25 October, 2016
Themes from Nyland #8
The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1. We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work. Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process. The first seven in the series are available. We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3
Engagement with schools can offer children in care opportunities for socialisation, a chance to achieve and the basis for success in further study and employment. However, the child’s experience at school can be blighted by developmental delays and disability, broken school attendance and challenging behaviour caused by trauma which may not be addressed or appropriately treated by conventional discipline practices.
It is critical that Education regards itself as a partner of the Agency in delivering appropriate services to children in care … remediation of psychological damage sustained when a child is abused or neglected is achieved through cohesive and consistent care across a child’s environments. A child’s education should be approached as a part of the therapeutic solution.
Commissioner Nyland observed that the responses by schools to children with these needs were mixed, with some schools embracing the opportunity and others regarding them as an imposition. She concedes that providing for the needs of children in care is not always simple.
School principals are obliged to provide a safe learning environment for school staff and students. Imposing special conditions on enrolment and providing additional support may be needed in some circumstances to mitigate risk. However, conditions must not be imposed that are so onerous as to effectively exclude high needs students from participation.
She noted that, ‘It is helpful to some students experiencing challenges in the school environment to have their hours of attendance varied for a limited period of time.’ but that the guidelines around suspension and exemption were inconsistently applied and the process not always documented. She observed that excessive use of suspension and exclusion could place home-based care placements at risk by placing extra stress on the carers.
Resourcing to meet the extra needs of children in care was sometimes an issue, with wrangling over who was to fund support services delaying a student’s commencement, as did the availability of suitably trained school services officers. This exacerbates the disadvantage that the children already face. The Commissioner suggested that responsibility for resourcing children with high needs should reside with Education.
Skills and attitudes among educators were seen as critical.
The Commission considers [Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma (SMART) training] an important step towards changing the attitude of teachers to children facing educational challenges of this type. However, unless the training changes teaching practice, it is a hollow endeavour. The Department has held a contract to deliver this training since 2005, but evidence indicated that there remained a high level of misunderstanding of the needs of children in care.
Professional development as well as practical supports are necessary. The level of understanding of students with significant trauma backgrounds needs to be improved within all schools. All schools need to be ‘trauma friendly’. To this end, Education should continue to encourage staff to undertake SMART training, and should ensure that these skills have a high profile in professional development programs.
The Commissioner pointed out that the commitments made by various agencies under Rapid Response, including the commitment to Individual Education Plans for all students in care, had been allowed to lapse and should be revisited and renewed in this as in other areas.
The Commissioner also drew attention to the need for improvements in the provision of education to Aboriginal children in isolated locations.
As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:
- The application of SMART training for educators, requiring it to be part of training and professional development .
- A renewal of the DECD Rapid Response commitment to ensure that all avenues for preschool, school and post-compulsory education-based supports were explored before suspension or exclusion are considered.
- A review, and dissemination to educators, of DECD policies regarding school suspension, exclusion and expulsion.
- Regular audits of students in care who are on reduced hours of attendance at school and review of progress on plans to re-engage them in mainstream education.
- Recruiting and training of a panel of school services officers to support children with trauma-related behavioural challenges.
- Evidence that children’s views about education options are solicited, discussed with them and accurately recorded in case files.
- Clarification of DECD’s responsibility for resourcing support services provided for students in care in state schools.
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1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,
2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care and Aboriginal children.
3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary. Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.