The FCAV hosted, via Carer Kafe support, a Carer Retreat at Findon on the Mornington Peninsula in May, which included  25 foster and kinship carers in attendance.

The two-day Carer Retreat aimed to support and celebrate the resilience of carers and provide an opportunity to reflect on their caring journey through shared learning and networking. Carers participated in the professional development sessions, which also focused on self-care to enhance their feelings of safety, health and happiness through a variety of practices including mindfulness. Feedback from carers was that they felt replenished and resourced so that they could return to caring for the child in their care.


We started Day 1 with a Welcome to Country with Uncle Lionel Lauch who is a Gunditjmara Kirrae Wurrung-Bundjalung man, who has resided on the Peninsula since he was 6 years old. Lionel has a passion for sharing his vast knowledge of cultural practises and we all found this cultural experience to be both enlightening and engaging. Carers suggested an extended time with Lionel to further enhance their knowledge, experiences and learn about culture particularly medicinal and mental health aspects he mentioned for future retreats.                                                                                                                                            


Joanie Bartolo, principal consultant of Emotion Wise delivered two sessions on Emotional Intelligence and Managing Anger which was well received. Joanie taught the group that although anger is an emotion, you need to decide on the type of person you want to be, which includes whether you are the boss of your anger or whether you want it to be the boss of you. Carers recognised this as very relevant to what they are dealing with and a great way to explain this to a child in care when they are not managing their emotions.


As part of our self-care sessions we included meditation, mindfulness, a head and neck massage and a mindful art session.  We facilitated the art therapy session using watercolours to focus more on the process, without any judgement. They started with one colour and drew a pattern across their paper repeatedly and reported it was very relaxing as they gained confidence and would try this with the child in their care. The massage was very popular with participants.


Many found the walking meditation very helpful as did those who joined the raisin mindful practice.  Overall, carers really enjoyed the opportunity to mix with each other and together developed a tip sheet using information they had found helpful, in order to provide a list of websites and emotional regulation tools such as Emotion Flip charts to share with each other.  


Our first evaluation was Betti’s Energy Cups which measured carer’s Emotional, Intellectual, Spiritual and Physical energy upon arrival (Green) at the retreat and as per the chart it is clearly showing that by day 2 (Blue) Carer’s energy levels were much improved.


Emotional energy increased by 33% over the two days, Intellectual by 10.1%, Spiritual by 28.3% and Physical by 23% which indicated an overall improvement for all participants.


The Carer Kafe Evaluation form showed that carers really enjoyed the retreat and especially appreciated getting together with like-minded people. One carer wrote: “Great Sessions held, and really enjoyed meeting other carers from other areas”

In answering the question about whether the training gave carers new tools and or skills to better support the child/young person in their care, 61.9% stated they strongly agreed and the remaining 38.1% stated they agreed. This meant that 100% of carers gained great tools to take and use.

Another stated:

 “I came to the retreat very tired and emotionally weary. The training, meditations and food were great but would have loved more time to connect deeper with carers and more time on cultural training or a cultural experience. “

This was valuable feedback and assists us in designing future opportunities.



Inter-Country Adoptive Families Retreat:

The FCAV's Carer Support Team has been branching out and provided a consultative service, offering their renowned Carer Retreat package to the Permanent Care & Adoptive Families peak body, after they had heard how successful the carer retreats through FCAV have been. Tessa Hughes and Deb Collard facilitated the weekend retreat at the RACV Healesville for 33 inter-country adoptive parents.


We started with a Welcome to Country with Uncle Ian Hunter who shared his life story and experiences of racism on the Friday night. He played the didgeridoo which was a great experience. The drinks night provided all an opportunity to meet each other and the team from PCA Families before the main two days.


Over the next two days we learnt some of the issues many of these families were experiencing including the lack of identity their adolescent children were dealing with. Over the two days the families were provided training on managing challenging behaviour and Emotional Intelligence as well as self-care. The powerful key speaker was Joel de Carteret, who was adopted by a Melbourne couple from Manila when he was 3 years old. Joel spoke of his experience of being lost iretreatn a market and authorities being unable to find his birth family.  After trying for a year, he was then put up for adoption.

Joel spoke of what had helped him to deal with the feelings of being abandonment and unloved and how he found his birth family 31 years later who were strangers and how he found a very helpful clinician who was experienced in working with inter-country adoptive people. Parents found this to be enlightening.

We had a detailed agenda for PCAF Participants over the two days. Being the first of its kind we asked for comprehensive feedback and received some great suggestions including additional time for parents to get to know each other as they have quite limited connections and the potential to break into smaller groups as they were quite knowledgeable. They loved the meditation, especially the walk around the gardens and the art therapy – some quite surprised at how they responded to the art session, finding it very calming.


One parent wrote: “ I loved the opportunity to get away and reflect and feel supported in taking the time out” whilst another wrote “Great weekend and thanks for the opportunity to connect to other adoptive families “.


Despite the weather towards the end of the mindful walk, the families loved it.

We have also been asked to facilitate a second retreat for Permanent Care families which is very exciting as it opens other avenues and will allow us to really develop on what we have learnt from the initial retreat.