The ‘Our Way Home’ blueprint

The journey map or ‘blueprint’ below is the outcome of a co-design process involving young people, families, carers, community group representatives and survivors of the Stolen Generation.

It describes a vision for a new model of Out of Home Care for Parkerville; one that believes in the role that families and communities play in supporting children, that meets individual needs and gives children more choice and control in a system that can be overwhelming.

The voices of all of those involved have taken us a long way, but it remains a ‘prototype’. It will change as we pursue action, and as the people most impacted give us feedback about how to make it real.

How to read this blueprint:

This ‘Blueprint’ describes a new model for Parkerville’s Out-of-Home Care (OOHC) services. It illustrates how the model might work by following the journey of Tonji and his carer, Sally. Tonji and Sally are ‘personas’ — semi-fictional characters based on our experience of people who are involved in the OOHC system.

We know that every child and every situation will be different, and in a radically personalised model, the way we implement the model changes according to each child whilst staying true to the principles. This story focuses on Family Group Homes, but the principles and practices are also intended to apply to Foster Care placements, though they will need to be adapted for that context.

The Blueprint:

Liaising with the Department to establish the journey.

Tonji is 10 years and has only been in care for 12 months. His mum, Shandelle, has been in and out of domestic violence relationships and battling her alcohol use. He has been living with his grandmother but it’s falling apart because of her ill health and his increasing needs. Tonji will soon join one of Parkerville’s family group homes in Armadale to be near his grandmother.

Each child is different and requires a personalised response. The decision for a child to enter care is not in Parkerville’s hands, but how might we ensure that each journey matches each child?

A space for information-sharing beyond the standard referral forms, to develop a more holistic understanding of children and families.

Making the experience truly personalised means collecting a lot of information. Charlie, the team leader, works with Jodi the Family Link Worker and the Department to find out as much as they can about Tonji’s wider connections. This ensures that all the relevant people are included. Charlie supports them to agree on a shared purpose and how they will work together and make decisions. Some day-to-day decisions can be made by people close to Tonji such as the carer and family.

Gathering the right information is essential for setting up strong care placements. Yarning Circles give us a good model of how to have difficult conversations and build relationships.

Searching informal networks for family and advice.

Information about Tonji’s family connections are a bit scant, so the Aboriginal Practice Lead works with him and uses informal networks to identify the wider networks that could support Tonji and connect him with culture.

Parkerville has had good success with applying cultural leadership to finding wider connections for Aboriginal Young People. We will seek to apply those learnings more widely and develop more relationships.

A new role for creatively facilitating safe connection.

Jodi is the Family Link Worker at Parkerville, and when Tonji is referred, she immediately sees the potential for connection with Tonji’s Gran who is very involved but does not have the capacity to support Tonji day-to-day. It will be her role to facilitate the relationships between Parkerville’s staff and Tonji’s family and to find the creative opportunities that both create connections and manage risk.

Other models that have focused on family connection have identified a Family Link worker as essential for doing the complex balancing of finding creative connection opportunities and ensuring that everyone involved is safe.

Establishing relationships and trust and bringing some control to the people in a child’s life.

Jodi and the care team agree that a connection between Gran and Sally is a good idea. Jodi organises for the three of them to go out for coffee. These first bridge building sessions can be tense and Jodi must carefully facilitate. Tonji’s Gran brings one of Tonji’s favourite posters and tells the group about how Tonji reacts when he is stressed. Sally, Tonji’s carer, asks about his routine and the things that make him happy.

Connecting carers and family members has anecdotally provided the best opportunity to reunify families. This can be tense, complex work.

Informal connection opportunities that build the relationship between carers, family and community.

As Sally and Gran get to know each other, Sally decides she, Gran and Tonji could do something together. so the three of them go out for Pizza. Sally hears about where Gran grew up, and Gran asks Sally about how she got into caring in the first place. Jodi doesn’t need to be there this time, but she still checks in with Tonji, Gran and Sally afterwards to check how things went.

We have to make sure that these Bridges don’t feel like “Case Conferences” or Care Teams. We need to develop methods that focus on building relationships, rather than making decisions. Barbeques and joint activities are probably better than formal meetings.

Establishing a sense of hospitality for new children.

Gran and Tonji arrive at the home and are greeted by Sally. Tonji feels really scared and doesn’t want to go, but Gran is here and that helps. It’s not always possible for safety reasons for the family to know where the care home is but Tonji’s situation allows it.

We know that it helps the transition to care if family are involved. It helps children feel safe and it’s less traumatic for them. Some risks are present when this is done, which need to be carefully considered.

Using space to give opportunities for individualisation, allowing children to change aspects of the home.

While Tonji’s Gran is there, Sally gives them a tour of the home. When they get to Tonji’s bedroom, Sally lets them know that this is his personal space now and he can choose how he would like it to look. Sally suggests he and his Gran have a think about it, and in the next day or so they will sit down, look at some options on the internet and then go shopping.

We can use the spaces that children live in to demonstrate that we are serious about providing them choice and control. By allowing children to change the homes to suit their needs, we can signal that we are truly listening.

Using informal moments to give children choice and control.

Every Thursday night, the kids have a special dinner. (They get to choose what they have.) At dinner, Sally asks them three questions:

  1. What’s one thing you’ve loved about this week?
  2. What’s one thing that’s been hard?
  3. What’s one thing we can do better?

Tonji tells Sally that he was upset about not being able to invite his friend to play. They agree to work out some other way.

This feedback mechanism has worked really successfully at Parkerville in the past but has fallen out of our day to day practice. Time to bring it back, because it is so useful for identifying when children are struggling, or when we could change small things for a big impact.

A radically individualised plan for the wellbeing of a child, centred on connection.

Tonji shares the draft ‘My Plan’ that he has been working on with Sally. It is really visual and Sally and Jodi share with Gran what its purpose is and how it will be used. Tonji talks about the things in there — what he would add more of, what’s missing and what is most important to him. Together, they work on ways that Gran, Sally and other important people in Tonji’s life can support what makes him feel good and what he thinks about his future.

There are a number of creative, visual tools that other organisations have developed to provide personalised plans for Children. These plans, when they are developed with Children and Families, have the potential to guide our work to create outcomes for when they are no longer in the care system.

Allowing space to work with trauma by introducing shorter shift spans.

The Thursday night dinner is also the time that Sally’s shift gets handed over. Sally is at the end of her 7-day shift, and Cameron is coming to be in the house. The kids love Cameron’s stupid jokes, but they are always a bit sad to not see Sally for a week.

This new shift structure is designed to improve the wellbeing of workers in Family Group Homes. It requires close communication with another carer but makes our homes more resilient. Long on-shifts make maintaining the energy for best responses in complex situations difficult.

Demonstrating capabilities to respond to trauma.

Sally comes back on shift after her week and notices that Tonji isn’t very talkative at dinner. She learns from Cameron that Tonji’s mum has cancelled their visit for tomorrow. Tonji runs to his room and begins to rip all the posters off the wall. Sally knows Tonji’s crisis management plan off by heart and puts on Tonji’s calming song. They sit together for a while, and Tonji calms down. Sally begins the Life Space Interview to help Tonji make some meaning about what is happening.

Life Space Interviews have been proven to lessen the quantity and length of critical incidents dramatically. It keeps placements stable and supportive, improving outcomes for children and young people.

Opportunities for ongoing development in response to the needs of children and young people.

Part of Tonji’s struggle is explained by his recent ADHD diagnosis. Tonji’s Circle has noted that carers require customised training in this space to better support his needs. The Mundahring Baldja Co-ordinator receives a referral and arranges for specialised content (knowledge and skills) to be provided to Sally and the team via coaching in the home.

Great care requires great support for carers, and structured mentoring can be part of the recipe for great support. Note that the Mundahring Baldja component of this model is not yet funded or implemented at Parkerville.

Creating a plan for connection by default, considering time, space and method.

After staying for 3 weeks, Charlie and other key people in Tonji’s Care Team get together to develop a strategy about how to connect Tonji with his family network. Jodi, the connection lead, facilitates the conversation. They work to develop a strategy to connect with Safe Family, his Gran and Uncle. They don’t forget to make a different plan for him to connect with his Mum who is still struggling.

This model asks us to consider connection with family as something that happens for all children, and something that Parkerville actively supports. Connection plans help us to develop creative, safe strategies for families to connect with children, but also with us as carers.

Utilising creativity to develop opportunities for deeper meaningful connection.

Providing deeper opportunities for connection always takes some creativity, and it’s Jodi’s job to explore what is possible and set up personalised opportunities. She works with Tonji’s Gran and Uncle on a connection proposal. If they visit with Tonji at one of the family connection cottages, they can use Parkerville’s on-call services if anything difficult comes up. The Department approves this plan and Gran and Uncle come to stay for the weekend.

Deeper connection is the goal for children as long as it is safe for them. We want to move along a safe continuum from shallow to deep connections, with the hope that restoration and reunification is possible. These opportunities potentially carry more risk, which has to be carefully considered.

Safe opportunities in riskier situations, facilitated by technology.

Jodi and Gran catch up with Tonji’s mum and use Connection Cards to work out a plan for how she can connect with Tonji too. They all agree to try a video call. About twice a week Tonji uses the house iPad to talk to his mum. Parkerville works with FINWA to help her make sure the conversations are positive and provides small amounts of phone credit to make it happen. Mum sees Sally in the background of the calls and they have short conversations, which builds trust.

During Covid, when physical meeting wasn’t possible, we used digital means to provide contact with families. Carers told us stories about how this really built a connection between families and Parkerville staff, as families could see the homes and carers in the background. Staff and families could begin to avoid demonising each other creating better outcomes for children.

Active involvement in supporting families whilst maintaining Parkerville’s core business.

The connection that Tonji’s mum has with Parkerville staff eventually leads her to reach out through Gran. She wants some advice that doesn’t come from the Department where she feels her relationships are really broken. Jodi talks to her over the phone and offers to connect her with some great family support programs.

Whilst we want to create connection opportunities, it probably won’t ever be Parkerville’s role to support parents to overcome the challenges that have led to their children being in care. Our involvement here needs to be in developing strong relationships with other organisations who can walk alongside parents while we walk alongside kids.

Extending opportunities over time toward reunification.

Over time, Tonji’s mum moves into a new apartment, and away from people who were keeping her in struggle. With the Circle and Department of Communities staff, Parkerville agrees to try and use Narbathong Cottage one afternoon. Tonji and his mum cook together and watch a movie. The team will see if they can increase this to weekend stays.

Research tells us that family restoration provides the best outcomes for children, rather than a life in Out of Home Care. It won't happen for every child, but we have to transform ourselves to become an organisation capable of supporting restoration outcomes over time; not rushing, but always heading in the right direction.

Our Way Home Resources

Comic Blueprint

Comic Blueprint