Editorial - Shining a light on out of home care – the good, not just the bad

By David Swain, Chief Operating Officer.


Last evening I heard a report from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, notably from the testimony of Bernie Geary, the Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People. Refer below link.

The Commissioner painted a picture of absolute despair in residential care, where young people are treated with disrespect, have their basic human rights violated and live in an environment void of love, empathy or compassion.

This is not a view I share with the Commissioner, and it does not reflect what I see as our organisation provides residential care for 36 children and young people, everyday. I have seen young people who have left care stay in touch with our staff, because they have been the closest to family they have known. And I have seen young people become youth workers and social workers, because they have been inspired by the kindness, dedication, and example of others.

I don’t pretend to speak for Mr Geary, but I would imagine that in his role he sees the worst of out of home care, which would undoubtedly colour his view. Similar to the phenomenon where police see everyone as a potential suspect and doctors think everyone is sick. I also understand Mr Geary is speaking from a Victorian context.

And while I do not speak for other providers of out-of-home care in this state, I believe that the majority of them provide a higher standard of care than what has been described by Mr Geary. I think Mr Geary describes the exception, not the rule.

I speak from the perspective of one of Queensland’s largest providers of out-of-home care, with over 1,400 children and young people placed with carers or in services supported by Churches of Christ Care. In particular we care for 36 young people across ten residential care services and 33 older teens in individual (semi-independent) dwellings.

In my experience, the vast majority of practitioners in out of home care are extremely compassionate, seeking a better and brighter future for children and young people. Churches of Christ Care has some of the most dedicated youth workers, case managers, and social workers that I have ever met.

Many young people that we care for have suffered extreme abuse, multiple placement breakdowns, and may present with mental health or drug and alcohol issues. Or they may be a long way from home, family or culture. Our staff focus on the strengths of our young people and come back day after day, at times putting themselves in harms way, determined to walk the journey with their charges.

We have all seen stories of tragedy, and yes, at times our staff do not do the right thing. This is the case across the whole human services industry, and every other industry for that matter.

Yet by and large the successes, some large and some small, far outweigh the negatives. In over five years as the executive legislatively responsible for our residential services, I have witnessed instances of: young people who get their first paying job; those that get a licence or get into TAFE or university; those that show insight into their violent behaviour or demonstrate interest in the welfare of others; those that manage to stop self harming; and those that embrace their Indigenous heritage. The achievements of the young people in our care are inspiring, and these achievements are supported by a very dedicated team of staff and volunteers.

Residential care may not be the best model of care for a number of young people, and we would love to see more specialist foster carers who were up to the task. However for some young people, such as those who have been through many placements, or older teens, residential care or a semi-independent environment, with visiting support staff, can be appropriate.

In my view, the most important elements for a successful residential care service include: individualised case management, informed by the views of the young person themselves; providing a therapeutic, trauma informed, living environment; effectively managing resident placement and ongoing dynamics; and ensuring that staff are equipped and engaged, and focused on the best interests of young people.

Our organisation has a zero tolerance policy to anything that may adversely impact the health, safety or wellbeing of our young people, and especially where staff are concerned.  We also work closely with government colleagues, who, in my experience are equally dedicated to the wellbeing of young people in care.

Out-of-home care in Queensland has been far from perfect. However in recent years, and especially following the Carmody Inquiry, significant improvements have been planned and are being implemented. Notably, a focus has been applied to implementing a therapeutic framework across residential care, and introducing improved support for young people transitioning from out of home care to independent adulthood. This will go a long way to giving young people the start they need in life.

Churches of Christ Care is proud of the work we do in residential care services, are proud of our staff and volunteers, and are proud of the achievements of the young people in our care.


David Swain

Chief Operating Officer

Churches of Christ in Queensland




How we care

Churches of Christ Care is one of Queensland’s largest providers of out-of-home care, working with around 1,400 children and young people a year. We recruit and support over 800 foster and kinship carers, run 10 residential facilities and provide programs to support young people to live independently when they leave care.

We have an excellent track record of providing young people with a safe space to heal and move on from experiences of trauma caused by abuse and neglect. We were the first organisation outside of North America to be certified in the Sanctuary model, which is a model of care that helps individuals and organisations deal with trauma, adversity and stress. Our success in adopting and delivering Sanctuary has improved our effectiveness and improved the way our workers relate to and work with the children and young people in our care.

The quality of our work in out-of-home care has contributed to our organisation successfully tendering to deliver early intervention family support services to prevent problems and help families before they reach crisis point.

Our services go through rigorous assessment processes to be licensed by the Queensland Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services in foster care and residential care, and to comply with standards set down by the Child Protection Act 1999. This includes the requirement for anyone who interacts with children to have a Blue Card issued through the Queensland Government Public Safety Business Agency. Churches of Christ Care works closely with the Department to recruit, screen and train foster carers, who are continually monitored and re-approved by the Department every two years.

Posted July 6, 2015 in News