In the Spotlight

Supporting young people as they prepare for adult life – conversation with a Child Safety Officer

Working within the Transition to Independence space with young people is increasingly dynamic. Child Safety staff are continuously looking to improve the way they interact with young people and engage with them through their journey from out of home care to adulthood. Young people were once unsupported from their 18th birthday but support is now available until their 21st birthday.

Kate Smith is a Child Safety Officer with Forest Lake’s Child Safety Service Centre. As the centre’s Transition to Independence (T2I) worker, she’s one of many across the state tasked with supporting young people from the age of 15 to 18 years as they journey towards adulthood.

Kate notes the work of Child Safety Officers supporting young people as they transition has changed significantly over the past few years. “There’s been a shift in the T2I space. The fact our office at Forest Lake has a dedicated T2I officer shows there now is a real focus on this work. It is seen as vital for young people’s wellbeing and for their entry into adulthood.”

As at 31 December 2017, 973 young people across Queensland were involved in Transition to Independence planning. Kate works in this space on a day to day basis. She believes having a positive relationship with young people transitioning from out of home care to adulthood is crucial.

Kate also believes it is essential young people know they are being heard and that their goals and hopes matter. Maintaining respectful relationships is very important. She said: “We’re constantly learning from young people and reflecting upon what we could have done differently to improve how we relate with and respond to them.”

“I’m not here to tell young people how to live their life, or to tell them what they need to do. I’m here to help them identify what goals they have and to help them plan how to achieve these goals.” Kate says a focus on building a positive relationship, with assumptions regularly being checked, allows for greater mutual cooperation between the worker and the young person. Understanding each other’s roles, wants and goals is a vital part of this.

Kate also recognises that her supervisor’s support and guidance, coupled with her service centre’s culture about reflection and continual practice improvement, is central to the relationships she builds with young people. She further credits the genuineness and honesty of young people and their capacity to tell her what they need, when they need it, and why they need it. “I need to work on my approach all the time and be willing to hear what young people say, even when it is feedback I don’t like. My young people teach me every day. It is so much easier to reflect when they hold up a mirror in front of you,” she says.

Kate stated that her favourite question to young people is: “What do you think my job is? Young people might respond by saying they see my role as being “to annoy me” or “to nag me”. I use this interaction as a conversation starter to explain how I see my role as a facilitator and supporter of goals, hopes and dreams for the future.”

Kate spoke to specific assumptions workers may make about young people who are in homes that have not been approved by the department. These may include thoughts such as they’re just doing this to be rebellious. “This assumption will not lead to a positive relationship with young people and will not leave them with the impression that they’re cared about or valued” Kate said. She reiterates the value of consistently reflecting on biases and assumptions and owning our own part in ensuring the quality of each relationship.

“It’s important that young people leave interactions with their CSO or worker feeling as though they’ve been heard and listened to. They need this to get value out of the interaction,” she said. “After all, who would want to approach someone if there isn’t anything in it for them? It is important to balance meeting a young person’s basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter with ensuring that they know they can come to you if they’re stuck. A focus must also remain on increasing their capacity, making plans with them about their future and how they provide for their own needs.”

Kate highlights the value of teaching young people to think through issues and to problem solve. She is clear that the relationship of workers with young people will come along in leaps and bounds when workers demonstrate to young people that it is worthwhile for the young people to make contact.

“You need to demonstrate that you take them seriously and place importance on what they’re saying. You have enormous power when they contact you. It’s an opportunity not only to maintain connection but to explore what’s going on for them each time you interact,” Kate said. “If you do this in a curious and respectful way with a listening ear each time, it will go a long way to forming and maintaining a positive relationship.”

Overall, Kate feels that the most important way to work with young people is to listen and to genuinely endeavour to understand what’s going on for each young individual. “Ultimately, it’s their life. It’s not up to me to dictate anything. My role is to engage, build a relationship. Be a facilitator for their journey from care to adulthood.”

Once young people have transitioned from care to independence, they are eligible for further support through Next Step After Care or via a Support Service Case Plan.

For further information on after care support contact:

Next Step After Care, a 24/7 service via phone or text: 1800NextStep (1800 639 878) or via email to info@nextstepaftercare.com.au

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