isn’t ready for learning, how can we leave the door open for second chances?

When we’re going back, talking about stability, this is one of the levers for stability that I think we should be pulling and maintaining all the way through because this is the thread that’s often broken. And they go, “We’ll just wait till they’re stable until we connect them.” Don’t wait for that, this could be the lever that stabilises it.

So, I think we’ve got the opportunity here to really sidle up to education and partner with them, and early learning. We know the influence of early learning on brain development. If a child’s really young going into care, that has to be the number one priority. So, I just think what can we do in our roles to have an inclusion agenda, rather than exclusion with education. And continuity.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Greg. I don’t know whether you wanted to add anything briefly, Stacy.

STACY BLYTHE: I want to echo what Greg and Wade have said. We need to be partnering with the schools and educators. And the entire school environment needs to understand trauma and trauma symptomology and recognise that often what is seen as poor behaviour is a symptom of trauma. And understanding that, will change practice.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Stacy. Okay, so, we’ve got a question that’s just come through from the audience which is when is a placement breakdown necessary and how do we acknowledge carers’ and workers’ disappointment? Do we want to start maybe with you, Greg, first, and then we’ll work our way around the panel.

GREG ANTCLIFF: I think sometimes a placement breakdown – when it’s necessary, it might not be the right placement for the child or young person. And it may not be the right skill match for the carer as well. Or we could have been asking for a skillset beyond that carer’s limit. So, in those circumstances, looking for a different placement that’s going to better meet the needs of the child or young person is really warranted.

So, rather than throw more things at it, we tend to have this thing about we’ll just shock it, shock it with more support, more support. At what point do you realise we’re actually throwing supports at something that actually is a mismatch for the needs of the child, and we’re not doing any favours in propping it up. That’s a hard decision to make.

But in those circumstances where the needs of a child or young person aren’t being met, we need to look at that placement and what their needs are. Also involve the child and their voice within that process, and then move to the appropriate placement. So, in that regard, that’s not a failure of a placement breakdown, it’s acknowledgement of a different need and we’re going to meet the different need. And we should frame it in that way.

NERIDA JOSS: Wade, did you want to follow on from what Greg’s just said?

WADE MAHONEY: I absolutely agree, Greg. And often those signs – again, that reflective practice. But you can actually start to see those signs and they’re sometimes really closely linked to a carer’s set of values and those core values that really can’t be compromised when children or young people display a particular behaviour that continues on, regardless of what’s been attempted. And that is seen as an assault on a set of values that a carer holds really dear and can’t move past and can’t reconcile. And those scenarios should be obvious through an ongoing communication and relationship between carer and agency.

And in those circumstances, it is absolutely detrimental to the child’s ongoing development and growth as a person to insist that that placement continue. It can actually do far more good than harm often. We do at times have to recognise when people’s capacities have been reached. And that’s the capacity of the child or young person to seek different behaviours and the capacity of a carer to forgive and still remain connected and affectionate and supportive and positive about that child or young person.

NERIDA JOSS: Stacy, with your experience as a carer.

STACY BLYTHE: Look, I think one of the things that we need to recognise is that placement breakdown isn’t always a failure. And it’s not always because of one child and the carer or the relationship there. When Wade’s talking about capacity, we need to recognise that our system is stretched and many of our carers have multiple placements in their home. They might have originally been authorised for one or two children and then later asked if they would take additional children because we don’t have enough carers.

And sometimes a placement might break down because that additional child didn’t fit, or that additional child needed more attention than was available in a placement with so many children. And it wasn’t that the carer didn’t have the capacity to care for that child. In a different context with fewer demands on that carer, the carer might have been able to address those needs. But when we have very full homes with lots of children with competing needs, sometimes it’s just not possible to physically be there for each child, or emotionally be there for each child to the capacity that they need.

And I don’t think that that’s necessarily a failure, I think that that’s – again, going back to matching and making sure that we’ve got a good fit at that point. And I think it’s really important that we do frame it that way. Because I know caseworkers can be negatively affected when they feel like a placement’s broken down. Even the words that we use, ‘placement breakdown’, it sounds very negative, it sounds like a failure. And we know multiple placements can have negative effects on children and young people, but I think we need to remember that sometimes when those placements break down, we end up with a better outcome because the next placement’s more optimal for the children.

And I think we also need to remember too that carers experience a sense of grief when children move on. Even if it’s a placement breakdown and they have a sense of relief because there’s less tension in the house, that’s often accompanied with grief. And they go through a period of time and self-reflection where they think could I have done more? Should I have done more? Should I have done things differently? I miss this child, we had good times. We need to be understanding of that, because you don’t just have –

It’s the only context in the world where someone can drop into your life and then be completely removed. And you lose an intimate relationship. It’s not just a colleague at work or something like that, this is someone you shared your home with. So, I think it’s really important we acknowledge that. And a caseworker being able to acknowledge that will really go a long way to developing a positive relationship with the carer, which is what we need.

WADE MAHONEY: I’d like to add something as well. Stacy, you mentioned placement matching and the importance of that can’t be understated. And it’s often so difficult to do because we don’t have generally 15 or 20 carer households lining up, saying, “I have empty beds, please consider me for the next child that needs care.”

And a mantra that I continuously speak to caseworkers here about is when we are dealing with a placement breakdown, it’s very tempting to grab the first available bed for a child, a young person, who’s looking for one. And often that’s because of a need of a caseworker to solve their problem. And I’m often asking caseworkers, “Hang on, is this next placement that you’re considering going to solve your problem or the child’s problem?”

And in terms of placement matching, when that question’s asked, there’s a significant amount of time when the caseworkers actually have to say, “Actually, yeah, to be honest, it was somebody available. I took it because I want to solve my problem.” When we actually look at is this next option going to be good for this child, a young person. That’s when we’re solving their problem, not ours. I just wanted to add that, sorry.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Wade. Greg.

GREG ANTCLIFF: I had two things to follow up on this. One; just because a placement ends, doesn’t mean there’s not continuity of the relationship. We should always throw that back into the mix. Because the person who’s been the carer may still be able to be a positive impact in this child’s life and play a positive role.

And the second thing is acknowledging the grief that carer’s do feel. In another piece of research that we did in speaking to carers, whether they were there a day or a month, they experienced grief when they left. And what made the difference, it was the human condition. It was following up with a text message, “How are you going?” Or picking up the phone, “I know that must have been hard.” And that’s all it took in terms of someone acknowledging that yes, they’re probably experiencing grief, and to check in. So, how can we build that into the way that we work? Because it’s just the human condition.

NERIDA JOSS: Thanks, Greg. We have another question that’s come through from the audience, and that is around the birth parent and carer. How do you successfully navigate a healthy relationship between the birth parent and carer, to support the needs of the child? Might start with you, Stacy, on that one.

STACY BLYTHE: Look, I think it varies between each and every family. But when it can happen, it is so important for it to happen. And it can be such a beneficial thing for the children. When the children can see that their carers and their birth family all get along, that they can communicate and that they can share in the joy of the child, that just creates a scenario for children that’s full of love.

And I’ve been very, very fortunate in my experience as a carer to have good relationships with the biological families of many of the children who’ve come through my care, and it’s wonderful to be able to send birthday pictures or to facilitate phone calls or to have people over for Christmas or whatever. When the children see the families getting along, then the children don’t feel divided. There’s no divided loyalties. It’s not a, “This is my real family and this is my foster family, ” it is, “This is my whole family.” And that’s a much more securing position for children to be in.

And it’s really interesting because the children who are in my care now, I can remember transporting them to their first visit with their grandmother and I asked if I could meet the grandmother. And the caseworker said, “We don’t normally do that.” And I’m like, “Why not?” “Well, we have to protect privacy.”

I said, “Well, I’m happy for her to know who I am, why don’t you ask her if she’s happy for me to know who she is.” And the grandmother said yes, and we met that day and she’d had a great visit with the kid, she was covered in chocolate because they’d had chocolate cake and we had a giggle about that. And we’ve been great friends now for the past 15 years. In fact, today’s her birthday. It’s a wonderful thing that my children are able to have. Just because I asked the question, and I was allowed to make the offer. Now, not every family will be like that, but I think we need to make space for that if families are willing.

WADE MAHONEY: Absolutely. For a long time my view in terms of the system that we operate within in New South Wales, from the very beginning I feel ostracises, alienates and dismisses parents. From a child protection practitioner point of view, your initial goal or aim within a court process is to establish the need for care and protection. And I would argue very strongly that there isn’t a set of parents who don’t continue to care for their children.

Absolutely I acknowledge that in many cases a child needs protection. But they already have people who care about them and that whole notion of establishing care and protection is absolutely dismissive of a parent and the role that a parent can continue to play in the life of a child when they have protection. And that can be done through that relationship.

Even that ongoing court process, when we bring new staff into this sector, God, we induct them, they go through a massive induction, they learn all about the rules of engagement, legislation, practice standards. We don’t teach any of that to parents and yet we expect them to engage in this legal process from an informed point of view, straight after we’ve taken their children from them. So, they’re in absolute crisis. They weren’t in a great place initially, which is what led to children coming into care. And we then ask them to participate in a court process. They don’t know the rules of engagement.

Every attempt that they make to engage with a child or young person, to have a conversation with a caseworker, breaks the rules. And they’re told so at every point. And it’s just so disenfranchising that parents disappear. They just step back because they feel completely powerless. And in that case, children and young people get the sense of I’m totally alone. I’m here in this system with none of my connections.

And I would hazard a guess to say not all of the life of that child prior to entry into care was bad. Sure, there were bad periods, but in between those bad periods, that child felt genuine love and affection from their parents and those moments are now gone and those parents are now gone. They feel totally alone. The importance of relationship between parents and carers can just make such a difference to the life of a child. When, “I’m not alone anymore, my parents are here, they can continue to care and I’m being protected.” And that relationship, it just builds on the investment of a carer in the life of that child as feeling part of that family.

It encourages parents. And I’ve seen it happen. It encourages parents to, “Oh my God, I’ve got this support from this wonderful carer who’s protecting my children, but I’m still allowed to care for them. My children can see that.” It’s a motivator for parents to build on any strengths that they have to actually get children back. And then when that’s the case, carers are supportive of that. Carers facilitate that restoration. And what a bonus for a child, a young person, who has two families working together to get them back to their birth family but maintaining a relationship with a care family. And the system just steps away. It’s so important and so many missed opportunities.

GREG ANTCLIFF: And following on from what Wade said, I 100% agree. The fact is most children end up going back home at some stage. So, why don’t we include birth families in the process, not exclude them in the court process. And change the way that we’re working to include them from day one. If they can’t live at home, they can still have a positive relationship in some regard. And we have to work on that.

I’ve never heard anyone say, “Sorry, I’ve got too many people who love my children.” So, why don’t we invite more people in? Our job is to help connect those families because they don’t necessarily know how to connect because of the systems that get in the way of that. But we have to pre-plan and set those relationships up from a success from day one to ensure they do connect.

STACY BLYTHE: Can I just add one thing, Nerida, to that?


STACY BLYTHE: I think the question that you asked me specifically and I don’t think I answered it, was how can we help carers to connect with these families, and I think carers have a huge role in helping parents to maintain their relationship with their children. Particularly the younger children because the longer a child is away from their parents, they can lose connection. So, if you have a two year old or a three year old or a four year old who hasn’t seen Mum or Dad for three or six months because of whatever – maybe they were incarcerated or in rehab or whatever it is – things change. A lot changes in a two year old’s life in six months’ time. And the carer knows that child intimately.

So, when you take that child and you say, “Okay, now you’re going to go visit your parents, ” and you put them back in a room with someone they haven’t seen in a long time, that can be very scary. But because the carer knows that child, the carer can prepare that child, the carer can provide activities that the child likes, the carer can even write down things, “This is what your child’s been doing at school, ” or, “This is what your child likes. Ask them about these things when you see them because this is how you’re going to be able to get to know what’s going on.”

And if they can do that in person, even better. But helping to facilitate that relationship. Because the carer knows the child now, but the parent’s always known the child and it’s just missed this window. It’s really important that they be encouraged to do those sorts of things.

NERIDA JOSS: Thank you. Thanks for that insight. A question has come through. What support can we provide in preparation of the challenges of caring for adolescence, particularly given their trauma experiences? Greg, did you want to start us off with that?

GREG ANTCLIFF: Well, I was smiling there because what parent is ever ready for adolescence when it hits? And it’s a big change in behaviour, but then parenting and caring for a child who’s had trauma experience, it could even be more unpredictable. So, in being planned and purposeful and having a developmental lens in the system that we work in, we should be planning for that from day one. We should be planning to get children back home from day one. But if we know that they’re going to be in care, we need to be preparing the people that are going to be looking after these children. That may be the carers and biological parents at the same time.

This is a transition period where we don’t want to leave anything to chance and we want to equip adolescents with the right way to express emotions, the right way to have relationships, the right way to regulate their emotions and to make good choices. These are all things that we can start preparing for the two years before this hits, by providing experiences and opportunities to learn new behaviour models to behave in that way. We need to be supporting carers to do that, alongside with all other adults and other important people in children’s and adolescents’ lives.

NERIDA JOSS: Wade, I might throw to you next.

WADE MAHONEY: It’s a really tricky prospect, caring for an adolescent who comes with trauma. Adolescence in general is already traumatic and challenging, and throw on top of that a carer experience, an early childhood trauma experience, and it’s a real recipe for massive challenges. My experience tells me be there, be forgiving and be there – adolescents are looking for somebody that they can trust and it’s always about I’m going to try to push you away as many times as I can until I have determined that you’re not going to give up on me, and that’s when I feel I’m going to trust you.

And I love a naughty adolescent, as challenging as they are. I love hearing their voice – either their actions or through their voice. And it is about I’m going to test the world and I’m going to do it my way and if I fall down and you’re not there, then you’re not my person. And it is just a matter of be there, take the hits, take the kicks. Tell them that you love them, that you’re going to be there to support them when they need it. If you’re unhappy with behaviour, name the behaviour, don’t denigrate the kid. Name the behaviour and tell them you’re not happy with that behaviour, “But I still like you.” And essentially that’s what adolescents are looking for, somebody who’s going to stick by them regardless of their actions, and like them. Not rocket science, but it’s hard to deliver.

NERIDA JOSS: And, Stacy.

STACY BLYTHE: It is hard work. Yeah, it’s absolutely hard work. There are two periods in an individual’s lifetime where their brain is significantly rewiring and developing connections. The first time is in the first five years of life. The first 2, 000 days. Where we’re learning all of our basic interactions and we’re creating networks in our brain based on our environments.

The second time that this happens to a large degree, is in adolescence. Which creates this really interesting milieu for parents because adolescence can be extremely challenging for any parent, but it’s also an extremely promising time because the lessons learnt during adolescence get built into the wiring of the adolescent brain. This is just basic neurobiology.

When you have a child who’s got developmental trauma, who’s had early traumatic experiences, and their brain is undergoing a rewiring, they do test. They push those boundaries. They’re trying to rewire their brain in a way that best suits them. And what we want to do is use this opportunity to rewire their brain for the good so that they know that they’re loved, so that they know that their safe, so that they know that they’re secure.

But it is really difficult to do because consistency can be very challenging when they’re pushing back. But it’s about making sure that we empower carers to understand that. If we tell them in advance, “During this time they are going to push you, but you have the opportunity to change their outcomes by being consistent.” It gives just that little bit more that’s there.

I think one of the things that we need to remember too is that for carers who’ve had multiple children through their home, it’s difficult sometimes to remember what typical adolescent behaviour looks like. Because the children that have gone through your home aren’t necessarily typical. And so sometimes it’s hard to know is this a trauma symptom, or is this just a teenager? Are they being disrespectful, or have they lost the ability to actually speak because their brains are rewiring?

And I think at those times it’s really important for the carers to be able to reach out to support and have people around them helping them keep perspective. Adolescence is never easy, and I have four of them in my house at the moment. And I’m still managing to smile. But it is hard work, and we should all acknowledge that.

NERIDA JOSS: Definitely. Thank you very much all for your responses. I’d also like to say a big thank you to the audience, that we appreciate the comments and questions that have come through during this webinar, especially those of you who have shared your personal stories.

WADE MAHONEY: Thanks. Bye.

GREG ANTCLIFF: Thank you very much.



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Related resources

Related resources

  • Winangay Resources 
    Winangay have developed assessment resources and tools which enable organisations and workers to work in stronger, trauma informed and culturally safe ways with Aboriginal kids, families and communities.
  • What contributes to placement moves in out-of-home care? 
    This paper presents evidence from a scoping review on the factors that influence the stability of placement moves for children in out-of-home care.
  • The multiple meanings of permanency 
    ‘Permanency’ in out-of-home care should promote a sense of belonging from a secure home, emotionally connected relationships and right to culture.

Webinar questions and answers

Questions answered during presenter Q&A

To view the presenter Q&A, go to 36:45 in the recording

  1. What can help carers to stay connected to the values which motivated them to apply to be a carer?
  2. When practitioners are building rapport with new carers, how do they spot the signs that carers are struggling, when they might be masking it well? Any tips?
  3. Wade, a few people are asking you to repeat the name of the tool you were referring to. Is it accessible online?
  4. How can school staff and school social workers support a child in out of home care?
  5. When is a placement breakdown necessary and how do we acknowledge carers and workers disappointment?
  6. How do you successfully navigate a healthy relationship between the birth-parent and carer, to support the needs of the child?
  7. What support can we provide carers in preparation of the challenges of caring for adolescents (particularly given their trauma experiences)?


Wade Mahoney is a Barkindji man originally from Broken Hill, who has been living on Wannaruah land in the upper region of the Hunter Valley in NSW with his family for the past 18 years. Wade has worked within the child protection and out-of-home care (OOHC) sector for almost 24 years and is currently the Operations Manager of the Permanency Support Program for an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation called Wandiyali in the Newcastle area. Wade’s previous experience includes frontline child protection and OOHC casework, managing child protection and OOHC teams for the NSW Department of Community Services, establishing and developing an intensive family-based service, working as a NSW statewide capacity-building practitioner for AbSEC and as National Practice Advisor-Reconciliation and Child and Family for Life Without Barriers, as well as training and staff development for various non-government services providers nationally. Wade’s focus and passion has always been to support practitioners to be their best selves while remaining focused on the child’s experience of the care sector. Wade is often heard saying to caseworkers and managers, ‘As adults we can change careers, our workplaces or our lives as many times as we choose before it all ends, but our kids only get one chance at being kids. Our role is to help them to create memories worth sharing when they are adults.’

Dr Stacy Blythe is a Registered Nurse and a Research Academic. Her research focuses on the health and well-being of children in out-of-home care and their families (both birth and foster families). As a lecturer in Infant Mental Health, she is particularly interested in infants who are prenatally exposed to harmful substances (e.g. illicit drugs). In addition to her nursing, teaching and research qualifications, Stacy has post-graduate certification in Developmental Trauma. Stacy has also been an authorised foster carer for 16+ years. Drawing on her skills as a nurse, knowledge as a researcher and experience as a carer, Stacy provides training to health care workers, social service providers and foster carers in relation to working with children who have prenatal substance exposure and/or have experienced trauma.

Greg Antcliff is a registered psychologist and has held senior executive roles for over 20 years in the not-for-profit sector, establishing himself as an expert in the fields of child protection and out-of-home care; early childhood education; early intervention and prevention; and disability services (residential and community program). As the National Principal Practitioner, Child Youth & Family at Life without Barriers, Greg leads organisational practice strategy to deliver high quality services by translating evidence into daily practice. Greg is driven by ensuring services are evidence-based and of high quality, with a strong interest in using and developing the common elements approach to practice to design intervention approaches matched to the needs of population groups. To translate research into practice Greg has applied Implementation Science frameworks to large-scale practice transformation projects and is interested in the development and utilisation of video feedback techniques for online teaching and coaching as cost-effective ways to increase the chance of translating research to practice.