Foster carers and birth families are swapping sounds and pictures to stay connected during COVID-19.

Their creativity is bringing joy amid the chaos to children, siblings and parents living apart.

“Something like this always births innovation, and our families are going above and beyond to make sure there’s still meaningful and regular contact,’’ said Amalie Mannik, Manager, Centacare Foster Care.

From video updates to recordable teddy bears, new ways of keeping in touch are emerging each day.

“Some birth parents have recorded lullabies on video, or into special bears, so that their children can still hear their voice,’’ Amalie said.

“Others have been singing songs and telling bedtime stories on Facetime. Even just to be able to see their child’s bedroom, that sort of connection is so important.

“A lot of the foster carers have put together little photo books and templates so the kids can show mum and dad what they’re doing each day.

“The birth families miss their kids. They love them deeply and unconditionally, so having face-to-face contact decrease so dramatically is really tough.”

Amalie said the creativity was doubling as an important learning tool, with foster carers able to provide guidance and feedback to birth parents, based on their interactions with their children.

“So as much as they’re keeping in touch, they’re also learning new ways of connecting with their children.’’

Innovation amid COVID-19 has changed the way Centacare Foster Care operates too.

In lieu of face-to-face contact, support workers are now consulting with foster carers via phone or virtual consultations. Training is being conducted by video and a new work booklet, while information sessions are being delivered online.

Virtual assessment visits have also been introduced.

“We are looking at increasing respite for households that need it, and we have developed `emergency plans’ for the children if carers become unwell,’’ Amalie said.

For more information about becoming a foster carer with Centacare, please phone the team on 8159 1400.



People struggling to cope with the chaos and fear surrounding COVID-19 can now access free phone counselling by appointment from Centacare Catholic Family Services.

In response to the health emergency, Centacare has increased capacity to provide telephone support for mental health concerns, family stress due to job loss, social isolation and other challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

People do not need a mental health care plan to access the short-term support. Rather, they can phone Centacare direct and book an appointment for a telephone counselling consultation.

Specialist Clinician Elaine Reynolds said it was crucial people did not go it alone at a time when unprecedented social measures were keeping friends and families apart, exacerbating challenges for those already at risk.

“In extreme moments like this, the options for personal control are severely limited, so there are a lot of people feeling lost, powerless and anxious,’’ Elaine said.

“The worries and what-ifs surrounding COVID-19 are enormous, and the ramifications of this can be gut-wrenching for many people.’’

People can phone Centacare between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, to make a daytime or evening appointment. The telephone counselling service is inclusive, non-judgmental and unconditional.

“Centacare wishes to offer a connection to those who seek counselling, strategies, or ways of working through individual, family or relationship issues, without having to leave their home,’’ Deputy Director Pauline Connelly said.

“In isolation with families, what once may have been an irritant can become an aggravator, and what once was a disappointment can lead to confusion and disturbance in one’s thinking.

“Seeking help early at these times, through phone counselling, can offer relief and provide a pathway to a new normal.”

To book an appointment for COVID-19 telephone counselling, please phone Centacare on 8215 6700. 

Kylie Degenhardt has heard it all.

As a fair skin Palawa woman, the Youth Support Worker has had her identity questioned, been mocked for being Aboriginal and told she doesn’t belong.

“People say things like `how Aboriginal are you?’, like I need to prove it,’’ Kylie says.

“There’s still that mentality if you don’t fit the usual picture of what an Aboriginal person is meant to look like. The racism and stereotypes, they never go away.’’

The conversations Kylie’s skin colour provoke are a constant reminder of the challenges around identity and acceptance that endure today for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The 43-year-old is passionate about reversing this `cultural disconnect’, born from past government policies and felt so painfully by her grandfather Robert, a member of the Stolen Generations.

“He didn’t see his sister until he was 60 odd years old and then they both passed away six months later – after a lifetime without each other,’’ Kylie says.

“It’s that disconnection: What he was made to think about his mum; what he was made to think about his culture; how policy and thinking turned our people against themselves.’’

In her role at headspace Port Adelaide, Kylie helps young people to embrace their heritage by connecting them to community and other supports for challenges such as depression and anxiety.

In addition, she teaches community service professionals to view mental health through a cultural lens, as one of a handful of facilitators in the state delivering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid training.

Participants learn how to assist an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander adult who may be experiencing a mental health problem until appropriate professional help is received or the crisis resolves.

“Every day I see the trauma but I also see the resilience in people,’’ Kylie says.

“The younger generations especially are using their voice positively. Yes, they are angry, but they are also getting their message of survival out there: that we are still here, thriving and surviving!

“They are proud and they’re speaking up.’’

Fancy playing cricket on the Murray River? How about chasey or a game of tag?

Lyall Willis does all that and more – in an open top kayak – as part of a Communities for Children-funded program run at Murray Bridge.

Beyond Kayaking has engaged about 1000 adults and children since it began eight years ago.

The initial aim was to bring families together for fun on the water but the program has achieved much more, says Lyall, a Family Practitioner at Centacare.

In addition to building confidence, communication skills and resilience in children aged up to 12 years, Beyond Kayaking nurtures mindfulness parenting.

This strengthens familial bonds and helps to hone parenting skills.

“It’s not just about the kids, it’s about the parents having a break as well, and the kids are part of that which is pretty unique,” Lyall says.

“There’s a mutual encouragement and respect built between them. Parents will say it’s the highlight of their week to be able to come out here, because the kids just want to be part of something with them.

“It’s great to see parents have a new level of engagement with their child in an environment that they’re both not 100 per cent confident in, and for the kids to look to their parent for that safety and guidance.”

For more information about Beyond Kayaking and where to find Lyall, phone our Murray Bridge office 8215 6320.

Foster care is a truly family affair for Marianne Langes.

Growing up, the 64-year-old shared her home with four siblings and three much-loved foster children, whom her parents later adopted.

Marianne is now following in her parents’ footsteps, as a Specialist Short Term Reunification Carer at Centacare.

For the past three years, she has played a pivotal role in a care team that has wrapped around a brother and sister, and their birth family.

The primary aim has been to see the children return home.

Marianne has done whatever she can to nurture the relationship between parent and child, and respond to the children’s often complex needs.

“I’m a single carer who’s never had children so it’s been a steep learning curve, but they’ve changed my life,’’ she says.

“They have brought so much laughter and love into the house. There is never a dull moment. Every day they give me some sort of surprise, be it big or small. It’s just a joy.’’

The pull of familial ties is close to home for Marianne who watched her brother search for his identity in his early twenties.

“I just saw in him that real need to be reconnected to birth family and I think that’s why I chose reunification,’’ Marianne says.

Specialist Short Term Reunification Carers support and encourage family connection and contact for children in their care, and help them to frame meaning about their experiences.

In recognition of the outstanding care Marianne has provided, she was recently invited by the Department for Child Protection to a two-day Adelaide workshop with therapist and international speaker, Bonnie Badenoch.

Bonnie’s focus is on helping trauma survivors and individuals with significant attachment challenges to reshape their neural landscape to support a life of meaning and resilience.

Children in care often face complex challenges due to family complexities and part of Marianne’s role is to help children make sense of events.

“I’ve had to have a flexible brain in trying to sort out what to do with some of the children’s issues,’’ Marianne says.

“The workshop helped me to think how I react to the children and it affirmed some of the things I have done with them and left me with two impact statements – I see you and I am here – and the other is to hold the brain with compassion.

“With the children, I’ve learnt the importance of being present; to just be with them, and that I don’t always need words and to jump on a problem.’’

Marianne is grateful for the support and training she has received at Centacare and highlights the fortnightly home visits made by Foster Care Support Workers.

“That has been really great – the time given to you to listen to you,’’ she says.

“I know it’s about the children but a lot of it is the support of you which makes a real difference.

“I’ve no regrets with anything I’ve done in my life, but this I think has fulfilled me the most and given me more rewards than what I’ve given to the children.’’

Financial advocacy is helping alter the life course of vulnerable families in a state-first at Centacare.

Financial advocate Jacki Whittington has joined the multidisciplinary Targeted Intervention Service (TIS) on the frontline of child protection.

The unique service model pairs Jacki with families in which financial stress is a major contributing factor to placing child safety and wellbeing at risk.

Working in partnership with a senior practitioner, clinical nurse, and case manager, the financial advocate provides in-home, trauma-informed support to families facing complex challenges, such as intergenerational poverty, financial abuse and rising debt.

A large part of Jacki’s role is to help caregivers to understand their psychological relationship with money – and why they make certain choices that contribute to their financial hardship.

For example, overspending on and hoarding food because of their own experience of childhood neglect.

“You cannot underestimate how much people who have walked a life of trauma, abandonment and deprivation, are at the mercy of government departments and the incomes they receive,’’ Jacki said.

“The over-compensating for children’s birthdays as part of their own sadness; The binging when they get paid because they just want to feel normal; The self-harm that follows when they’re left with nothing.

“The choices they make around finances are just another reactive behaviour, except, with money, it’s make or break.’’

Jacki has been awarded an Energy Australia scholarship to undertake a Diploma of Financial Counselling which will allow her to increase the level of support available to families.

“You can’t make someone change just by saying `this is what you need to do’ because their relationship with money is not the same; you need the context behind their decisions,’’ she said. “This is their walk.’’

Through TIS, familes are empowered to identify and `awaken’ their strengths in order to build financial literacy and competency. In addition, they are supported to develop tools to track and achieve financial goals.

Currently, Jacki is working with 12 families within TIS which supported 150 clients in 2017/18.

Recently she started a weekly financial support group for young women engaged with Centacare’s Young Family Support Program at Malvern Place. The service provides support and accommodation for young pregnant or parenting women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

TIS Manager Michelle Warner said the introduction of financial advocacy had closed a gap in accessible financial counselling for vulnerable and socially isolated families.

“I remember one family where there were six attempts to support them to a community-based financial counsellor,’’ Michelle said.

“Even if they do get to there, it’s an hour-long appointment talking about what’s in front of them – not why they got here or how this has happened.

“We are learning that, just like with families who will share with nurses things that they might not share with case managers, the permission of this role has enabled families to really focus on income and expenditure and explore the why.’’

Centacare will soon replicate the model across Reunification Services.

Case Study

A young family is evicted from their home due to unpaid rent.

They move into a relative’s house but continue to overspend which places significant stress on their relationship.

The children display challenging behaviours at school and appear to have no food.

The mother feels shame.

Jacki begins working in partnership with the family.

She recognises that the mother is spending her entire fortnightly income on groceries.

Jacki supports the mother to understand why she is hoarding food.

This is traced to the mother’s own experience of neglect as a child.

Her way of feeling safe as an adult is to buy more food than the family needs.

Jacki works with the mother to identify her strengths.

Together they develop some simple tools to shift the mother’s relationship from hoarding food to buying less and saving more.

Gradually the mother begins to achieve small financial goals.

She experiences the pride of being able to pay outstanding debts.

This encourages her to keep saving and, in less than two months, she is able to reduce her food bill by more than half.

By understanding her relationship with money, the mother is empowered to make positive change.


Music therapist Lucy May has struck a chord with young mums at Malvern Place.

Every week they meet for an hour to sing songs and interact with their children, led by Lucy on guitar.

One of 12 registered music therapists in the state, Lucy is using her qualification – and lifelong study of music, including the flute – to instil confidence and resilience in vulnerable families while on university placement for her Masters of Social Work.

“People might think music is the last thing women in crisis are thinking about, and that they have a million other things on their mind, but everyone deserves to have music in their life; it’s not just for a fortunate few,’’ Lucy says.

Music therapy is a research-based practice aimed at improving health, functioning and wellbeing.

For mothers aged 25 and under engaged in Centacare’s Young Family Support Program at Malvern Place, music therapy is used to foster child development, social skills, confidence, community capacity building and parent/child attachment.

“We hope that if they have a good experience in a playgroup setting at Malvern Place, they will take that confidence with them into the community,’’ Lucy says.

“There’s an intent behind every song we do. ‘’

Percussion instruments, ribbons and drums are used to share traditional and non-traditional songs.

“ One of the big things is seeing the mothers delighting in their children and despite everything else going on in their life, having that one hour just to be with their child,’’ says Lucy.

“Maybe they’ve never been to a playgroup before or they never went as a child. In the first 10 minutes they go from being really unsure to having fun.’’

Malvern Place provides support and accommodation for young pregnant or parenting women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, often because of domestic violence, childhood trauma and other complex challenges.

“The stigma of homelessness and being a young mum can mean these families often miss out on certain things,’’ Lucy says.

“I hope the positive experiences they have here can translate into other parts of their life. If they can build their confidence through music, hopefully it becomes a good memory they can take forward with their children.’’

For more information about Malvern Place, phone (08) 8359 1022 or visit our website.

Collaborative practice in the north is giving vulnerable young people broader access to crucial support networks.

Centacare is one of many organisations working together to wrap services around clients who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

“When the community resources and funding are less than ever, you have to be creative and proactive in getting things to happen,’’ says Tina Breen, Senior Social Worker at our Outer North Youth Homelessness Service. 

“Over the past 12 months we have really focussed on setting up what we call a care team for each young person.

“That means pulling in anybody that’s connected to that young person, and really strongly and purposefully collaborating together; we value what each service can bring to the table and work out how we can cross-services the young person to meet their needs.

“It’s about what we can do together as a sector to give young people the best chance of positive outcomes.’

The approach is giving young people access to multiple services at the same time so they don’t have to navigate complex systems alone, says Tina.

“I went to a meeting yesterday with 12 different agencies supporting one person.

“There is a huge possibility he’ll have really good outcomes because he’s got so much support wrapped around him.

“It’s a really strong community to work in.’’

Homelessness Week is an annual week coordinated by Homelessness Australia to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action needed to achieve enduring solutions.

Every parent needs a well-earned break to rest and recharge, and foster carers are no different.

That’s when respite carers step in: to share the responsibility of caring for children and young people while also providing them with an opportunity to extend their friendship and support networks.

“It takes a village to raise a child and respite carers are a crucial part of that village,” says Amalie Mannik, Manager of Centacare’s Family Preservation Foster Care Program.

“Respite allows for the carer to rejuvenate, re-energise and replenish their resources, enabling them to maintain the quality of the care that they provide. It can prevent placement breakdowns and carer fatigue.

“In order to care for others, you also need to look after yourself.’’

Organised in partnership with foster carers, respite care is planned around maintaining the child’s regular routine.

Respite carers are carefully matched to children and long-term carers to ensure the best connections and experience for themselves, the children, and their foster families.

“I feel that I help children to acknowledge that people can connect with love and respect, creating a positive reinforcement,’’ says Carmen Polidori, a Centacare respite foster carer.

“I enjoy finding the child’s positive attachments through playing and talking. I believe respite foster care strengthens and brings out the best in a child in a positive way.’’

Respite carers undertake the same training, assessment and approval process as foster carers, and have the option of providing other forms of care, such as short-term and long-term placements.

“Respite carers are an invaluable part of the community of care that provides a consistent and stable environment for children to thrive,’’ says Leanne Haddad, Executive Manager of Children’s Services.

“Regular support and specialised training gives respite carers an understanding of the experiences of children in care, and how this affects their needs. It also helps to prepare new carers to meet the needs of children.

“Even if it’s only for one night, respite care is beneficial for children because it encourages them to forge new friendships and widens their network of familiar faces they can trust. They also get to experiences new places and opportunities.

“It brings back the neighbourhood approach to care as it takes more than one family to raise a child.’’

Centacare is seeking respite carers to join our foster care team.

A child-centred approach, flexibility, empathy, love for children and a willingness to support families is essential.

For more information on becoming a respite foster carer, phone our foster care team on 8159 1400.

National Families Week begins today. To celebrate the vital role that families play in the community, we will be highlighting some of the many ways Centacare supports families to thrive. Today we look at our Children’s Services Unit which celebrates the diversity in community and believes in providing families with opportunities.


Each year, Centacare’s Children’s Services Unit (CSU) provides support to about 340 families and 600 children across metropolitan Adelaide, the Murraylands, Mount Gambier, and the Riverland.

We aim to build parenting capacity that is sustained long-term through the provision of family supports, therapeutic interventions, the development of parenting and relationship skills and connection to community resources.

We work with families to identify and harness their strengths, build confidence and address challenges. These may include drug and alcohol misuse, mental health, domestic violence, homelessness, poverty, and abuse and neglect.

Our multidisciplinary teams consist of social workers, nurses, counsellors, therapists, administration, management and leadership.

“We work with vulnerable families to create sustained change; even the most marginal family deserves supports,’’ says Leanne Haddad, Executive Manager.

“The rewards are invaluable when families can stay together in a safe and supported environment.’’

We offer a number of programs for families, children and young people, from parenting groups, to home visiting programs, family support services, targeted intervention, specialist dad support, family preservation, reunification programs and specialist foster care services.

Staff work with the families to identify risks and target support to mitigate challenges impacting their capacity to parent.

“Therapy is provided alongside in-home supports to families,’’ Leanne says. “This is a crucial element that can lead to sustained change. The therapy addresses the underlying factors that often cause the at-risk behaviours.’’

How we can support you

Click on the links to explore our CSU programs and services


Meeting the Challenge

Centacare Catholic Family Services is a Catholic welfare organisation delivering a range of services across the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Client Services

45 Wakefield Street Adelaide SA 5000
T 08 8215 6700

Opening Hours

Monday – Tuesday | 9am – 5pm
Wednesday – Thursday | 9am – 9pm
Friday | 9am – 5pm

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