The five-year-old face of Centacare’s new foster care campaign is one of the lucky ones.

After spending eight months in residential care, `Jamie’ found stability and love with a foster family shortly before his fourth birthday. 

Sadly, he is the exception rather than the rule, as a desperate shortage of carers for primary school aged children in South Australia continues to grow.

More than half of the children waiting for foster homes across the state are aged five to nine years old.

Centacare Foster Care Manager Amalie Mannik said an overwhelming preference for infants among foster carers has made it more difficult for Centacare to place children aged two and up.

“It’s incredibly challenging not being able to place this cohort of children, where the need is and I think this is due to a perception that older children are more challenging to care for than babies,’’ she said.

“But there are so many toddlers and primary school aged children who would be able to thrive and meet their developmental milestones if they had a stable, secure base and a nurturing home that could support them through life.’’

Centacare has launched a new campaign to encourage people to join our circle of care.

The campaign is centred on 18 fictitious characters including Jamie, which also feature in a new logo and program branding. The aim is to raise awareness of the need for more foster carers, and the different types of care that households can provide to help children of all ages.

Amalie said foster carers for children aged five to 12 were especially needed.

“These children are engaged at school, they’re learning to read and write and are at that beautiful age when they can start pursuing activities and experiencing new things, yet it’s very difficult to find them family-based homes,’’ she said.

“Out of all of the children placed within the Centacare Foster Care program, less than half are primary school age, which isn’t reflective of the need.’’

Amalie said foster carers with primary school aged children in their care regularly highlight the benefits of nurturing this age group.

“They support them with their school engagement and have the benefit of being able to gain feedback from the children during meaningful conversations,’’ she said.

“Not having to lift infants is less physically demanding, and they also don’t experience sleep deprivation as they would with an infant if they are waking through the night for feeding.’’

Centacare Foster Care provides immediate, short-term, long-term and respite care for children from birth until adulthood.

The process of becoming a foster carer can take between three to five months from application through to approval.

To join our circle of care, please phone Centacare Foster Care on 81591400 or email




A giant beachfront mural sets the scene in Centacare’s new sensory room at Seaton.

Under a blue sky, footprints in the sand lead to the water, instilling a sense of peace and calm in the space unveiled today by the Children’s Services Unit.

A vacant office has been transformed into a sanctuary for families, where parents and children can interact in a welcoming and informal setting.

A year in the making, the project was made possible by a CCI Giving grant, and aims to remove some of the barriers families face in accessing vital therapeutic supports.

“We hoped we could create a welcoming and inviting space for our families, where they could work with therapists in an informal and relaxing way,’’ said Laura Hooper, Acting Senior Placement Practitioner with Centacare Foster Care.

“It’s a setting where they can feel safe and secure, but also one they can relate to. For most of us, the beach provides a sense of freedom and peace, and that’s really what we are trying to convey for families here.’’

The room includes sensory and cultural toys, a canopy tent, calming music and a small kitchen space.

Laura hopes the room will also nurture staff wellbeing.

“This is a space for them to take some time out and have a breather, acknowledging the work that we do can be really tough,’’ she said.

Five children’s services are based at the site including the recently-announced Breathing Space program, Centacare Foster Care, Reunification, Targeted Intervention Service, and Family Preservation.





Meet, Jamie.

The cute, brown haired five-year-old is among a cast of faces fronting a new Centacare campaign to encourage people to become foster carers.

Launched today by Centacare Foster Care, the campaign puts children at the heart of our `circle of care’, and highlights the role of foster families in giving them safe and loving homes.

Using the hashtag #joinourcircleofcare, the campaign is centred on 18 fictitious characters which also feature in a new logo and program branding.

Carers, children and even a family pet form a circle to symbolise Centacare’s child-focused practice, and the care team that wraps around foster carers to train and support them on every step of their journey.

The aim is to raise awareness of the need for more foster carers, and the different types of care that households can provide to help children just like Jamie.

“We really wanted to represent key themes of why children may come into care, as well as what motivates people in community to put their hand up and join our team as foster carers,’’ Manager Amalie Mannik said.

At three-years-old, Jamie was removed from his birthparents after witnessing domestic violence and excessive drug and alcohol use resulting in neglect and his needs not being met.

He was placed in residential care for eight months before transitioning into a foster carer’s home shortly before his fourth birthday.

While his early childhood experiences have impacted on his learning, Jamie can speak sentences and write his own name.

“We are going to use the stories of the characters throughout our trainings, so you will be able to follow the carers and the children through each of their unique journeys in foster care,’’ Amalie said.

The characters were illustrated by Quisk web designer Denham Haynes, who worked closely with Centacare Foster Care to develop their traits and back stories.

“Storytelling is a powerful medium and resonates with people from all different backgrounds and cultures,’’ Amalie said.

“Stories are not only tools we can use for training and learning, they can also be very healing and we hope our circle of care enables stories to come to the forefront. “

Centacare Foster Care provides immediate, short-term, long-term and respite care for children from birth until adulthood.

The process of becoming a foster carer can take between three to five months from application through to approval.

To join our circle of care, please phone Centacare Foster Care on 81591400 or email


 Jamie’s Story

Jamie is five-years-old and was removed from his birthparents when he was three.

When Jamie lived with his birthparents, he witnessed domestic violence and excessive drug and alcohol use, resulting in neglect and Jamie’s needs not being met.

When Jamie was removed he was underweight and had global developmental delay, meaning that he was behind other children his age in terms of speech and in meeting physical milestones.

Jamie was placed in residential care for eight months, before transitioning into a foster carer’s home shortly before his fourth birthday. His foster carers noticed that Jamie would try and get his own food, hide food in his bedroom, and would often freeze or jump behind furniture when he heard a loud noise.

Due to Jamie’s early childhood experiences, he finds it difficult to remember information, which has impacted on his learning and he has just been told that he will repeat kindergarten.

Jamie also finds it difficult to calm down when upset, often destroying household items and needs help from his carer to move through big emotions.

Jamie has made lots of progress and will remove himself from others when feeling upset and will rip paper and cardboard in his own space to soothe himself. Jamie can also speak sentences and can write his own name.

Jamie is also a very active child, who enjoys swimming, playing soccer and visiting playgrounds with his foster family. He looks forward to visiting his birth parents at family contact and his carers provide him with plenty of photos and crafts to share with his birth family during those sessions.



Tarnia Parker is a Team Leader with Centacare’s Young Family Support Program at Louise Place. The service provides 24-hour accommodation and support to help young mothers nurture their baby and build independence.


Parenting is difficult at any age, but try being a mother when you are still a child.

That’s the challenge facing the brave and often incredibly capable young women who come to Louise Place.

Nearly all of them have fled domestic or sexual violence, often at the hands of much older men, and are living homeless with a baby on the way, or a child in their care, when they meet Tarnia Parker.

The social worker is a Team Leader with Centacare’s Young Family Support Program, which operates across four metropolitan sites at Fullarton, Findon, Blair Athol and Morphett Vale.

Collectively in 2019/20, the sites supported 173 mothers, aged 19 or under, and 189 children.

Five young women aged 15 to 18 years who are pregnant or parenting are currently living at Louise Place.

“These women are survivors, I tell you,’’ says Tarnia, who has worked at Louise Place for the past five years.

“It’s clear that some of them have parented themselves from a very young age.

“Many of them have slept rough, or they’ve couch surfed, and some have done it all with no money, which is a vulnerability in itself.

“Their ability to navigate the complexities of systems and to defend themselves is truly admirable.’’

Girls as young as 12 have sought safety at Louise Place, which can house eight families at a time in independent living units. Outreach support and transitional housing is also provided. Tarnia’s youngest client was just 13.

“They are children themselves, yet they’re young families too,’’ she says.

“We’ve got a duty of care to the mother and a duty of care to the child, so there’s a lot of responsibility.’’

In addition to domestic violence, common presenting factors include family breakdown and overcrowding.

“Often the complexity of the work lies in the circles they operate in,’’ explains Tarnia.

“They have an ability to minimise what we would see as absolute risk because they’ve never had much stability.

“They are young and vulnerable and that’s what perpetrators rely on because, for the young women, the honeymoon period in a dysfunctional relationship far outweighs being alone.

“For some, the child fills the gap left by what they’ve missed out on, so they thrive on their mothering role. For others, once the baby is here, it can trigger their own trauma, especially for the mums who have grown up in and out of the child protection system.’’

Tarnia says the fear of having their own children removed from their care weighs heavily on young shoulders.

“I try and educate them that child protection is actually just about working together to create safety, because no one wants to break up a family,’’ she says.

“But it’s sad how that umbrella can overshadow what they share because, if they’re not able to be vulnerable and open about things, then it can all unravel again quite quickly.

“I always say to the women who are experiencing child protection intervention, that they will always be that child’s mother – no one can take that away from them.

“That child will one day be an adult and may want to return to their biological connections. I try and help them see that narrative.’’

The YFSP provides emotional and pregnancy support to prepare each client for labour and help nurture attachment with their baby. Then comes parenting and education support, and access to specialised services to address complexities in their lives and build independent living skills.

When Tarnia meets a new client for the first time, she emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships, and addresses the stigma that comes with parenting in your teens.

“They often share stories of going out in public and being stared at and judged, but I tell them, there are a lot of positives about being a young mum; they have strengths that maybe other mums don’t have,’’ she says.

“I try and help them feel strong in themselves so they can be proud of what they’re choosing to do in raising a child.’’

While Tarnia remembers certain stories and faces long after they’ve left Louise Place, it’s the small steps they take with their young children along the way that resonate the most.

“What I really appreciate is when the mum is doing well and you set them off on their own journey,’’ she says.

“That’s the purpose of the service – to help that mum fly on her own successfully and be the best parent she can be.

“It’s pretty thrilling. That’s not every single case, but they definitely make up a percentage.’’

National Child Protection Week (September 6-12) is celebrating 30 years with the theme `Putting children first’. This means prioritising the safety and wellbeing of children. To grow up well, children need to feel safe and loved, have a chance to play and explore, have a say in decisions that affect them, and have access to essential things such as food, shelter and healthcare

Deb has worked in child protection for nearly two decades. Seven of her nine years at Centacare have been spent with the multidisciplinary Targeted Intervention Service (TIS), which supports families with children aged 0 to 18 years where early child wellbeing and/or safety risk factors have been identified. The onset of COVID-19 magnified the cumulative effect of families’ experiences, while demanding a new approach from Deb and the TIS team.


When COVID-19 took hold in March sending South Australia into lockdown, Deb wound back the clock.

For the Targeted Intervention Service (TIS) Case Manager, the challenges the new normal presented were an unexpected throwback to the 1990s, when she hit the road in a motorhome with her family to explore Australia.

From the rigors of overseeing School of the Air for her children, to keeping them entertained with limited space and resources, the mother-of-two well knew what families were now facing.

“It really took me back to that time; I’d been there and played that role, so I just started to think of what I’d done then to create fun, excitement and a fulfilling learning experience – and what families could do now,’’ she said.

With frontlines locked down by the health pandemic and Centacare staff required to work from home, Deb packed a “grab tub’’ of storybooks, strengths cards, recipes and music, and left her Murray Bridge office with a plan.

It began with a daily “check-in’’ call to each of the four families she was supporting, which were scattered across Murray Bridge and Strathalbyn.

Ordinarily, TIS provides critical face-to-face in-home supports to build rapport with families, in order to affect long-term change.

But COVID-19 called for a different approach.

“They could easily have shut us out at that point because we weren’t going to be there in person every week, so I knew I would need to dig deep for creativity to keep up the motivational interviewing and create change in families from the end of the phone,’’ Deb said.

Her daily calls soon became much more than just a conversation.

With the added benefit of Zoom, Deb used voice and video calls to instigate everything from gardening to baking, vegie growing, backyard science lessons, home clean-ups, and three-way school conferences to allay families’ fears.

“I found speaking from the heart with families helped to normalise the abnormal among us at a time when each day presented new challenges,’’ Deb said.

She used her own surrounds to inspire creativity in parents daunted by home-schooling, starting with the garden outside her home office.

“I’d turn my phone around so they could see my container planting, and that was good because it became `do as I do’.

“One mum got her kids growing carrots from seeds and I’d message web links on how to grow plants from cuttings.

“Another mum loved to cook so I dropped her off some supplies and we turned baking into a school lesson.

“The kids were out dancing and playing and they’d show me their bedrooms. We’d have races to see who could clean up their room first and then we’d read stories.

“We organised skip bins, and I could hear the excitement in their voices each day as they told me which rooms they’d tackled and what they were going to do next.’’

Steadily, Deb heard families grow in confidence and resilience.

“Through the phone and video calls, they learnt to talk things through, rather than just going into the panic of what things looked like for them,’’ she said.

“To hear the way they started to communicate with their children, and how they used that to make constructive change, it was pretty amazing seeing that transition.’’

In National Child Protection Week, Deb would like families to recognise they are not alone.

She said COVID-19 had reinforced the value of accepting help, even from a distance, and the importance of family and staying connected.

“Parents think they have to do it alone but the old saying that it takes a community to raise a child is really true; let people in and learn together,’’ Deb said.

“I don’t think there’s a day that goes by in this job that I don’t learn something from the families that I work with.  It doesn’t matter what it is, if you’re learning, the day’s not wasted.’’


National Child Protection Week (September 6-12) is celebrating 30 years with the theme `Putting children first’. This means prioritising the safety and wellbeing of children. To grow up well, children need to feel safe and loved, have a chance to play and explore, have a say in decisions that affect them, and have access to essential things such as food, shelter and healthcare.

Sunday is a special time for dads and grandfathers as children say thank you for their love and care with homemade cards and other rituals.

But for dads who can’t hug their children on Father’s Day this weekend, Darren Clarke’s message is simple: take care of yourself.

Through the Dad’s Business program, based at Elizabeth Downs, Darren meets dads who are grappling with their role as fathers on the back of complex challenges.

Program activities come from a place of hope and focus on building self-esteem so that the dads recognise the value of fathers in family and children’s lives.

“Even if they can’t be with their children on Sunday, it’s important that they recognise Father’s Day internally, and that’s certainly been my message over the past few months,’’ Darren said.

“The majority of the dads we support are not currently connected to their kids for a variety of reasons. That makes me feel sad but more determined to get them in the right headspace for when they are with their children again.

“Many of the dads we work with don’t have dads or role models of their own, so we try and be that positive influence for them.’’

Darren is encouraging dads to mark Father’s Day by doing something they enjoy, or creating a written keepsake for their children.

“Immerse yourself in anything that’s going to be a self-care process, whether that’s connecting with your mates or just chilling at home watching a movie.

“Write something in a journal, so you’ve got something to show your children or send to them later, that tells them you were thinking of them on that day.

“They will always be their children’s father and it’s important they acknowledge that.’’

The Dad’s Business HQ at Elizabeth Rise Shopping Centre provides parenting and other supports for dads to empower men of all ages, and strengthen their sense of pride.

The first space of its kind in the north, the HQ has a strong focus on cultural awareness and understanding to tackle stigma, which remains one of the main barriers for men in reaching out for help.

In partnership with Communities for Children facilitating partner AnglicareSA, Centacare oversees the site where dads can drop in for a chat and seek advice, referral to services, parenting education, advocacy, counselling, and support for alcohol and other drugs.

Dad’s Business is funded by the Department of Social Services. 

For more information about Dad’s Business phone (08) 82522311


Foster carers have used pictures to illustrate their journeys, to further understanding of their important role.

On display now at the Department for Child Protection’s ground floor gallery in Flinders St, Adelaide, Photovoice provides foster carers with a platform to express their experiences through visual narratives.

The images provide a powerful insight into their everyday life, and help others to see foster care through their eyes.

The project was facilitated by Master of Social Work student Sid Wagle, on placement from Flinders University.

Eight foster carers provided three photographs/images which they felt encapsulated their caring experience and were then interviewed, which provided the narrative and reasoning behind the images.

The project illustrates how their perception of foster care has grown during their caring journey, from initially wanting to make a difference, to developing a deeper understanding of the challenges and complexities many children face – and the satisfaction of being positive influences in their lives.

Moments of joy, sadness and grief are expressed in the photographs, through which foster carers also express their hopes for the future including additional support and continuity of care for children.

“The reflections are very powerful and you can really feel that it’s personal, and that you live this every day,’’ said Amalie Mannik, Manager, Centacare Foster Care.

“It’s a powerful way of raising awareness about foster care, especially to those who don’t understand it.’’

To join our circle of care, phone 8159 1400 or email




It took just one conversation to put domestic violence on Alex Barr’s radar.

The Mental Health Peer Worker was in Year 10 when a group came to visit her school to talk about abusive relationships.

It was a watershed moment for the then 15-year-old who knew little about violence against women.

“That was the first time I ever heard that there was a cycle of behaviour to domestic violence, and that there were warning signs you could look for,’’ Alex says.

“No one had ever had that conversation with me before, and it really stuck.

“It was always in the back of my mind growing up after that and every relationship I got into.’’

Now 30, Alex hopes to exert the same positive influence on female students she meets as co-facilitator of EMPOWERED.

A joint program between Centacare and Port Adelaide Football Club, EMPOWERED will visit secondary schools this term for the first time to enhance female Year 10 students’ understanding of what healthy relationships look like, and how to identify red flags that can lead to abusive behaviours.

“For 15-year-old me who can’t remember anything else I did that year, to take a similar message and embed it into how I live my life, obviously was very powerful, and I think that’s why I see this program as being so important,’’ Alex says.

EMPOWERED will run alongside the Power to End Violence Against Women program, which teaches Year 10 boys how to recognise and stand up to disrespect of women. The program has engaged more than 5000 male students since it began in 2016.

Girls will participate in EMPOWERED in two one-hour sessions delivered over consecutive weeks at the same time as their male peers undertake PEVAW.

Key messages include early warning signs and cycles of abuse; how gender-based stereotypes normalise unhealthy behaviours; and the charter of women’s rights.

Alex will be joined by fellow co-facilitator and Mental Health Worker, Caitlyn Woodcock.

“I had a respectful relationship modelled in front of me but, when you’re a teenage girl, you don’t feel the same as the boy; patriarchy is ingrained in us and it will take a long time and a lot of education to unpick it,’’ Caitlyn says.

“I would hope that out of this program, girls have a stronger understanding of what their rights are in a relationship, and are more confident of calling out behaviour that’s of a controlling or violent nature.’’


Teenage girls will work with Centacare Catholic Family Services and Port Adelaide Football Club in schools this term to foster critical thinking about gender equity and women’s rights.

The EMPOWERED program is all about enhancing female Year 10 students’ understanding of what healthy relationships look like, and how to identify red flags that can lead to abusive behaviours.

EMPOWERED will run alongside the Power to End Violence Against Women (PTEVAW) program, which helps 15-year-old boys recognise and stand up to toxic and disrespectful behaviors towards women and girls.

Launched in 2016, PTEVAW has engaged more than 6,600 male students and this week marked its 100th school visit.

The program is delivered by Power Community Ltd with the help of club leaders and ambassadors Tom Jonas, Ollie Wines, Travis Boak, and Hamish Hartlett.

EMPOWERED will be delivered over two, one-hour sessions over consecutive weeks, at the same time as male students undertake PTEVAW.

“This is about working with young women to identify their power and to give them the tools to recognise when things aren’t going ok,’’ said Megan Welsh, Executive Manager of Centacare’s Youth & Community Services.’

Research by the National Community Attitudes towards Violence Women Survey last year found while young people are aware of domestic violence, many are still not able to identify behaviours that constitute abuse.

“I don’t think there’s a common understanding out there about domestic violence; it varies depending on your upbringing and experiences,’’ Megan said.

“This program will draw a line in the sand and raise awareness of what disrespectful behaviours look like, and will reinforce with the girls their rights as women to live in a safe community that supports their health and wellbeing.

“It’s not just about working stuff out on their own, it’s about their friends too, and the role they can play encouraging their peers to find support if they identify them as being at risk.’’

Involving women and girls in raising awareness of gender-based violence was among five recommendations in a 2018 Flinders University evaluation of PTEVAW.

The research revealed emerging evidence that key messages were being taken seriously by male students who were putting them into practice.

For example, challenging low level behaviours by calling out sexist banter, and learning safe ways to step in when they witness inappropriate behaviour.

Young  women who have experienced removal of a child or children from their care will be supported in an innovative early intervention service announced this week.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has funded Breathing Space, which Centacare will pilot over two years with up to 15 women aged under 25 years.

Part of the DHS Child and Family Service System redesign, the service aims to improve young women’s quality of life, wellbeing and life skills, by addressing the complexities that may have contributed to their children entering the child protection system.

Some young women may have experienced an out-of-home care placement themselves and/or have experienced homelessness.

“These women are the forgotten women, and the only time we hear about them is when they have the next child, which could potentially be removed,” said Leanne Haddad, Executive Manager of Centacare’s Children’s Services Unit.

“The loss of a child into care is significant. There is a lot of shame involved, particularly with Aboriginal women, and this can lead to other significant challenges that may otherwise never be addressed.”

Breathing Space is based on UK program Pause, and is believed to be the first service of its kind in Australia.

Participation is voluntary and each young woman will be allocated a case manager, women’s health nurse, financial counsellor and a senior practitioner providing wrap-around support.

Breathing Space is underpinned by Aboriginal co-design criteria and will privilege the voices of young Aboriginal women who are engaged in the program to empower self-determination, address intergenerational trauma and promote the importance of culture.

Specialist input will be provided by CatholicCare NT on the Aboriginal Family Coping Toolkit.

Referrals will come from, birthing hospitals, Child and Family Assessment and Referral Networks, Local Partnership Groups, Department for Child Protection and other approved services.

The therapeutic model for Breathing Space draws on the doctoral research completed by Child, Adolescent Psychiatrist and Specialist Therapist Dr Jackie Amos in 2017, and other trauma-related research literature, and clinical experience.

“We want to identify the protective factors that mitigate the recognised effects of intergenerational trauma to increase self-identity, but also safeguard potential future children the young women may have,’’ Leanne said.

“Many of the young women may have experienced childhood trauma and have been abused or neglected themselves or may be in a domestic violence relationship. They are facing significant life challenges.”

“Breathing Space is a time for the young women to focus on themselves, share stories with others to learn they are not alone, to identify better ways to live and develop effective coping strategies.  It is a time or the young women to breathe and find out who they are.”

For more information, please visit our Breathing Space service page.


Meeting the Challenge

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

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