Supporting young parents with an out-of-home care (OOHC) experience
7 September 2022, 01:00PM to 02:00PM
Jade Purtell, Kylie Bolland, Naima Ali, Stewart Muir
About this webinar
This webinar was held on Wednesday 7 September 2022.
Many young people with experience of out-of-home care (OOHC) have complex histories of trauma and neglect and generally poorer health, education and employment outcomes than their peers. They are also more likely to become parents at a young age and to have their children enter the child protection system or be taken into care. Although there is limited research about the needs and outcomes of young parents with a care experience, there is evidence to suggest that trauma-informed and therapeutic models of support can lead to better outcomes.
This webinar shares researcher, practitioner and service user insights about supporting young parents with a care experience. It covers:
- Ways to approach young parents with experience of the OOHC system
- How to approach and understand young parents’ motivations to become parents
- The paradox of 'surveillance bias' and the potential risks of protective interventions
- How healing relational trauma and loss is key to preventing intergenerational child protection involvement
- Key elements of the practice model – peer work, partnerships
This webinar will interest practitioners working in the child, family, community and welfare sectors who encounter or directly work with young parents who have experience in OOHC.
This webinar is produced in collaboration with the National Association for Prevention of Child abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) for National Child Protection Week. AIFS supports this campaign and embraces the theme that ‘Every child, in every community, needs a fair go’.
Audio transcript (edited)
STEWART MUIR: Welcome, everyone, to today’s webinar, supporting young parents with an out-of-home care experience. My name’s Dr Stewart Muir and I’m program lead for child and family evidence and evaluation at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, or AIFS, as we like to call ourselves. I’d like to start with an acknowledgment of the Wurundjeri, Woi-Wurrung and Bunurong people of the Koori nations, who are the traditional owners of the lands that I’m speaking from in Melbourne. I’d like to pay my respects to their elders, past, present, and emerging, as well as to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are joining us today.
So we’re presenting this webinar in the middle of child protection week, and that’s the time that we dedicate each year to work with the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, or NAPCAN. And this year’s theme for child protection week is: every child in every community needs a fair go.
So to this end, NAPCAN is hosting a series of webinars that focus on children growing up safe and supported, and today NAPCAN and AIFS are collaborating to present this webinar that talks about how we create supportive environment for young parents who have an out-of-home care experience, so that they and their children can thrive. You can find links to the other webinars that NAPCAN’s doing in the handout section of go to webinar and on NAPCAN’s website. I also wanted to quickly acknowledge the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, ARACY, because they’ve helped us prepare for this webinar and you can find their research report on young parents with a care experience in webinar resources on their website. So now I’d like to go to our presenters. I’m very pleased to welcome back Jade Purtell, who’s an AIFS alumni and a multi-disciplinary research practitioner. She’s done work on out-of-home care and transitions from care. Jade’s worked across the academic and community sectors in championing youth participation in policy and decision-making, and she’s currently undertaking a PhD at Monash university, where she’s working on early pregnancy and parenting among care leaders.
So welcome, Jade. Joining Jade we also welcome Kylie Bolland, team leader at Caboolture Young Mothers for Young Women. Kylie, as you’re about to hear, has played a pivotal role in developing this program for young mothers in Caboolture. And Kylie has decades of experience working with families, particularly with young families affected by or experiencing domestic and family violence, homelessness or who’ve been involved in the child protection system, so welcome, Kylie. And finally we’re pleased to welcome Naima Ali to the webinar. Naima is a youth support worker who’s midway through a Bachelor of Social Science and is majoring in criminology. And Naima also works with Create as a consultant, and the Create Foundation is the national peak consumer body representing the voices of all children and young people in out-of-home experience. Naima is going to be sharing her experiences as someone who started her parenting journey in residential out-of-home care, so welcome, Naima. So we’re all here. So Jade, maybe you could start us off today by setting the theme, and maybe you could share a little bit about what the research tells us about what young parents with an experience of out-of-home care, I suppose what the experiences are and a little bit of context around that.
JADE PURTELL: Yes. Thank you, Stewart. So good afternoon everyone and thank you Stewart for the introductions there. I’m on Wurundjeri land also and I just want to start quickly by saying that it’s really great to be here today to talk about research on supporting care experience parents with Kylie as an active practitioner in the field. And with Naima, who’s representing for care-experienced young people and the Create Foundation Youth Expert Advisory Group in Victoria, who I have a long history with. And so my research on care leaver early parenting has been in Victoria, but I’ll take you through some of the research from here and internationally to begin with.
So Kylie’s got a slide there, and so this slide that we’re looking at shows results from two-term studies in the United States, and they managed to interview almost the entire population of care leavers in the Midwestern states for the earlier studies there, and in California for the later ones. So that means we’ve got pretty good stats here. It’s pretty reliable evidence and what we can see is that as young as 19 years old, nearly a third of females had a child or children, and up at 25 years of age, that 71.7% of young care leavers parenting – females, sorry. So for males the rate is lower but it’s still at least double the rate for males with no care experience. And so more locally I’ve previously worked with Stewart on the Victorian Longitudinal study of leaving care beyond 18. In that study, we had around – or nearly 200 young people participating and 31% of those who answered questions on pregnancy had been pregnant or caused a pregnancy and 19% were parents by 21 years of age.
And so in the US studies on the side, pretty representative sample comparison group of non-care-experienced young people. Overall there, there’s roughly twice as many care leavers having children quite young. These studies couldn’t tell us why this is though. So there didn’t seem to – sorry, the main defining feature of someone whose care experienced or a care leaver is that they’ve been removed from their family or left without one and taken in by the government to be placed with non-immediate family or friends in kinship care, perhaps strangers in foster care or paid staff in residential care. And this interrupts the mainstream narrative of family for children, and it might limit or completely discontinue contact with birth family members. So this experience would be linked to people having children or starting a family very young, led me to wonder about the impact of being removed from family or feeling like you didn’t have one of your own.
And this coupled with the practise of existing people from the substitute care families or housing at 18 years or earlier, as has been the case before the extended care reforms more recently, the accompanying leaving care anxiety and profound loneliness at times expressed by young people that I’ve interviewed across a lot of different research projects, that led me to explore sort of some theoretical concepts that looked at these kinds of isolating factors at the same time as looking at the kind of literature in a more general sense. So teenage pregnancy used to be a bigger issue in Australia and other comparable countries, but birth rates for teens have reduced over recent decades, except for young people transitioning from care. There’s evidence that care leavers are more likely to continue with a pregnancy than others. In fact Dworksy and DeCoursey in 2009 found that 90% of pregnancies of care-experienced young people proceed to birth.
And given what we know about how under-resourced care leavers can be when they’re leaving care, the Create Foundation consistently finds that around 30% of care leavers are homeless in their first year after leaving care. So given this, identifying young people’s pathway to pregnancy and their needs as parents is critical to preserving family safety and to preventing large numbers of children being placed in out-of-home care. So the South Australian government has analysed whole population data for birth and found that of mothers aged under 20 during their pregnancies, there was 544 in that study. 6% of them had high levels of involvement with child protection and 23% of that group had been in care themselves. Then in New South Wales, government data indicated that care leavers are ten times more likely to have their children placed in care than the general population.
So why are high numbers of young people having children quite young? My research was in Victoria and I held focus groups and interviews with different kinds of service providers who worked with young parents transitioning from care. I also had two care-experienced parents who work as lived experience consultants do a review of what the research and service providers that I spoke to reported. So that way I could see if they could identify any further issues or if they agreed or disagreed with what was being said about them and other young people. So since we have limited time today, I’m going to be paraphrasing. You can get more detail in the articles that have been published, and there’s links on the AIFS webpage for those. So the major common explanation for this phenomenon is that young people in residential care disengage from schooling, get in with a high-risk peer group and fall pregnant because they’ve missed out on sex education.
Service providers and one lived experience consultant validated this theme, which is definitely there in the existing literature, but what this explanation doesn’t cover is that solid research from the USA and from Sweden tells us that a significant proportion of care leavers get pregnant very deliberately in order to start a family. So for young people becoming pregnant unintentionally, some of the service providers in my study said that this group often hold anti-abortion views and the politics and values around conversations about terminating a pregnancy are very uncomfortable for staff, whose own opinions vary. So workers may not be willing to have these conversations with young people, and that would probably increase the birth rate. So it can seem, with the way that care leaver early parenting is discussed, that it’s presumed to be a bad thing, and that’s not necessarily the case.
What all participants in my study agreed upon was that care-leaver parents often experience child protection interventions with the family that they’ve created themselves, and that this intervention is often really re-traumatising for them. So there are debates around whether the high levels of child protection involvement with care-leaver parents are due to higher parenting risks or because of service system surveillance bias. The concept of surveillance bias is very strong in the research literature and in this study, and we’ll talk about it a little bit more later. But basically, whether a bias exists or not against care leaver parents, young people who’ve been placed in care themselves are said to be very wary of child protection authorities and very scared of having their children taken away. So this affects help-seeking behaviour, so for example, participation in pre-natal care. So not only is this a problem but it also gets marked as an unprotective behaviour as a parent. So these kinds of things are really problems, whether surveillance bias is real or not real.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Jade. I might throw to you, Naima, because as someone who began your journey as a parent when you were in residential care, I’d be really interested to know if you could tell us a bit about what that was like and what your experience was.
NAIMA ALI: Sorry, I was going to – my experience is a bit different because I got pregnant when I was 14, and I wasn’t eligible for any support, but I had workers could. And at first, I didn’t get – I didn’t get a say in anything I was going to do. In the back of my head I really – I was going to keep my child regardless of what anyone said or what anyone thought, regardless of what was going to happen, because to be honest, I always wanted a family of my own. But having an unborn notice put on me straight away, like the day my pregnancy was announced, that was a bit – I don’t know, it was triggering. And it made me not want anything to do with services, whether it was like a midwife, maternal child health, anything. I just didn’t want any care from anybody, because it felt like everyone was just out to get me. But then I met a really good midwife and she was amazing and she supported me through my whole pregnancy and she was just very attentive to my needs.
STEWART MUIR: Thank you. Kylie, how does Naima’s experience resonate with you as someone who’s working with young mothers?
KYLIE BOLLAND: Yeah. So up here in Queensland, we’re on Gubbi Gubbi land in Caboolture. And our experience here at Caboolture Young Mothers Young Women, we’re based in between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, is very similar to Naima’s experience. So we came about, our service came about because the Caboolture hospital noticed that there was a large cohort of young women under the age of 20, about 30% were birthing at the hospital with little to no antenatal care. They weren’t sure why. Our common experience would say that Naima’s experience was really common, that they felt judged, they felt watched. So I guess the hospital were keen to understand what was going on and how they could increase young women’s access to health care and antenatal care. They reached out to the organisation I worked for, Micah Projects, who had lots of experience working in Brisbane at Young Mothers for Young Women, and had worked with the Mater Hospital.
And they really kind of looked at what were some of the challenges that were impacting young women’s ability to access antenatal care to see if they could come up with a solution. And they pondered ideas and put them together and fortunately for us, funding came about through the Queensland government around that time. We were really fortunate and we thought together we would try a program. We’d not done it before. We didn’t know if it would work and we weren’t really sure how to go about it, but we thought – we knew that if we could combine healthcare and social supports together with a framework that kind of looked to target those young women that were falling through the cracks that we could have some impact. And look, we know that the experience – lots of young people in out-of-home care had been really difficult. We think that sometimes it was difficult for workers in the child protection system to know what supports were needed in terms of the steps to get their healthcare. They themselves weren’t sure. I guess we were really looking to see how we could address those barriers together and work on it.
I’m thinking now it would be the right time to talk a little bit further about our actual program and what that now looks like. So we’re now five years down the track and we have a program that combines antenatal care and social supports together. That means that our midwife does a triage process with every young woman that registers to birth in the Caboolture region. Through that process, she’s making assessments with the young woman about what kind of model of care would work for her. It may not necessarily be with our program; it might be with another program. But she’s looking for some indicators that might suggest that accessing a standard antenatal care may be more difficult. So if a young woman talks about being in out-of-home care, perhaps involvement with child safety in another way or with youth justice, that she has no transport, that she’s maybe couch surfing, that there’s other kind of social needs that are going to impact on her healthcare, we’ll support her to access our service.
Alongside that antenatal care, we have family support workers who address the social needs, everything from housing, domestic and family violence and safety, relationships, through to mental health, accessing income support, parenting support, accessing legal support, particularly around child protection. We also have a peer support program, so we acknowledged that for most young people, it’s important to have access to professionals, but we also know for young people, they access information and support from their peers. And we also know that if we can build a network of young women in the community, like Naima, that have skills and experience and knowledge, that we can grow the support network for young women. So we employ a peer worker, peer workers in our teams to support young parents and to be the stopgap between us and the young women.
STEWART MUIR: We might come back to that. It sounds like you’ve got a service approach that’s very much putting the emphasis on young parents, rather than just monitoring them. But I know that people – and Naima’s mentioned this already – people have had pretty mixed experiences of services and support. So turning back to Jade firstly, I wanted – you could help us understand what the research is about why young parents like Naima might have some of the experience that they do and why people are kind of having to develop these kind of specific programs to link services.
JADE PURTELL: Yep. So the concept of surveillance bias suggests that care leaver parents are overly scrutinised, that services make negative assumptions about a care leaver’s parenting ability or that they have access to more negative historical information on care leavers than on other parents who get reported to child protection. Service providers in this study noted that child protection could read a parent’s childhood file. This obviously isn’t an option for people with no child protection history of their own. So the other – there might be all kinds of services involved with a young person who’s transitioning from care. They may be demanding time for appointments and assessments and things that young people find difficult. And all of this without actually improving their material conditions or providing extra resources for young people who are often maybe facing homelessness and poverty because they were exited from care without being ready or qualified to make it in the world of work and higher education and things like that.
And so the service providers that I spoke to, they thought that services like Kylie’s were necessary and best placed to provide holistic trauma-informed and relationship-based support. And ideally intensively over many years, such as with the Cradle to Kinder program in Victoria, in order to overcome these difficulties. And there’s indications in the findings of this study that pre-care, in-care, and post-care factors lead young people leaving care to want children, to provide them with the family’s company status and identity that they might have otherwise been lacking. So our care system seemed not to address the loss of family or social isolation that some people can experience from being in care. And without addressing these issues we’re at high risk of greater and greater numbers of children going into care to experience all the things that research tells us is not good for children and young people who’ve been in care and who may go on to have their own children who have all the same troubles, so the cycle then repeats itself.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Jade. Naima, you spoke early of I suppose both some negative experiences and some positive ones too, as things changed. Could you reflect a little bit on what you found worked for you and what you think works?
NAIMA ALI: I had a lot of people talking at me rather than talking to me when I was pregnant. And I also had a lot of people that – because everyone’s talking about care leavers now, but there are people in care that do get pregnant and no one actually focuses on them. So they just think, “Oh yeah, you’re a ressie kid anyway” or “You’re this anyway” so it’s coming. And a lot of – and they don’t involve the father of the child or anything. They just instantly assume, “Okay, she’s going to be a single mum. This is her life. This is what’s going to happen.” So the father ends up being like not involved in the child’s li – wouldn’t really say that, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s a journey that you guys are going through together. But then I had other mid – the midwife that I met later on, she involved him – it was really fun afterwards when we got to know about things together, and it was – I don’t know, it was just really good and she was so – she was non-judgemental. She didn’t make any assumptions about us. She just went with the flow. Even if she thought something, and she probably did at the time, she just kept it to herself, kept it moving and still supported us. Even if we needed anything, we didn’t understand something, we could call her and we knew we weren’t going to get judged and she wouldn’t be running to our workers or anyone and she would actually be supporting us and she was our midwife, like she worked with us directly. She didn’t make us feel like we couldn’t do it. She just encouraged us.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Naima. So the picture seems - I guess what we’re hearing here is that the picture is a bit mixed in terms of supports and services that people get. And there’s still a lot of scope for practitioners to try different ways of working with young parents, and we’ve heard a little bit about that from Naima. Kylie, based on your experience, I suppose particularly with Young Mothers for Young Women, can you share some of the strategies that you found worked for you as a service provider? Because there’s been a lot of talk – there’s been some talk about trust, and Naima just mentioned being non-judgemental and not making assumptions. So I mean can you unpack these terms for us, I guess from a service provider perspective?
KYLIE BOLLAND: Yeah, absolutely. Look, Naima, as you were speaking and talking about your experience with the midwife, you got me thinking a little bit about how important it is to include the young woman’s family, whatever that looks like, while she’s pregnant. I was just thinking about a family we met this week and absolutely if it’s her new partner – it may not even be the father of her baby – to include whoever at the time is an important person in life as part of her antenatal care journey and beyond, when the baby’s born. And to ask her who that is. And sometimes that can be about having just a process of turning up for an appointment is really nerve-wracking with a brand new professional person, so having a supporter alongside that you can share the journey with and be excited about, and like you said, find out how big the baby is at a certain point and to really enjoy it.
I think – I wrote down a few things, because there was lots as a team that we wanted to make sure that we thought about and that was important for us. The relationship building is at the core for us, that spending time to build that relationship, particularly at the beginning to be trustworthy, to be reliable, to do what you say you’re going to do. And that might mean looking at how we’ve delivered our service and what that looks like, so it could be being really flexible. We may have back-to-back appointments in a day and feel like we need to lots of people, and it may not be the right time or there might be something else happening in a young women’s life that it’s not going to work at that moment. But can we shift it to later in the day? Can we go and pick them up and bring them to us? Can we help them with whatever’s happening and make things smoother so that accessing healthcare is easier and accessing support’s easier. So we operate in a way that is flexible and that they can come to our service and to our building, we can go and meet in their home, we can go and meet at Macca’s.
We can take people to an appointment if that’s going to make life easier. So making sure we provide transport and food. Always food. People seem that they’re always hungry. So looking at food, and just always looking at how we can build the relationship, particularly at the beginning. I think we’re always looking at appreciating that people have different priorities than our own as a professional. An example that we’ve learned over the time is that young women need to have a good postpartum test, the GTT. And for any of the women or any of us out there actually have had to have a GTT, it’s hours sitting in a pathology clinic. It’s really boring and most young women won’t do it, because it’s just too difficult. So we thought, “Well what if we could get the young women to come to us and we could use it as an opportunity to wrap antenatal education alongside doing the Centrelink forms and getting your tax file number and doing some parenting, attachment work, before the baby comes about what you’re planning for or going shopping in our second-hand store and dreaming and thinking about your baby whilst you’re here for hours on end.
We always make sure we have bacon and egg burgers at the end, because people are hungry by the time they’ve finished the GTT, whatever it is that they want to eat. We found that if we can – if we can make things simple and also just time-savvy, like all of us, time’s important. So if we make it simple and easy then people, young women are more inclined to want to come back. We also thought about – we think about the networks that we build as service providers, knowing as Jade talked about the surveillance bias, that they’re lots of government agencies, not just child protection but health, that also have a raft of information about these young people, if they’re accessing acute mental health services, if they’re accessing emergency departments frequently. There’s a raft of information that’s been built by governmental departments about this young person’s life, and that our role is to be a great advocate to unpack what it looks like on the ground for this young woman and to I guess put the real person in the middle of this story so that service providers can understand that yes, there may be some challenges happening for her but there’s a bigger story to her life and that often they’re just ticking – they may have to be ticking things off and there is risk, but there often isn’t the alternate story about what’s going well for this young woman and her family.
And we try to provide that balance and be an advocate to fill out the picture and to fill in the gaps that may not exist for other services as well so that we can build a much broader picture of the family. Most importantly, we try to think about this a lot is how we can find ways to celebrate the pregnancy and the family that this young woman and her partner or other family members are creating. We find that there’s so much criticism for these young people about making this decision that they don’t often get a time to just celebrate and enjoy it. So we congratulate every young woman that comes in. We want to make her feel special and this pregnancy special, like everyone else gets to. It’s important that they feel that – yeah, that this is a time to celebrate, and it’s the time that it could be really scary as well. There’s plenty of people telling her what’s not going well, so we want to be another voice in that room as well.
So we make a big deal when they come in. We have lots of partnerships with organisations like A Brave Life who pack this beautiful baby bags with nappies and clothes and everything you need to take to hospital so that when you arrive you’ve got everything you need. We do second-hand baby clothes so we shop together, we take lots of photos, we get breast pads, everything so that she’s prepared. We think about our space. So we operate in a – it’s a brick and tile building. It looks like a home. It’s a very home-like space, so we try and make it homelike and safe, that young women feel they can go to the fridge and get something to eat, or wander around and feel comfortable as well. We thought also about continuity of workers, that particularly young women who’ve been in out-of-home care, there’s often a change of workers that they experience through the system.
We try really hard to have a continuity of workers and to build up the confidence of the young women, not just in our team but further afield in the health services as well, so that they can feel confident to access health services and access a broader midwifery program at the hospital, as well as other services. We know that we can’t do this work alone, so we work really hard to be on first name basis with child safety service centres and the workers there, with child health, with legal services, with any – with youth justice as well. That would be our other key – we work really hard to build those relationships so that we can introduce young people by name to another worker and build that trust as well. And I guess the last thing we really try to think about ourselves as workers and know that sometimes young people can be really difficult and frustrating to work with, and we are human beings as well and we have bad days. And to really check in on ourselves.
If a young person’s missed a really important appointment we’ve worked really hard for, like a dental appointment at a public dental health clinic, which we almost really – we think about, “Okay, am I the right person to be replying now to making that call? Can someone else do it? Do I need some time to” – we’re really conscious about how we’re communicating, because young women pick things up really quickly. So are we being respectful? Are we being calm so that – and understanding that developmentally sometimes things don’t work well for them too. So yeah. I think – oh, finally, this was the last one we came up with too. We want to normalise with the young women that navigating systems is really difficult. We struggle working through health, housing, Centrelink, ourselves. So we talk about that and our frustration and how difficult it is to normalise that yep, this is really hard. And it’s not you, it’s not your fault. Just so that it’s more normalised and yeah. I think that’s it for now from me. There’s a lot.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Kylie. Jade, did you have anything that you wanted to add to that list I guess of things that service providers can do or strategies that they can adopt?
JADE PURTELL: I think sort of broadly, this is about participatory practice at an individual level and so making sure that young people are informed and prepared for being part of decision making about themselves and about their lives. Participatory support helps to heal trauma from a lack of agency and that lack of agency for young people who’ve been in care can be built from experience of maltreatment or it can be from out-of-home care processes that take agency away from them. So like statutory authorities making decisions about children and young people that they maybe have never met can be quite disempowering for young people. So any kind of practice that builds that agency back I think is really, really helpful and healing.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Jade. Naima, I mean you have a lot of experience that you’ve talked about personally but also through your own work. I wonder if you also had some suggestions that you think, strategies they could adopt to do their job better and to support young people better?
NAIMA ALI: Well the first thing you get told instead of “How are you feeling about” or anything it’s “Oh we have to make a report. We have to notify child protection.” Like I have all these emotions and that’s the first thing you’re putting on me. Instead of that I wish like someone just had sat down with me asked me how I’m feeling and if I’m okay, if – all these questions and like I with they just saw me for me rather than, “Oh yep, child protection’s the first thing we go to” because that doesn’t happen to every other kid. And like now that I’m older, I’m grateful because this was not me four years ago – I learned how to navigate the system a bit better and now I can actually speak up for myself. But then I couldn’t, so I just wish that someone would have been on my side from the beginning and just supported me through everything.
STEWART MUIR: Thank you. We’re racing through this webinar today. So we’ve got some time now for questions from the audience. And we do have questions coming in. please do keep them coming. I might start with one that we have for Naima, because I guess we’ve talked a lot about judgement and being judgemental, and we’ve had someone writing in. They’d really like to know what behaviours you found that were to be judgemental. What were people doing that you experienced in that way? I guess people sometimes might not know that they’re coming across that way and they’d like a bit of advice about how they can avoid being judgemental or what is judgemental?
NAIMA ALI: I remember I had one midwife who asked me if I know who the father is. I just looked, I said, “Nah,” but I did feel like – I just looked at her, I was like, “Is that really what you ask somebody?” And sometimes the way they look at you when they look at your age or anything, and they say it out loud, “Oh, you’re this age. Oh. What are you going to do? Do you have any support?” All that kind of stuff. It just makes you feel some type of way, the same way you wouldn’t talk to one of your friends. If one of your friends told you, “Oh yeah, I’m pregnant.” You’ll be happy. Like you’ll go, “Oh congratulations,” or if you know that friend of yours doesn’t like children, you would honestly like hmm what do I do. It’s just like you know when someone’s judging you. I think you can feel it. And young people I guess, they have a bullshit radar. And they can see through that. If you even feel any way about anything, they can see through it.
STEWART MUIR: Thank you. I’ve got a lot of questions coming in. Kylie we’ve got a few specific ones about your program. One of those is asking about lived with experience within your team and whether you have some peer support within it, or young parents who might come back and spend time with people who are entering the program.
KYLIE BOLLAND: Yeah. So we do. It’s a key element of our program and in fact, our program in Brisbane has been operating for 25 years. We’ve only been operating for five in this region. And it began as a peer model of support, so we’re a smaller program out here, so we have one peer worker in our team, but she’s relatively new. She started with us about five months ago. We’ve had four other peer workers during our five years and part of her role is to welcome young women to our group program. She might sit in with a young woman who’s attending an antenatal appointment just to sit with her and make her feel welcomed and have a chat. Our Brisbane program has five peer workers. They have more groups than we do at this stage. And they’re involved in every group program as well as clinical programs that happen. So yeah, it’s built-in in terms of building connections with young women. Also the young women in our community all have connections with each other. They all go to school or went to school with each other or know each other through friends, friends and friends. So our peer workers are really important element in terms of connecting with young women out in the community who might be isolated and want to connect into our groups and other activities. Yeah. We couldn’t do our program without peer workers. They’re also – our peer worker’s name’s Tiana and she keeps us incredibly accountable. If we have the wrong idea about something or we’re just off base, we really encourage our peer workers to tell us to pull our heads in and to think about things differently and to think about things from a young woman’s perspective. I’m a bit – I’m not a young woman anymore, so – I’ve never been a parent, in fact, so I need Tiana’s voice and ideas to keep me on track as well. We all do.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Kylie. We have a few research questions coming in for you too, Jade. I guess there’s been a few variations on questions about I suppose different groups of young parents and whether the research says about say the differences between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal young parents, or young parents who may have a disability for culturally and linguistically diverse young parents. I guess is there much research about the different kinds of young parents with the care experience?
JADE PURTELL: Well so one of the sort of consequences of the felt surveillance bias is it’s very difficult to carry out research in this area, and it’s certainly extremely difficult to carry out research with a large enough sample size of people from extra-marginalised groups to be able to find out that information. So in my study, it was quite painful over a period of years trying to find a way that young people could participate in the study, because as a participatory social worker, that was really important to me and I couldn’t really get it done. So it’s very difficult. I think the American reports might have some breakdowns on that sort of thing, but I remember from the Beyond 18 study, Stewart, that we weren’t really able to find the kind of specific pathway kind of information for individuals that would be really valuable to everyone. So it’s very difficult to come across those kinds of statistics or to make them yourself through research.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks. That’s work I guess that’s still in progress for a lot of us who are still working in this area. Thank you everyone for sending in questions. We’ve got time for a few more. We have one – another one for Naima about I suppose whether you accessed other community-type supports. Someone mentioned sort of mums and bubs groups or if you were able to get those kind of community supports. And if you did, I mean what was the experience of that like?
NAIMA ALI: So you have to be 16 to get most supports, and I gave birth when I was 15. So the only mums group I really had was my Facebook mums group. And we were all friends. It was a random group of Facebook girls that we found and I don’t know, they were all really cool and we’re all still friends and all our kids grew up together. Other than that, when I turned 16 I did go to a mums and bubs group. It was pretty boring. But it was – I guess it was nice to see that there were other mums that were struggling just like I was, because motherhood was not an easy journey. And it just made me feel normal, so I was like, “Thank god it’s not only me.” So that’s what I went for. Other than that, it wasn’t beneficial.
STEWART MUIR: Do you think it would have been beneficial I suppose a little bit earlier when you actually weren’t eligible?
NAIMA ALI: Probably. Because I would have had like other mum friends that – and we would have had kids that were around the same age and it would have made more sense. But when I was old enough to go - again, this all comes down to like there’s a big group of young people that are never, ever – like even thought about all these things. And it happens, so it is what it is.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks for that. I suppose there’s a few more specific questions for you, Kylie, on I suppose the nature of the program. And one of those is around how long you offer support or what’s the timeframe in which you offer support to young mothers?
KYLIE BOLLAND: Yeah. Look, that really varies for each young woman. We’re really fortunate that we’re an outcome-based service here in Queensland, not output-based. We’re really – we don’t have to reach numbers or hours of service support. That said, if we only worked with the same number of women all the time, we wouldn’t reach people in our community. So some young women obviously we’ll track through support through their antenatal care and then beyond. And that can be to more intensive for a period of time and then that may drop back. Our group programs are a way for us to keep connected and to offer less-intensive support for a longer period of time. At the moment, we only offer a group program for young women and babies are up to 12 months of age, but we are about to extend that because we just employed an early childhood educator, which is exciting. So I guess the short answer is we may do a very short piece of work with a young woman for a few months through her antenatal care to get into housing, when there is any, and to link into groups, or we may work with some young women for a couple of years as well. Really it’s until she turns the grand old age of 21, our funding’s until. So we could work with the young woman, if she falls pregnant at 15 right through to her 21st birthday. And she may dip in and out of support at different times. I guess our aim is to build on and kind of trust in other services and her experience and capacity and skills, so that she can link into other services or supports in the community that aren’t just with us. Yeah.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Kylie. We’re getting a lot of questions I guess about what programs are available to young parents in different places across Australia and metro, regional. I wondered, Jade, if you could give a little bit of an overview of what there is for young parents, and how I suppose consistent or coherent that support system is?
JADE PURTELL: I only really have knowledge of a few kind of different programs that were around during the time I was conducting the research. Certainly the Cradle to Kinder program was a state-wide program and there’s also aboriginal Cradle to Kinder. So Cradle to Kinder itself was targeted at young people from out-of-home care, young women – oh sorry, young women with disabilities and maybe any other kind of young women in particularly difficult circumstances. So for other young parents, I think it could just be scattered everywhere. I mean you know that the service system is a mix of local government, state government, federal government, philanthropic pilots. The job of a worker is to somehow figure that out and find everything, and it’s great if young people can do that themselves. But the service would have to take self-referrals and not require a service-based referral. So there’s all those kinds of requirements in services too that you have to have a worker to get a worker. So there were – there was some Parents Next contracts that went to different community service organisations, and I think that they might have put their own kind of particular way of doing their service into that program. But there’s some pretty scathing reports of Parents Next as a program. And then there’s – yeah, I heard of some other great parents kind of services, but they escape me now, I’m afraid.
NAIMA ALI: Can I quickly say something?
STEWART MUIR: Please.
NAIMA ALI: There’s also young women’s crisis service in the City Mission. Because I called them on my 16th birthday, and they’re the ones who actually – they helped me through so much. They got me housing. They helped me get into a safe school with my son, all of that. And they were so supportive. But I had to wait until I was 16 to access that. But still, I didn’t need another worker to do a referral for me. I literally spoke to them on the phone, and the same day I ended up seeing them.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Naima. I guess this is a question for Kylie or Jade, or anyone actually, is I guess what’s the role of leaving care workers can play with young parents? I mean Naima, you’ve talked about the difference between care leavers and your experience was actually as someone in care, but I guess what’s the role of I suppose out-of-home care workers or leaving care workers in supporting young parents?
NAIMA ALI: They understand. It’s a different – I don’t think it’s easy to answer that question because as someone who left care, me going to go work with people that are in care now, it’s completely different. I’m not going to sit there and think that I understand exactly what they’re going through, because I don’t. Everyone’s experience has been different. But I just have a different view of like their – I’m just going to be there, be consistent, all that. I’m not going to be judgemental, and they know that. So it’s more that, like they know – once you’ve been in the system and you have someone else who’s been in the system as well, you just have a different understanding of one another. It’s hard to explain.
STEWART MUIR: Jade, I suppose as someone who’s worked quite a bit in leaving care and transition from care, I wonder if you had anything to say about I suppose what the role of leaving care workers can be in this space?
JADE PURTELL: Well I think that leaving care support can be quite a generalist sort of position and Naima and I have worked together on the Better Futures youth expert advisory group, and the extended care reforms in Victoria. So I think the intention of those reforms is to be able to provide that flexible generalist kind of support, the sort of things that Kylie’s talking about, but the capacity issues is really kind of what constrains that. And a lot of the participatory practice and stuff that I was talking about is heavily constrained by pressures and the capacity of workers and services to respond to everyone who needs help, or to find the things that they need for help, because if you’re talking about leaving care, then you know, you might have a leaving care plan that you have to do, but if you can’t find any housing, how do you make a leaving care plan? So everything is constrained by what’s available to get, and that’s not been so great in the recent years I don’t think.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Jade.
KYLIE BOLLAND: And I would probably add to that to keep connected with services that might be able to offer support like ours, like work together. That might be able to share some of the load. We may have different ideas and access to other networks and supports. So I would encourage leaving care workers to try and find services that work with young families and connect with them and know them, reply to emails and phone calls. Keep that connection up.
STEWART MUIR: So we’re getting a lot of questions in about how you should speak to a young person or how you should behave with a young person when the worker deems that a report to child safety or child protection is necessary. I guess the question is, what kind of language is appropriate or how should workers deal with that in a way that’s sensitive to the young person? I wonder if Naima, this is something that you could answer?
NAIMA ALI: Being transparent. That’s the best way I can put it, like instead of going behind the young person’s back or anything, involving them in all of that and involving them in the conversations and telling them that, “Look, this is just part – it’s protocol. This is what we have to do” instead of just being like, “Yep, this is what I’m doing.”
STEWART MUIR: Okay. Thank you. I suppose on a slightly related thing, we’ve also had some questions around the number of challenges that young people might be facing when they’re having a care experience or when they’re leaving care. And we’ve had a question about how then as a worker they’re meant – or how they can put the young person’s needs as a parent, as a young parent, to the fore when there is already so many other challenges. And the question that we’ve had is particularly around housing, like when a young person might have some challenges with housing or they might not have a place to go to when they’ve had a child, how can the worker then support them given that these are the things that might possibly trigger child protection’s interest? I wonder maybe jade, if we could throw to you first for that one?
JADE PURTELL: So I think this is where I would say it’s very clear that care leaver early parenting is a leaving care issue, and the lack of resources that are available for young people who’ve been taken into government care who we have a duty of care too as – I think the UK term if corporate parents, but there’s just not the resources there for young people to be able to look after themselves and make it on their own. So, unfortunately, I can’t say anything about what people could go out and do, because resourcing is not available. We’ve got affordability kind of cost of living crises, housing crises, there’s just an endless list of challenges.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Jade. Kylie, did you have any thoughts?
KYLIE BOLLAND: Yeah. I think this is probably one of the biggest challenges that we see for young people and young parents. We would operate under a housing first model. So we’re not a housing-funded service, but we are all skilled in our team at being able to navigate the housing systems and to advocate, and we invest a lot of time to build those connections. We don’t think you can work on the rest of – you can’t work on parenting and your own wellbeing or your children’s health, your education if you don’t have a home. So always housing first. So for us, that can look like sitting in on fortnightly housing coordination meetings, even when we don’t have the time, but making sure that we have a presence there so that when a house becomes available, government housing that a young person is at the top of that list. Making sure that their housing applications are ready and done, that that might mean making sure that we have their birth certificates and getting child protection workers to get their birth certificates to us so that we can get all that paperwork and working with them to have that happen. It can mean doing joint action plans with child safety to highlight that this family need housing. So we will look at every option available with the idea that a child should be able to come home with their parent to a home first. And then we look at the – we’re looking at things simultaneously, but always housing first.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Kylie. Naima, did you have any thoughts on this?
NAIMA ALI: I agree with that, like when I had nowhere to live at the beginning of my pregnancy and when I first had my son, everything was all over the place. But when I got a house, that’s when things started to settle down in my life, and I was able to focus on other aspects of my life and my child life and we were able to grow together better.
STEWART MUIR: Thank you.
JADE PURTELL: I think just as a final word on that, the amount of expense that’s involved in everything that’s involved in trying to access housing that isn’t there is probably not less than actual housing.
STEWART MUIR: So I had some questions about how you can offer longer-term support to young parents, rather than the short-term interventions that are commonly available. And I wonder Kylie if you had any thoughts about that?
KYLIE BOLLAND: Yeah. We had to think really hard about this. In our region, about – it’s remained fairly stable – about 120 young women a year, thereabouts, birth. We certainly don’t work with 120 young women. We had to think really hard about do we offer a universally access service, knowing that there are lots of young parenting women with lots of needs, or do we really target our service for those who have much more complexity and will need more targeted intensive support. So that’s why we’ve worked really hard to find those young women and to really build a service around them. And to look at ways that we can provide access for those young women with less support needs but still need some access to meet social needs around meeting other young people. So I think it’s really thinking about how can you work with community partners, like, for example, child safety, youth justice, and your hospitals, to really find those young people. And yeah, build a service around working with them. You can’t be everything for everybody, and I guess we keep going back to when we tried to just build services that met everyone’s needs, that 30% of young people just didn’t access antenatal care and support. So find the 30% in your community, and really build your service around meeting their needs first.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Kylie. Jade, did you have any thoughts about this? What are the longer-term supports that could be offered?
JADE PURTELL: I think that ideally that sort of continuity of worker, certainly continuity of service that Kylie was talking about can mean that there’s a foundation or a – if we put it in attachment theory terms that there’s a secure base for people to work from and to build from and to try new things and then try harder. And I think the longer-term and more intensive support engenders just much better results, not just kind of – in Victoria, in Better Futures we would say thriving instead of surviving. But really I think just yeah, making really big steps instead of just topping people up to a point where they might be able to kind of get along.
STEWART MUIR: Thanks, Jade. Before we finish, I do want to ask, Naima, when you first found out you were pregnant, what do you wish had been the reaction? What would have made a difference to you?
NAIMA ALI: I wish – I don’t know. I wish someone just asked how I was, rather – again, I said this before, rather than going straight to the, “Oh, we have to tell the department”, I wish someone just asked how I was, how I was feeling, asked me what I want to do, actually spoke to me about my options properly. That’s what I wish.
KYLIE BOLLAND: It’s pretty simple.
STEWART MUIR: Thank you. Thank you, Naima. And thank you everyone for participating today. So thank you everybody for joining us today and thank you for sharing your questions. We look forward to joining you again at our next webinar. Until then, stay safe and have a good week.
- Showing the light: Supporting Young Parents with Experience of the Care System
This ARACY report presents recommendations that we hope can begin to address the needs and desires of young parents with a care experience; to make informed choices about when and how they become parents, to bring up their babies, create their own strong families, and live well with their children.
- Healing Trauma and Loss and Increasing Social Connections: Transitions from Care and Early Parenting, Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal
This paper explores service providers’ perspectives on what motivates young people in their teens and early 20s with a care experience to have children at rates much higher than the rest of the population, and what kinds of services and practice approaches can provide the best support to care leaver parents.
- Where is the Village? Care Leaver Early Parenting, Social Isolation and Surveillance Bias, International Journal on Child Maltreatment: Research, Policy and Practice
This study has identified care leaver early parenting as a specific transition from care challenge exacerbated by surveillance without support, and re-traumatising interventions with care leavers’ children.
Family Matters - Issue 89 - Effectively preparing young people to transition from out-of-home care | Australian Institute of Family Studies (aifs.gov.au)
Supporting young people leaving out-of-home care | Child Family Community Australia (aifs.gov.au)
Australia's youth: Young people in out-of-home care - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au) (this includes recent data from June 2021)
Review of evidence for out-of-home care interventions - Parenting Research Centre (parentingrc.org.au)
Manager, Peer worker models for transitions from care. Monash University.
Jade Purtell is a multidisciplinary researcher and practitioner focused on out-of-home care and transitions from care experiences and policy. Her own work in out-of-home care and transitions from care research and youth participation has informed the development of the Adaptive Participation Model that provides a pragmatic guide to implementing new participatory initiatives in research, policy and practice. Jade works across academia and the community sector to promote young people's participation in policy development and decision-making. Jade has recently been working with the CREATE DFFH Better Futures Youth Expert Advisory Group and BSL on the practice framework for statewide reforms to transition from care services and is undertaking her PhD at Monash University on care leavers and early pregnancy and parenting. This research is funded by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
Team Leader at Caboolture Young Mothers for Young Women
Kylie Bolland has worked in communities across Queensland for over 25 years supporting individuals and families, with an emphasis on working alongside young families. She has a particular interest in supporting women impacted by domestic and family violence, homelessness or involved with the child protection system.
She is passionate about developing partnerships and building systems collaborations to address systemic responses to families.
Youth Support Worker, Residential Care
I’m Naima I’m 24, and I have a beautiful 9-year-old son. In my role as a youth support worker, I help young people achieve goals they’ve set, and try to keep them engaged. I’m also studying a Bachelor of Social Science Majoring in Criminology.
In 2020 I started working with CREATE, the national consumer body representing the voices of ALL children and young people in out-of-home care. At CREATE, I’ve been part of different workshops/projects, I meet the most amazing people, I am learning to use my voice a lot more, and I have learned how important Young People with lived experience, voices and stories are.
I’ll be sharing insights from my experience as a parent who started my journey as a mother in Residential Care.
Executive Manager of the Child & Family Evidence research program at the Australian Institute of Family Studies
Stewart has more than 25 years’ experience as a researcher in private consultancy, academia and government and has extensive experience of developing and administering multi-method research and evaluation projects. He has led projects on military families, out-of-home care, service provision to families, and building service capacity for evidence-based practice. He also has extensive experience working with Australian First Peoples and communities experiencing disadvantage. In addition to his subject matter expertise, Stewart has taught and published on qualitative research methods.