Foster Care Week is celebrated in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia from 11-17 September. We are both humbled and amazed by the enormous contribution of our village of carers who open their homes, their hearts and their lives giving back to the community so selflessly.
Common Elements approach improving outcomes for families
A new trial program designed to improve family communication skills has been implemented by OzChild’s foster care team to improve outcomes for children, young people, their families and their carers.
In early 2020, the Centre for Evidence and Implementation was commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to work with the Centre for Excellence to identify a number of evidence-informed common practice elements that could be applied across the child and family service system.
This led to the development and trial of a ‘Common Elements Approach’ to support an evidence-informed and integrated child and family service system. Six months on and the unique Common Elements program has been achieving life changing results for children and young people in care, carers, and birth parents.
Dana is a Case Manager in OzChild’s foster care team and works with kids of all age groups and needs; from babies to early teens, including those with complexities such as intellectual disability, autism, and high medical needs.
Most recently, Dana has been working with Jai*, a boy in his teens and in foster care along with his birth mother Marla*. Both Jai and Marla struggled with their communication skills and often became angry and upset at each other, especially concerning Jai’s ongoing behavioural problems.
Utilising the unique Common Elements approach, Dana began to work with the family to implement the new strategies and techniques.
“A lot of my work involves techniques relating to Motivational Interviewing, but I’ve also been able to utilise some communication strategies,” says Dana.
“These strategies support practitioners to facilitate positive, open communication between individuals, their families, and other important relationships.”
The onset of COVID-19 meant Dana was forced to work remotely, utilizing technology to facilitate video call sessions which added a new set of challenges when working with Jai and Marla.
“In general, it’s difficult to have focused conversations with children, foster carers, and birth families as they may have other distractions happening in the home.”
“Their priorities at the moment is trying to get through these restrictions, rather than dealing with ongoing issues that still remain.”
Despite these challenges, Dana continued to work closely with Jai and Marla and slowly but surely began to see positive results.
“Marla was able to communicate her feelings in a respectful way, meaning that the client (Jai) understood her feelings but wasn’t overly distressed by the conversation. Afterwards, they were both able to move on and enjoy their time together.”
Dana adds, “Marla was also able to talk to her son about his problem behaviour in a respectful manner and express her negative emotions in an appropriate way. There’s been no ongoing implications for their relationship, and they’ve been able to have more positive interactions.”
Considering the promising results achieved throughout the trail of the program, Dana is keen to have Common Elements as well as other similar evidence-based programs rolled out across the sector.
“I’m always looking to learn new things and better the work I do with my clients.”
“I think Common Elements provides strategies that are easy to implement, and I’d love to see other similar programs implemented if it means achieving better outcomes for our clients.”
*names have been changed to protect identities
Child maltreatment is a pervasive issue that casts a long, dark shadow over the lives of countless young Australians. It’s a problem that transcends social, economic, and cultural boundaries, leaving a lasting impact on victims and society as a whole.
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