Rebuilding relationships between children on long-term guardianship orders and their parents is the focus of a new program, aimed at reducing the number of young people in out-of-home care.
A joint partnership between Centacare and the Department for Child Protection (DCP), Adolescent Reunification supports children aged 11 to 17 years to reconnect with their birth family.
At the same time, parents are supported to address familial challenges that led to their children’s removal, such as drug taking, domestic violence, mental illness, hygiene and safety concerns – often the outcome of their own childhood trauma.
Young people aged 14 to 17 years currently living in commercial and residential care across the state are a priority under the program.
“It’s hard enough for families to navigate the ‘teen’ years, but where parents and teenagers carry these burdens of trauma, the challenge is multiplied,’’ says Chris Kemish (pictured), Manager of Centacare’s Reunification Service.
“Long-term orders are there for a reason and the child’s safety is always paramount but we should never hold a fixed hypothesis about a family as situations change.
“If we can build the relationship between the parent and young person and help them understand their own traumatic experiences, search for good intentions and move them away from the blame and shame linked to that, then we have a chance.
“There needs to be some kind of motivation and acknowledgment of the risks and concerns that were there, and might still be present, and a commitment and capacity to change.’’
The two-year program, which is being evaluated by University of Adelaide Professor Paul Delfabbro, runs alongside Centacare’s existing Reunification Service.
Collectively, the services provide therapeutic and practical support to 34 families and 52 children. Referrals come from the Department for Child Protection.
In a state-first for non-government organisations, the services incorporate Parallel Parent and Child Therapy (P-PACT), delivered by child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Jackie Amos.
The approach combines attachment-focused interventions and trauma-based therapy to individually support parents and children, as well as their relationship.
The therapy offers new hope in the prevention of child abuse and neglect arising from a mother’s personal trauma and shame, and the impact of this on her mental health and parenting capacity.
“Some young people will place themselves back home but there might still be anxiety and stress around that which we need to address if the reunification is going to be sustainable long-term,’’ Chris says.
“Our role is to support the young person to make sense of their journey within the context of their previous relationship with their family.
“Perhaps their mother was a victim of domestic violence or experienced other trauma which impacted on her ability to parent, despite her acting with the best of intentions.
“The child in turn might blame their parent, and feel let down and angry.’’
Individual and family needs related to socioeconomic disadvantage such as food, transportation, financial management and housing are addressed as part of the reunification programs.
Links to education, training, health care and other services also are provided, alongside home-based support to assist with day-to-day family functioning.
Post reunification support aims to strengthen relationships and the young person’s ongoing developmental needs.
“If we can help both the child and the parents understand why certain events have occurred and why they responded in the manner they did, then we have an opportunity to break that generational cycle,’’ Chris says.
“Where possible and safe children should be with their parents. It is really exciting to be part of something where we can support children to transition back home to their parents and live in a safe environment.’’