Consent conversations with young people in out-of-home care

Jul 2024

Written by Belinda Lorek

Having meaningful conversations with children and young people in out-of-home care about consent, while critically important, can be tricky. These consent conversations need to keep both young people and carers or professionals safe across discussing a range of topics, from navigating boundaries in primary school friendships to understanding consent for sexual activity.

 

 

This year, ACF, CETC, and OzChild have collaborated with carers and young people to develop an online training course for carers about this critical issue of consent, which will be piloted with a group of OzChild carers from 1 July. With support from the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing in Victoria, a series of projects in response to the revised State laws around affirmative consent seek to provide clarity: that consent is more about ongoing enthusiastic agreement than a simple “yes” or “no”. Affirmative consent includes the legal responsibility to say or do something to check for consent, which can never be assumed.

Consent must be freely given, enthusiastic, reversible, specific, informed and ongoing.

During the next three months, we will share some of the reflections, ideas, and support strategies that have arisen during our work on the project.

 

Foundations for conversations

It is never too early (or late!) to have consent conversations. It’s important to stop and consider who might be best placed to have these conversations, and when.  Learning about consent ideally starts when children are young. Children learn about asking for consent to borrow their friend’s book or if they are comfortable to give their relative a hug goodbye. Households model consent by knocking on doors before entering bedrooms or asking before borrowing the items of others. These early conversations and behaviours lay the foundations for children and young people understanding consent. Our conversations then deepen as children’s relationships expand and change during adolescence.

For some young people in out-of-home care, these foundations of holding early consent conversations and modelling behaviours may have been missed. Moving between houses, carers, or schools can mean conversations are missed or assumed to have happened. Sometimes, there are so many other pressing issues, consent conversations are lost or forgotten. Some children and young people may also have had experiences that undermine or confuse the topic of consent, with interactions and experiences that do not feature consent in any way. For this reason, we need to stop and consider what might be needed, led by the needs of the child or young person.

 

How do you know when to talk?

Each child or young person will be at different developmental and chronological ages (that do not always align). Their life experiences, friendship groups, experiences of abuse or neglect, or other current risks can all inform the timing and urgency of conversations. It’s important to talk to the care team and determine the young person’s readiness to have conversations and where these conversations should start.

As young people enter puberty, they undergo many physical, social, cognitive, and emotional changes. Some may begin to explore romantic relationships, while others may have already experienced intimate relationships beyond their developmental readiness. Consent may be a new concept or be surrounded by myths absorbed from social media and movies.

The concept of consent is built upon understanding relationships, interactions, safety, and social skills. For this reason, many young people in out-of-home care benefit from broader discussions about healthy and unhealthy relationships, setting boundaries, and respecting the boundaries of others. These foundations can be introduced and revisited over time to build readiness for more direct discussions of sexual consent when the young person is ready.

Remember, these conversations are not a ”one-off” but are ongoing and change with the young person’s development.

 

Creating safe spaces to talk consent

You don’t need to be an expert about consent. Your connection with the young person and creating a safe and trusted space for them to raise issues or questions is most important. Talk to the care team about planning conversations for topics you feel less confident discussing and to explore any safety or wellbeing needs for the young person.

Consider the location and timing of conversations and how you plan to stop conversations if needed. Be patient, as ongoing conversations take time to develop, and young people may need time to process information.

We look forward to sharing feedback and further developments on the pilot training course as the OzChild carers progress.

 

For more on discussing safe relationships and affirmative consent, join us for our upcoming July online workshop called Tackling tricky conversations: Affirmative consent, pornography, and social media.

You may be interested in: Child & youth development Harmful sexual behaviour Online safety

Creating positive social climates and home-like environments in therapeutic care - Practice guide
Creating positive social climates and home-like environments in therapeutic care - Practice guide
This guide has been developed to support the implementation of Essential Element: Physical Environments from the Ten Essential Elements of Therapeutic Care. It explores how to create therapeutic care contexts...
Read more
Working with young people with harmful sexual behaviours - Research brief
Working with young people with harmful sexual behaviours - Research brief
This research briefing provides an overview of the current literature reporting on young people who engage in harmful sexual behaviours. Workers at the front line of practice have known for...
Read more
The role of praise in working with young people
The role of praise in working with young people
We can see each of our daily interactions with each of the young people we care for as bids for connection.  By choosing to turn toward, to turn away, or...
Read more
Exploring the meaning that lies beneath young people’s behaviour and supporting change - Practice tool
Exploring the meaning that lies beneath young people’s behaviour and supporting change - Practice tool
This resource has been developed to support professionals to unpack and plan how to respond to identified behaviours that are concerning, challenging and disruptive for young people in their search...
Read more
'It happens to boys too': Child sexual exploitation
'It happens to boys too': Child sexual exploitation
Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the profile and awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Undoubtedly there is a benefit of increased awareness and understanding...
Read more
How can you support safe social media use in out-of-home care organisations?
How can you support safe social media use in out-of-home care organisations?
Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, TikTok, WeChat, Instagram – as common as these social media platforms and many others are, most of us are still learning the best ways to use (or...
Read more
Social media for personnel - Practice guide
Social media for personnel - Practice guide
Social media can be a powerful and valuable tool for communication, engagement and promotion, offering convenience and communication opportunities in many instances. But social media can also raise questions around...
Read more
Children, young people and sleep
Children, young people and sleep
Many of those of you who know me, know that I have a big interest in sleep hygiene and the children and young people in out of home care (OOHC)....
Read more
Supporting children in out-of-home care to cope with ambiguous loss
Supporting children in out-of-home care to cope with ambiguous loss
When you think of grief and loss, what comes to your mind? You may think of the immense sorrow one may experience. For some of us, we can seek solace...
Read more
The therapeutic power of laughter
The therapeutic power of laughter
"The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter." Mark Twain We all like to laugh. It makes us feel good. Among humans, laughter begins as...
Read more
Applying polyvagal theory to relationship-based therapeutic care - Practice tool
Applying polyvagal theory to relationship-based therapeutic care - Practice tool
Relationship-based practice is at the core of effective therapeutic care. Key to understanding how to build effective relationships with young people who have experienced trauma is to understand how the...
Read more
Q&A with the trainer: Harmful sexual behaviour
Q&A with the trainer: Harmful sexual behaviour
Working with young people who engage in harmful sexual behaviour is complex and challenging. Cyra Fernandes and Dan Howell have spent over a 1000 hours in the past year helping carers and professionals...
Read more
Responding to children and young people living in out-of-home care who engage in harmful sexual behaviour - Practice guide
Responding to children and young people living in out-of-home care who engage in harmful sexual behaviour - Practice guide
This practice guide aims to support carers and professionals working in and around the out of home care system to know how to best understand their role when responding to...
Read more
“If you don’t feed the staff, they’ll eat the kids” Kevin Creeden on self-care and harmful sexual behaviours
“If you don’t feed the staff, they’ll eat the kids” Kevin Creeden on self-care and harmful sexual behaviours
Kevin Creeden, Director of Assessment and Research at Whitney Academy Massachusetts and a speaker at the 2022 International Child Trauma Conference said in recent training, “If you don’t feed the...
Read more
12 ways foster and kinship carers can promote compassion and self-compassion in children and young people
12 ways foster and kinship carers can promote compassion and self-compassion in children and young people
What are Compassion and Self-Compassion?Compassion is the ability to feel and connect with the suffering of another human being, self-compassion is the ability to feel and connect with one’s own...
Read more
Fight, flight, freeze, and fibbing: Lying as a trauma-based behaviour
Fight, flight, freeze, and fibbing: Lying as a trauma-based behaviour
In almost every session I have run for foster and kinship carers, someone tells a story about a child or young person in their care who regularly lies. I can feel...
Read more
Why sleep is so important for children with trauma
Why sleep is so important for children with trauma
Many of you who know me know that I have a big interest in sleep hygiene and the children and young people in out-of-home care (OOHC). To this end, I...
Read more
The role fear plays in the lives of children and young people in out-of-home care
The role fear plays in the lives of children and young people in out-of-home care
Fear is a fundamental human emotion triggered by a perceived threat. It serves as a basic survival mechanism that signals our bodies to respond to danger with a fight, flight,...
Read more
Untangling the challenges of FASD and trauma
Untangling the challenges of FASD and trauma
In honour of FASD Awareness Month this September, the CETC brought together esteemed thought leaders Dr Julia Shekleton, Prue Walker, and Noel Macnamara to delve into the complex intersection between...
Read more
Q&A with the trainer: Behaviours that challenge
Q&A with the trainer: Behaviours that challenge
One of our most frequent requests at the CETC is for more training on how to respond to the behaviours of young people in out-of-home care that caregivers can find...
Read more
The essential role of collaboration in clinical assessments for young people experiencing complex trauma
The essential role of collaboration in clinical assessments for young people experiencing complex trauma
As a clinician supporting young people who engage in harmful sexual behaviour, I have the privilege of travelling across the northern region of Victoria and engaging with many residential workers....
Read more
Harmful sexual behaviours safety plan - Practice tool
Harmful sexual behaviours safety plan - Practice tool
This practice tool provides an accompaniment to the practice guide Responding to children and young people living in out-of-home care who engage in harmful sexual behaviour as a guide to creating...
Read more