Information sheet 8 This information sheet relates to Standard 8

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1 Information sheet 8 This information sheet relates to Standard 8 Emotional and Social Development Children and young people are cared for in placements which meet their specific emotional, social and behavioural needs family. Key Messages The role of carers and caseworkers is crucial for developing resilience in children and young people. Peer relationships are an important resource for children and young people. Children and young people with unmet mental health, social or emotional needs are particularly vulnerable to placement breakdown. Legislation Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 Sections: 8 13, 21(2), 22, 140, , 146, 150, 157, 158, 160, 162, 163, 175, Chapter 16A, 248 Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Regulation 2012 Clauses: 8, 25, 26, 34, 36, 39 42, 44, 45(2)(d f) Schedule 3: Conditions of Accreditation of Designated Agency Clauses 3, 4 Ministerial Code of Conduct for Authorised Foster, Kinship and Relative Carers What children and young people tell us Placements moves can present significant emotional challenges and losses. Peer friendships are an important source of support. They can face substantial barriers in maintaining friendships. Many children and young people comment on the difficulties of being repeatedly separated from their friends. July 2014

2 Key themes from policy, practice and research Mental health problems and unmet emotional needs Universally, it is accepted that children and young people in out-of-home care are more likely to have mental health problems and unmet emotional needs compared to their peers in the general population (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists [RANZCP], 2008, p.9; Beck, 2006, p.60; Sullivan and van Zyl, 2008, p.774; Tarren-Sweeney, 2008). In seeking to explain the reasons why, RANZCP (2008, p.15) points out that:...a child s psychological development is strongly influenced by the nature of their relationship or attachment with the primary caregiver during infancy when the attachment process is disrupted through abuse and neglect, the child s brain focuses on developing the neuronal pathways associated with survival rather than building the pathways fundamental to future learning and growth. Children may be genetically predisposed to aggressive, submissive and frustration behaviours, however where the infant-caregiver relationship is a positive one, the child learns to regulate these emotions and behaviours. In the absence of such a relationship, the primitive brain responses become dominant and the cognitive ability to control these behaviours and emotions may not develop. Research into the mental health of children and young people in out-of-home care has supported fairly consistent results. For example, Tarren-Sweeney (2008, p.14) found that the strongest predictors of mental health problems were older age at entry into care, reading difficulties, reported intellectual disability, younger maternal age at birth, exposure to some specific types of maltreatment, anticipated restoration of the child to their birth parents care, and exposure to a higher number of adverse life events in the preceding year. These findings are also supported in research undertaken by Fernandez (2008). Research also suggests that children and young people with unmet mental health and/or emotional needs are particularly prone to placement disruption and strongly supports the view that earlier detection at the initial assessment stage coupled with the appropriate intervention and placement choice is important in securing positive outcomes (Dalfabbro, Barber and Cooper, 2000; Dalfabbro and Barber, 2003; Fernandez, 2007b p.356). For example, Osborn, Delfabbro and Barber, (2008) found in their study of 364 Australian children and young people that placement instability was related to poor psycho-social adjustment. Frequent moves, changes of worker and school all add to the emotional challenges and losses experienced by children and young people which may further exacerbate underlying unmet emotional and mental health problems. July 2014 Page 2 of 5

3 Overall these studies highlight the importance of designated agencies having in place clear processes that can assist in the early detection and intervention of possible underlying mental health and emotional needs children and young people present with. The importance of adequate assessment and coordination of care Identifying and responding appropriately to mental health needs is crucial in terms of securing optimum outcomes for a child s or young person s wellbeing. RANZCP, (2008, p.20) for example argues that, adequate assessment of children entering out-of-home care for potential mental health problems is an essential precursor to early diagnosis and treatment to reduce morbidity and disability. RANZCP, (2008, p.24) also suggests where children and young people are assessed as needing support, treatment plans should be developed to organise and prioritise interventions in the major areas of the child s life i.e. home, peers, school, with the emphasis on enhancing strengths through therapy or activities to promote the child s development. These plans may include medication to reduce symptoms and facilitate functioning. See the Office of the Children s Guardian statutory Guidelines for Designated Agencies for Developing a Behaviour Management Policy. The role of the caseworker in coordinating assessments, treatment plans and interventions is critical to their successful development and implementation. Moreover, for interventions to be effective, authorised carers and caseworkers need accurate information about children and young people s emotional and social needs at the outset. They also require appropriate training and support to enable them to be responsive and supportive. Designated agencies have a responsibility for ensuring that carers and caseworkers are adequately equipped and supported in this respect. The importance of building resilience Resilience is generally understood to be the capacity for individuals to overcome stress or adversity. Gilligan (2003, p.2) offers the following complex and nuanced picture: Resilience is not so much a fixed trait in a person but a quality which may be displayed when sufficient support of the right kind helps the person to withstand the impact of adversity. Resilience in children and young people grows out of a strong sense of belonging, out of good self esteem and out of a sense of self efficacy or being able to achieve things and make a difference. Fundamentally these qualities grow out of supportive relationships with parents, relatives, and teachers or other adults (or sometimes peers) who offer in-depth commitment, encouragement and support. July 2014 Page 3 of 5

4 In essence, nurturing resilient children and young people can offer an important protective layer for them in managing the impact of stress in their inner worlds (Gilligan, 2003, p.5). Research has identified certain protective factors which can assist in building resilience. Examples include secure attachment, good health, good social skills, positive friendships and peer relations, nurturing living environments, modelling of socially competent and pro-social behaviours, clear household structures, routine and boundaries, community and social support, access to services, adequate housing and a safe neighbourhood (Tilbury, Osmond, Wilson and Clark, 2007, p. 63). Gilligan (2003) suggests that there are three key ways in which adults and professionals can nurture resilience in children and young people: Recognising and valuing the children and young people s capacity to participate and have agency in their lives. Valuing the naturally occurring supports and resources found in the everyday lives of children and young people (family networks, school and neighbourhood networks). Developing a strengths-based approach to casework practice, policy and research. The role of authorised carers and caseworkers in nurturing and providing practical support to assist children and young people to experience protective factors is critical if their resilience is to develop. This is supported by Tilbury, Osmond, Wilson and Clark (2007, p. 61) who suggest that a resiliency focus encourages practitioners to capitalise on and strengthen particular attributes and skills in an individual and facilitate positive, self-enhancing opportunities. In the residential care setting Daniel (2007, cited by the Office of the Children s Guardian 2009, p.137) suggests that the application of a resilience framework highlights the importance of reducing harmful stresses in the residential care environment while promoting positive risk taking and a sense of self-efficacy. Staff-resident relationships should be characterised by trust, so that young people feel supported and listened to and appreciated for their individuality. Peer relationships offer an important source of support Peer relationships are an important resource for children and young people (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, 2008, p.29). As pointed out in the UK s Blueprint Project, (2004, p.43) friendships have been identified as very important for children and young people. A strong connection with peers, a best friend, a feeling of being part of a social group are all key components to the development of emotional wellbeing, resilience and high self esteem. Similar observations have been made in research with children and young people in Australia (Mason and Gibson, 2004). Acceptance among peers is vital for social and emotional development and social inclusion. Unfortunately, children and young people in out-of-home care can face July 2014 Page 4 of 5

5 substantial barriers to feeling socially included. These barriers are complex and include how children and young people feel they are perceived by the general community as well as how they perceive themselves. For example, consultations undertaken by the Blueprint Project in the UK (2004, p.42) reported the difficulties children and young people experienced in inviting friends into their home...because of feeling different and having to explain their situation, whether it is residential or foster care. There are difficulties also in visiting friends in their homes. For example, they felt the stigma of their situation that they would have to explain, and face possible prejudice from the parents of friends. Similar views were expressed by children and young people in residential care in NSW (Office of the Children s Guardian, 2009). Other research shows that many seek to hide their care status from peers, keeping it a secret from even their closest friends (CREATE, 2004a, p.7; Bogolub, 2008, p.94; Mason and Gibson, 2004, p.34). Who to tell and how much to tell about their situation is an ongoing dilemma for children and young people (O Neill, 2004, p.214). External factors can also present barriers for children and young people when forging friendships. For example, some young people consulted in residential care in NSW experienced difficulties in maintaining friendships due to restrictive house rules being applied to having friends visit or phone (Office of the Children s Guardian, 2009). Changing schools, which often occurs with placement changes, can also interfere with the capacity for children and young people to maintain friendships, as can the distances often involved in keeping friendships (Office of the Children s Guardian, 2009). Many children and young people have commented on the difficulties of being repeatedly separated from their friends (Harker, Dobel-Ober Lawrence, Berridge and Sinclair, 2003, p.94). As pointed out in the Blueprint Project (2004, pp.42-44) to sustain a network, there have to be conditions where a child or young person will routinely be in settings where there is continuity, stability and predictability. This takes time and planning Time and energy needs to be spent on getting to know children and young people well enough in order to support the friendships they have, financially and practically Helping to develop and maintain friendships should be included as a key part of the caring task and in promoting children s wellbeing. It is vital that designated agencies do not overlook the important role friendships can bring to the emotional and social development of children and young people and take care to listen to and support, as far as reasonably possible, their preferences in how they wish to maintain these relationships. July 2014 Page 5 of 5

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