2018 National Foster and Kinship Care Conference Feedback

7 September – 9 September 2018: Gold Coast, Australia

 

The Foster Care Association Victoria (through Carer KaFE) was so pleased to sponsor attendance at the National Conference by a delegation of carers. Those attendees absorbed a lot of information and overall feedback was that they had an intense weekend of learning and connecting with other carers. Read on to find out more about their experience of the conference…

 

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Dr Angela Williams

 

The audience (700+) was comprised largely of carers, many as couples or families, with representatives from health backgrounds (counselling, psychology, nursing), teachers, social workers, child protection workers, organisational representatives and community/agency.  The participants were engaged and showed a genuine desire to learn from others.  Multidisciplinary education programs are challenging in that they require facilitation of several different perspectives, learning backgrounds, mixing both personal (carers views) and professional missions.  The program (audience) benefitted from 2 days with multidisciplinary presentations – however, future conferences might consider a small arm of presentations aimed at professionals/workers as an opportunity to address them separately (some of whom will also be carers).

 

It was also a stark reality that the majority of carer representatives were of a similar background.  In essence there appeared to be a real lack of diversity pertaining to culture, religion, age, and language and on spec it appeared that there was a lack of representatives from culturally and linguistically diverse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, LGTBI communities as well as young professionals.  Whilst it may be that this is not representative of the larger caring pool (given that it is only those that were available and willing to attend the conference) it is my impression we could do more work to engage different communities and expand the carer network.

 

Overall, the program appeared to be very well received and participants were engaged.  Mr Wallis’ presentation (Keynote) was thoroughly enjoyable with the ability to touch all aspects of one’s life: personal, family, parenting, working, professional backgrounds, and the inner child! He is certainly a highly recommended speaker on a really important topic.

 

There is still so much work to be done to recognise and respond to childhood trauma in order to positively shape a child’s future.  This is however, a more reaction orientated view prepared to ‘fix’ a situation for a child and/or family and provide a post-incident(s) body of work.  I was left wondering how to actively predict and prevent childhood trauma – stop it in its tracks earlier than when it has left an impression or ‘chapter’ in the child’s own story.  I feel more strongly now, than ever before, about how it is important to recognise and engage families ‘early’ to provide support pre- the requirement for out-of-home care?  The question is how? And how do we adequately resource a proactive rather than reactive plan? 

Despite having just highlighted the probable deficit in achieving a proactive state, it was well emphasised during the conference how important it is to react (in-home) to a child’s behaviour with a genuine and thoughtful response – one that allows for the natural instincts of a child to fight/flight/freeze or surrender in the moment and even for some time afterwards.  Spending the time to create a safe and secure home environment can allow a child to develop, recognise and display behaviours without fear or favour.  

 

It is also very important (as carers and workers) to remind ourselves how critical it is to consciously operate within the child’s ‘system’ (family, friends, workers, school, community, religion, culture etc).  This is an ongoing conscious thought process that can be activated during the celebrations of having children in our home but also during the more difficult/challenging times eg with children’s behaviours and family tensions.  I feel it may be quite difficult to feel part of a system as a foster/kinship carer or family to remember this when really it is quite an isolating (in the sense of in one’s home) and narrow (directed towards the child) piece of work.

 

Unfortunately, I have a direct personal and powerful understanding of the trauma bullying can cause in young people, so I appreciated the emphasis of this topic in some of the conference presentations and the workshops I attended.  It was my impression that this is a particularly well recognised (perhaps for the same reasons as I have) area for carers and that many of the children in out-of-home care have the added burden of being bullied at school or online.  What is it about ‘choosing’ the victim that might be recognised enough to help prevent this for these children?  What innovative or continued work do we have to do with young people to understand differences are good not bad?  How do we equip carers and families with the ability to be working with children against bullying?

 

Another major impression during this conference (maybe through informal discussions as well as through the presentations) is how important it is to pay attention to girls.  It is critical to promote dyadic relationships with the mother/father figure, imperative to build health prosocial attachments and vital to establish supportive and nurturing relationships and islands of competence that build self-esteem and self-worth.  And…there is a gender point here somewhere…How do we directly target girls and young women with preventative health measures, build their safe community and neighbourhood, and enable them to love themselves as well as be loved?  I have since found this clip which helps summarise some of my impressions from the conference.

https://www.suncorp.com.au/learn-about/teamgirls/team-girl-pressures.html. 

It is well worth a watch and possibly thoughts for future talks/speakers/mentors/philanthropy.

 

As for the growth mindset, it was a pleasure to learn more about the overlap in learning with experience, failure and success. It was also obvious in the audience that the lessons were just as much for the carers themselves as they are for the children within their care.  Therefore I fully support the message that building a growth mindset in carers will improve their experience, health and wellbeing and this will translate to the children in care (birth, kin or foster children).

 

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Jen Newton

 

I really enjoyed Nathan Wallis – key note. His style and content was both educational and entertaining. A great reminder of how important the first 1000 days are for attachment and how children in foster care often miss that critical period.

 

The other two sessions l really enjoyed were ‘Trauma Informed Care’ by Linda Conyard and ‘Therapeutic Parenting in a nutshell’ by Alison Dougan.

 

As a carer you often get so involved in just the “day to day” of life, managing behaviours and parenting, you “forget” to dig deep and truly understand the long term impact trauma can have and how you are at the frontline of ultimately, mental health and wellbeing.

 

I cannot express how important it is for carers to sit in a room together, ask questions, brainstorm ideas, share tears and laughter and have that feeling of “shared understanding”, the whole walk in another person’s shoes theory. This is the closest carers will come to walking in another person’s shoes by hearing the stories, challenges and joys other carers face.

 

I find the conference beneficial for personal growth, spirit, resilience, skills, empathy and community. It’s critical for carer retention!

 

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Lisa Scott

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. The keynote speakers were all amazing. I really loved listening to Nathan Wallis. He told us about how our day to day interactions with children and young people, especially in their early years, plays a critical role in defining later outcomes for our children. Loved Kurt Fearnley and his positive attitude about not looking at a person’s disability, you look at their strengths. 

 

Our travel arrangements were pretty surreal, everything was taken care of. I had to keep pinching myself!  Upon checking in we got to the top floor and enter our room and all you see is the ocean so calming and relaxing (just what I needed after a stressful few months). Penny was a beautiful soul and a great help and knew so much information about everything. We also met some wonderful carers and delegates. Thanks so much Carer KaFE for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference, I learnt so much.