On-Demand: What we’ve learnt delivering trauma training to carers online

May 2024

Written by Kelly Royds

Over the past 18 months, we have been asking ourselves how online training can help meet the knowledge and support needs of foster and kinship carers. What are the benefits and challenges of on-demand learning, and how can it support carers in accessing authentic and helpful knowledge about how trauma impacts the children in their care?

Our online program developed for the Government of South Australia – Department of Child Protection, “Caring for Children and Young People with Trauma – For Foster and Kinship Carers,” has attempted to answer these questions. Blending self-paced learning and reflective sessions, this online course aims to meet the unique needs of carers in South Australia, offering both flexibility and accessibility.

Meeting carers’ needs – why this training matters

Our and others’ research consistently underscores the urgent need for carers to have continuous access to trauma-informed knowledge and professional support that can be immediately applied.

Some studies have identified online training as especially beneficial for foster carers in rural or remote areas, for whom attending training is often difficult due to a lack of time and/or the inability to travel long distances for group training sessions (Buzhardt & Heitzman-Powell, 2006).

Carers often noted that they wished they received the training they had undertaken at an earlier time point, which suggests there is often a mismatch between the timing of training and the challenges that emerge as a placement progresses.

Here are some of the key areas where this support is crucial:

 

  • Training in trauma-informed care: Carers need to understand trauma and its impact on child development and behaviour to provide sensitive and effective support.
  • Behavioural support: Strategies to manage behaviours that challenge, such as aggression, withdrawal, and anxiety, are crucial.
  • Social media training: Carers need training in how to understand and manage children’s social media use with respect and privacy, while maintaining safety.
  • Support accessing services: Carers require better access to medical, psychological, and educational services for the children in their care.
  • Ongoing support: Continuous learning opportunities and emotional support are essential for carers to stay informed and resilient.
  • Tailored training for kinship carers: Kinship carers wanted training approaches that recognised the unique challenges they face as relative carers.

In 2019, My Forever Family NSW conducted a survey to identify policy and practice improvements in the sector to support carers better. A total of 2087 carers responded to the survey, representing about 17% of NSW’s carer population. Many of these carers noted that there were difficulties in attending training due to scheduling, being too busy caring for the children, or a lack of sessions close to where they lived.

Nearly a quarter (22%) of carers indicated that they had not been offered any training by their agency. The survey also pointed to an imbalance in accessing support between kinship carers and foster carers, with such imbalances in access likely to extend to training opportunities.

 

How digital, self-paced learning can help

Traditional training sessions can be hard to fit into the busy lives of foster and kinship carers. Blended with interactive and real-life reflective opportunities, online learning programs offer a flexible alternative. This approach means that learning and development aren’t tied to specific times or places, making it easier for carers to engage with the content when it suits them best.

Our online program stands out for its comprehensive trauma-informed modules, which dive deep into understanding trauma, its effects on children, and practical strategies for creating a safe, nurturing environment. Reflective practice groups have allowed carers to share experiences, challenges, and insights, enhancing their understanding through peer learning. The course also includes practical examples and case studies, helping carers apply what they’ve learned directly to their caregiving roles.

 

What carers are saying – survey insights

With over 500 carers completing our online training program, we’ve gathered feedback from just under 50 carers so far.

Here’s what they’ve told us:

  1. Positive impact on caregiving

“The training provided me with the tools and confidence I needed to better support the children in my care. I feel much more prepared now.”

  • 95% of respondents felt the course met their expectations.
  • 90% reported increased confidence in managing trauma-related behaviours.
  • 85% found the course content highly relevant to their caregiving roles.
  1. Practical and meaningful

Carers highlighted the practical application of the knowledge gained. One carer shared, “I wish I had this training at the beginning of my fostering journey. It would have made a huge difference in how I handled the initial challenges.”

Another mentioned, “The real-life examples and case studies were incredibly helpful in understanding how to apply the concepts in everyday situations.”

  1. Understanding what lies behind the behaviour

One of the most significant impacts of the online training program has been helping carers understand the behaviours of children who have experienced trauma. Carers shared how the course transformed their approach: “[The course] helped by teaching techniques to use when dealing with certain behaviours and also to get a better understanding of why a child may be responding to certain things the way they are due to trauma.”

Another carer highlighted the clarity the course provided: “I couldn’t understand why the kids behaved the way they did. Now I have a clearer understanding on how their mind works and the reasons behind the behaviour and how to support them.” This deeper understanding, including insights into brain development, has been crucial. One carer noted, “It helped me to stop and think about why behaviours are happening.”

  1. Content accessibility and inclusivity

While the course’s accessibility was generally well-received, some suggested improvements. A carer noted, “Would be great to have the option of voice-overs for the content to support those who prefer auditory learning.”

Another carer appreciated the flexible nature of the course, stating, “Being able to complete the training at my own pace was crucial for fitting it into my busy schedule.”

  1. Suggestions for improvement

Many carers emphasised the need for more interactive elements and diverse representation in the training materials. One suggestion was, “More videos of multiple families and their experiences would provide a broader perspective and relatable scenarios.”

Another participant suggested, “Including more interactive elements, like quizzes and discussion forums, would enhance the learning experience.”

 

Takeaways and next steps

This early feedback highlights the importance of practical, accessible, and inclusive online training. By addressing the technical challenges and incorporating suggested improvements, we can continue to support carers effectively, ultimately benefiting the children and young people in their care.

We’re excited to share these insights and explore the program’s structure at the upcoming ACWA national conference. Our goal is to contribute to shaping more responsive, effective training models for foster and kinship carers, leading to better outcomes for the children they care for.

You may be interested in: Foster care Kinship care

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