2018 Winston Rickards Memorial Oration
History Corner 1915
It is a sad fact that many children are abused and neglected. Child Protection services receive notifications and place children in out- of-home care if there is risk of serious harm.
Child Protection services are under severe stress. The volume of notifications requiring assessment overwhelms available resources, and the number of children to be placed in out-of-home care overwhelm the available foster care options. Many cases do not have an allocated case-worker, and short-cuts are being made to accommodate the children. The fastest growing option is placement of children with extended family members (kinship care), most often with grandparents, but also with family friends.
This latter group is the subject of a new report sponsored jointly by the University of Melbourne and the Office of the Commissioner for Children. The title of the report is “Fairy Godparents and fake kin: Exploring non-familial kinship care (“Kith care”).” Here is the preface to the report, written by Liana Buchanan, the Principal Commissioner.
“Kinship care is the fastest growing form of out-of- home care in Victoria. This is not without good reason-there is research to suggest that children who remain with kin are less likely to experience the trauma of separation and more likely to remain connected to their families, friends and cultures. Managed and supported well, kinship care is best-placed to promote the rights and wellbeing of children requiring care.
As this report reveals, there are many instances where non-familial kinship placements can be successful and enduring. This is a testament to the dedication and altruism of many carers, who devote themselves to nurturing and supporting children who have experienced abuse or neglect. While many of these carers cite the reward of seeing vulnerable children thrive and flourish in their care as their motivation, it is also clear that these arrangements often come at a high personal and financial cost to them.
However, this report also highlights some aspects of the kinship care model that suggest that the system is, in fact, not always managed and supported well. It specifically explores the circumstances of a significant number of children and non-familial carers who are thrown together, generally in the context of an emergency, and left to manage long-term care with minimal support and oversight. It tells stories of children being placed with people they barely know, in living arrangements that have not been properly assessed for their safety and suitability. This not only places children at an unacceptable risk of harm but is also unfair to carers who may not be willing or equipped to support a young person’s care in the long-term.
As pressures on the child protection system continue to increase, so too will demand for appropriate care arrangements for children who cannot remain at home safely. Alongside foster care, kinship care is key to meeting demand for care that is safe, familiar and culturally connected. It is important-for carers and children alike-that the kinship model shift to a form of care that is fully recognised, remunerated and supported. It needs to be flexible enough to recognise the diversity of relationships and care arrangements that kinship care supports. But most importantly, it needs to be centred around the rights, safety and needs of children.”
Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People
Here is the Executive Summary of the report, written by Dr Meredith Kiraly, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.
“Kinship care – the care of children by relatives or family friends – is a relatively new option for children subject to protective orders. Both changing ideology and a shortage of alternative placements have led to numbers in kinship care in Victoria rapidly increasing year on year. The growing research literature focuses particularly on grandparents as the most visible cohort of kinship carers. Little attention has been paid to care by family friends (non-familial kinship care) – a gap that this research study sought to address. A search was conducted for relevant administrative data that might provide information about the prevalence and stability of non-familial kinship care. It was determined that the prevalence of non-familial kinship care arrangements is as yet unknown, both within Victoria and across Australia.
The experiences of young people, carers and kinship care support workers were explored through interviews, focus groups and a small survey. Carers and support staff provided many examples of secure long-term non- familial care and evident benefits for children, despite significant unmet needs for support. On the other hand, kinship support staff also described numbers of unsatisfactory care arrangements, and some that were frankly unsuitable. Several areas of problematic practice were evident. Many cases were described where statutory care arrangements had been struck with people who had little or no relationship with children yet were deemed to be kinship care placements. Superficial and delayed assessments were reportedly common. Care was seen to have frequently commenced as an emergency short-term arrangement but allowed to drift to indefinite care or breakdown without due consideration of the needs of children and carers. Many arrangements were observed to have broken down quickly. Paradoxically, there also were indications that the stability planning process could threaten a stable long- term care arrangement by initiating a further search for extended family care years later, whether or not relatives under consideration had a significant relationship with the child.
A number of discrepancies in standards and support between kinship care and foster care were raised. Carers spoke of delays in being referred for support; a lack of access to information about children’s backgrounds; care allowances that failed to recognise children’s additional needs; and limited access to training about the impact of trauma. Many carers were aware that their entitlements for financial and non-financial support would have been considerably greater had they been authorised as foster carers.
In earlier years, statutory non-familial carers were regarded as (specific) foster carers, and were afforded thorough assessment and ongoing support, with all placements receiving active support and management. Less than one fifth of children in statutory kinship care in Victoria currently receive case management and carer supervision and support from community organisations; due to high child protection workloads, many have become ‘unallocated cases’ within the child protection service. It should go without saying that all children in statutory care need the protection of robust carer assessment and support, and active case planning and management.
The results of this study suggest that some non-familial kinship care represents an unofficial redefinition of potential foster carers as kinship carers, with resulting neglect of the proper assessment and management of children’s care. An acute lack of placement alternatives, and a lack of capacity to undertake thorough and timely caregiver assessments, combine to provide fertile ground for inadequate and potentially abusive care. Such arrangements cannot meet minimum standards for the protection of vulnerable children. There is a need to rethink the notion of so-called ‘kith care’ or non- familial kinship care, and to acknowledge that carers with little pre-existing relationship to children are providing foster care rather than kinship care, and should be managed as such. To reinstate the practice of specific foster care assessments in these circumstances would, however, necessitate generating an increased range of options for emergency care to allow time for thorough pre-care assessment.
Kinship care, whether by family or ‘family friends’, is not a panacea for protective care.
However, with proper assessment, financial and non-financial support, it has proved to be an excellent option for many children in need, and rightly the placement of choice.”
MHYFVic contends that the issues raised in this report should urgently be addressed. However, in the longer term, it would be much better to begin with therapeutic interventions to avoid children being taken into out-of-home care in the first place. This matter was discussed in some detail at the 2017 Children’s Matters Forum, and taken up also in the recent Winston Rickards Memorial Oration.
2018 WINSTON RICKARDS
MEMORIAL ORATION “The prevention of mental health disorders in children.”
Children have a much higher prevalence of mental health disorders than is generally acknowledged, and most adult disorders begin in childhood and adolescence.
The oration asserts that prevention of mental disorders in childhood would reduce the burden in the community more effectively than treatment programs for established disorders. It explores strategies for prevention of mental disorders and promotion of a healthier society.
The full text of the Oration can be found on the mhyfvic.org website in the “Orations” section.
HISTORY CORNER, 1915
A picture is worth a thousand words. It is hoped that the following pictures may not need too much explanation.
Most of them are taken from William Healy’s (1915) book The individual delinquent. There is also a set of photos of Healy and Bronner at the Judge Baker Child Guidance Clinic in Boston, which has claims to be the first Child Guidance clinic in the world.
William Healy and Augusta Bronner
However, there is good reason to say that the first clinic was also run by Healy, but in Chicago. Originally it was called the Illinois Psychopathic Institute and was set up under Presidential order from Theodore Roosevelt to answer the chief question that came out of the 1909 Presidential Conference on childhood: was delinquency inherited or learnt? Originally, Healy had some sympathy with the hereditary argument, as he had been associated with a Chicago eugenics interest group. But the title of his research findings, The individual delinquent, implied that delinquency was a matter of a case by case understanding.
Research subjects were drawn from the Chicago Juvenile Court, which was a world first in 1899. In the process of making their complex assessments of mental health, psychological functioning (especially school achievement) and social adjustment, the researchers (medico, psychologist, and sociologist) would make recommendations on the disposition of the children, which was feedback to parents and other agencies at a long meeting. In turn, the original model of child guidance staffing and process was formed. When the Judge Baker clinic was formed in honour of Humphrey Harvey Baker, it was not surprising that Healy and his psychologist colleague, Augusta Fox Bronner, would be invited to run the clinic.
Some methods seem contemporary, others look almost medieval. Enjoy the snaps (photography is not my strong suit!).
2017 MHYF Vic Committee
* President : Jo Grimwade
* Vice-President : Jenny Luntz
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