CARING FOR CARERS
Foster care can be a positive, life-changing experience for a child and a family.
The Australian Childhood Foundation has developed a therapeutic care program for children needing foster care. This is now being replicated in partnership with other organisations throughout Australia. Lisa Ranahan, Program Manager of our Therapeutic Care Program, explains how a therapeutic approach is changing the face of foster care.
What is the Therapeutic Foster Care Program?
As you can imagine, children requiring foster care have experienced trauma as a result of abuse, family violence and neglect. They show a range of complex behaviours. It requires a totally different type of parenting. We work with the children, foster carers, the foster carer agencies and case workers from the Department of Human Services to provide the training and support that foster families need to help these children recover from their experiences. Therapeutic foster care aims to make living in a foster family a really positive experience for both children and foster parents.
Why have we developed this program?
56% of children have experienced more than 3 placement breakdowns because of their challenging behaviour in the 12 month period leading to their referral to the Foundation.
Traumatised children come into a foster family believing the world is unsafe, that adults cannot be trusted, and that good things don’t happen to them. Much of their behaviour, which is often viewed as naughty or disruptive, is about survival. Some of their survival strategies have included staying awake at night to keep themselves safe, or being ever watchful for a changed tone of voice that could mean they were about to be beaten, or moving about the house silently as they foraged for food without being detected by their parents. These behaviours ensured their survival. Foster parents need help to understand what has happened to the children they care for and how to respond to their behaviour in a supportive and loving way.
Why is this program so successful?
88% of foster carers report feeling less stressed and more confident in knowing how to support and look after the children in their care as a result of the Foundation's assistance.
The success of the program is due to the team approach taken to support the children and their foster carers. A Care Team is allocated to every child and foster family, made up of the Therapeutic Foster Care worker from our partner organisations that include Anglicare, OzChild, Westcare (Salvation Army) and Kilmany Family Services; the foster care family; the therapeutic specialist – that’s us; and the case worker from the Department of Human Services. We all meet regularly to discuss the progress of the child and family. At all times, the child is at the centre of all decision-making. Also, the additional training and the level of intense support to the placement mean that the carers understand trauma, and are supported to respond in a way that aids the child’s healing.
Who is the Therapeutic Foster Care Program for?
The program is for any child needing out-of-home care, from babies right through to 18 years of age, and for families prepared to care for these children. Each foster carer undertakes general foster care training with the foster care provider, and three days of specialist training with the Foundation. They then need to be assessed and accredited to be therapeutic carers.
What is a major challenge that foster carers face?
It can be overwhelming and stressful to acknowledge what these children have experienced. This is why the Care Team is so important. Foster carers are intensely supported during these difficult times. It is rewarding to watch a child recover from feelings of worthlessness to a belief they are lovable and have special abilities because of the care and support of their foster carers.
What is the impact on other children in the family?
86% of children do not experience any placement breakdowns after their involvement with the Foundation
It can be understandably challenging for the biological children of the foster carer. They often don’t understand why the foster child is treated differently, particularly when they are not punished for behaviours usually frowned on by their parents. We help them to understand that these children need to be supported differently, that they need a unique response to their behaviour, and that traditional parenting doesn’t work with these children. Again, it is really important that everyone in a foster family understands the trauma that foster children have experienced. Once each member of the foster family has this knowledge, they come on board and the entire foster family becomes the family support that traumatised children need.
Why is the program so important?
All children need to feel safe, respected and loved and feel that they belong. Our therapeutic care program helps this to happen. Our goal is that all children receive a therapeutic approach while they live in foster care.
Recently a carer who had been supported through our On Track therapeutic foster care program in the ACT was moved to write to Hon Joy Burch, Minister for Children and Young People to explain the importance of such programs in assisting foster parents caring for traumatised children. Read A Letter From the Heart - a carer's story