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Submission to the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People: Special Inquiry: Children and Young People in Alternative Care Arrangements (ACAs)

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Dec 2023

Written by Janise Mitchell

Alternative Care Arrangements are the symptom of a care system in crisis

ACAs have no place in a modern trauma-informed and child-centred out-of-home care system.

The retention of foster carers is a major challenge facing systems across Australia and internationally. Research clearly shows they are leaving and/or requesting placements end due to a lack of support. As a result, children and young people experience high levels of relational instability, subjecting them to ongoing disruption, chronic loss, and dislocation from their families and communities. 

In 2016, the Independent Review of Out of Home Care in NSW by David Tune found that it was ineffective and unsustainable. This review led to significant investment in OOHC through the “Their Futures Matter” reforms. However, little has changed, prompting yet another Inquiry.

The OOHC system certainly needs ongoing investment, but it is not only about money. We need to rethink the principles that are built into the very design of OOHC.

Despite the significant role foster carers play in ensuring that vulnerable children receive proper material, psychological, and emotional support, research consistently suggests that carers often lack sufficient or appropriately targeted assistance. This is problematic not only for carers but also for the children, whose well-being is intricately linked to that of their carers. When carers receive less support, the chance of placement breakdown increases.

The outcomes of the TrACK and OurSPACE programs demonstrate what can be achieved when the needs of children and young people and their carers are well understood, and our interventions are preventative and proactive.

Our experience running therapeutic foster care programs nationally, and our success with the OurSPACE specialist trauma counselling program in NSW specifically, demonstrate how addressing the needs of foster carers improves outcomes for children and young people across a spectrum of indicators (educational engagement, placement stability, empowered and informed carers).

To date, OurSPACE has supported over 90 children living in, transitioning through, or accessing ACAs in hotels, motels, Airbnb, and other temporary accommodations as respite when no carers are available. Our submission highlights the experience of some of these children and young people.

Towards a system designed to understand trauma and the needs of children and young people

The need for ACAs is preventable. The outcomes of the TrACK and OurSPACE programs each demonstrate the outcomes that can be achieved, when all else has failed. The stories of children and young people in this submission demand not just change but a complete reconceptualisation of the OOHC system in NSW. Money alone
cannot solve the challenges faced by the system.

All OOHC should be therapeutic in its intent and in its execution. When we create a system that does not set out to provide the absolute essentials that children require (a sense of relational stability, belonging, understanding, and permanency) we know that we have significantly failed every one of the children who are entered into such a place.

The work of modern intermediaries is increasingly being recognised as critical to the capacity of complex systems, undertaking complex work to deliver on the desired outcomes. Too often the answer to capacity building is seen as being training alone. The work of the CETC is a model of a contemporary intermediary.

We urge the Inquiry to consider our findings and recommendations to safeguard the rights and futures of children and young people in the NSW OOHC system.

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