A storybook approach to supporting children in care

Episode 148 October 15, 2023 00:32:08
A storybook approach to supporting children in care
Emerging Minds Podcast
A storybook approach to supporting children in care

Oct 15 2023 | 00:32:08

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Show Notes

In this episode, we’re joined by Natalie Papps, Alice Morgan and Sally Groom, creators of ‘One of a Kind’: a storybook for children who are in foster or kinship care due to their parent (or parents) experiencing mental illness. Natalie, Alice and Sally discuss the process of collaborating on the book with services as well as parents and young people with lived experience of parental mental illness and out-of-home care. They highlight some of the challenges children in care face, including being unaware of why they are in care, and how ‘One of a Kind’ supports practitioners and carers to open up these essential conversations.
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Before we get into today's podcast. If you haven't heard, Emerging Minds is currently running the 2023 National Workforce Survey for Child, Parent and Family Mental Health. If you work in health, social, community services sectors, this is your chance to have your say and be in to win one of five iPads. The survey helps shape child mental health policy, inform advocacy and guide the development of future Emerging Minds resources to support your work. And you don't have to work directly with children or in mental health to participate. The survey is open now until the 15 November 2023. Head over to Emergingminds.com Au to complete the survey today and keep an eye on the website for future releases of the results. [00:00:46] Speaker B: The storybook explores some of the feelings that children may have had, it explores some of the experiences they may have had and offers an opportunity for them to have a conversation with the adult that's reading the storybook with them and hopefully have some of their questions answered. So it is hope that the storybook will provide a safe space for both children and the adult reader to talk about some of the reasons why they are living in foster or kinship care. [00:01:11] Speaker C: Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast. [00:01:16] Speaker D: Hi. You're with Nicole Rollbush. On today's episode I have the pleasure of being joined by three guests natalie Papps, Alice Morgan and Sally Groom. Nat and Alice work as families where a parent has a mental illness or fapmy coordinators with Monash and Alfred Health respectively. While Sally is the team leader of carer assessment and intake with Oschild for the Southern Metro and Gippsland area in Victoria. Nat, Alice and Sally are here to share their experience of creating the beautiful storybook, one of a kind for children who are in foster or kinship care due to their parent or parents experiencing mental illness. [00:01:55] Speaker E: So thank you to you all for joining me today just might start by asking you to tell us a little. [00:02:01] Speaker D: Bit about your roles. [00:02:02] Speaker F: So Nat and I work as families where a parent has a mental illness coordinator and our job is in adult mental health services in Victoria and our job is really to promote the well being and support parents who have mental health challenges and their family members impacted and in this situation particularly their children. So we work across the workforce to build capacity for workers to better support parents and their children when someone has a mental health challenge. So that's within our own services and also with external services such as the one that Sally works for, one part. [00:02:43] Speaker B: Of our job is also that we support external services, thinking about how we talk to children about their parents'mental health challenges and how we provide support and tools, I guess for adults in order to do that. When we talk about mental health challenges as well, we are acknowledging the interrelationship between mental health, alcohol and drug use, as well as family violence. [00:03:03] Speaker E: Great, thank you. And Sally. [00:03:06] Speaker B: Yeah, sure. [00:03:06] Speaker G: So I work as a part of the leadership team within Oschild, which has got a really large foster care program. So particularly my role works in relation to carer support and assessment. So in our team we look after around 220 carer households that we have offering care to children within the southern Metro and Gippsland area. And predominantly our workers are there to support carers and make sure that all of our carers have a really positive experience of being supported by a foster care agency. We really focus on the intake of referrals to ensure that we do good matching with our foster carers to the children that are coming in and a range of other things that kind of sit under our carer strategy. So things like trying to develop a community of carers so that carers have an experience of feeling connected to one another for peer support. So yeah, we do a range of things to make sure that our carers feel supported. [00:04:08] Speaker E: Fantastic. So all really important work that you're doing. So you're joining us today to talk about the book, one of a kind that the three of you and others worked on. Nat, can you tell us a little bit about what the story is about? [00:04:22] Speaker B: Yeah, for sure. So the book centers around two children, one named Darcy and the other one named Oliver. So Darcy lives with her grandma in a kinship care arrangement and Oliver lives with a foster carer and his family. So the book moves through their day to day lives and offers an opportunity to have an interactive conversation and have some questions answered. So the storybook throughout you'll see that there's questions that have been posed to the child that then opens up the opportunity for a conversation. It explores some of the feelings that children may have had, it explores some of the experiences they may have had and obviously offers an opportunity for them to have a conversation with the adult that's reading the storybook with them and hopefully have some of their questions answered. So it is hoped that the storybook will provide a safe space for both children and the adult reader to talk about some of the reasons why they are living in foster or kinship care. [00:05:13] Speaker E: Yeah, so really important messages to be putting out there. [00:05:17] Speaker G: I think for me it was such a lovely project to work on really. And Nat's really captured kind of the essence of the book, but to see children's stories in that was just such a lovely story that you guys really developed and to be a part of the process was lovely. [00:05:36] Speaker E: Yeah, fantastic. And that kind of leads me to my next question, which is about the process. So what was the process in creating the book and who was involved? [00:05:46] Speaker F: It was a big collaboration between three services, so two adult mental health services and an Oschild, the foster and kinship care agency. And so we worked for about twelve months on the project and it involved lots of collaboration and exchanging of information. We shared, I guess, our resources and some of our expertise. So each organization, I think, brought something different to the table that we kind of put into the melting pot to develop stories. So some of the things that were involved were things that we conducted lots of interviews and consultations with stakeholders. So with kinship carers, with foster carers, with people supporting children in these situations, with cultural and diversity officers within our services, aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Consultants we worked with an author and an illustrator. So that was a big process in itself, finding an author that could capture some of the themes that we were hoping to bring forward in this story and then equally an illustrator who could bring the story to light. So we worked alongside Linda Espe and Gwyneth Jones throughout the process of drafting redrafting, doing pictures, redoing pictures, showing the pictures, showing the story to all those stakeholders throughout the process. So Nat and I did the editing of the book and kind of guided that story. And Sally was very much involved with us, helping us to engage with all those stakeholders and making sure that the story was going to be useful to children that are in their service and other services and also really helpful to the carers themselves and any workers that wanted to use it. Yeah, so we finally celebrated it with a launch and the books now distributed, so we think we could have probably written ten books for these children, but this was a start. So it's great to have it finally done and great to celebrate the collaboration that was involved in producing it. [00:07:56] Speaker E: Great. And what about from an Oschild perspective? What was the process for you guys? [00:08:01] Speaker G: Yeah, well, Alice, I think, asked me whether Oschild would want to be involved, which was really exciting. And I suppose I didn't really know what to expect in terms I've never really been a part of the writing of a children's book, particularly in social work. So the concept was so so, you know, when I spoke to kind of the leadership team within OzChild, everyone was really excited to get on board in whatever capacity was kind of so, you know, Alice and Nat, we kind of met periodically and it was lovely to see their work together. And yeah, we arranged sort of staff sessions to give feedback to Alice and Nat so they could kind of pick the brains, really, of people working on the ground with children in foster care. And then I think you guys did a session with Kinship Carers as well. So we've got a really large kinship program within OzChild as well and I know there was a number of kinship carers that were really keen to kind of give feedback on the book and yeah, we kind of just really shared the book throughout the development and got lots of feedback. We had children read it, we had carers read it as we went along, so yeah, I can't believe it was twelve months. Really. [00:09:17] Speaker F: It was pretty ambitious timeline, but that was kind of the limits we had to work within. The other people that were really important that we consult along the way were some young people who had their own experience of being in foster and kinship care and they had a parent with a mental illness as a child. So we spoke with them also about what a book like this might be able to offer them. And then through the process of drafting the books, we also involved some parents from our service who currently had children in the care of someone else and got their views on the story too. [00:09:51] Speaker E: Yeah. So such a fantastic collaborative effort between services and also those with lived experience as well. And amazing that that happened within that twelve month period as well. Well done. Yes. [00:10:05] Speaker F: Well I'm not sure had we known, but once you got engaged in this and people were so enthusiastic and I guess we saw such a need for a book like this that that kept us going and kept us really motivated to make sure it happens. So it didn't feel like work to me was really a great thing to do. [00:10:27] Speaker E: Yeah, fantastic project. So Nat, how did this project actually come about then? [00:10:33] Speaker B: So the idea to create a storybook came about at the time that Alice and I were providing some training to staff at Oschild. So part of our role is we provide resources to support services and adults to have conversations with children. So a lot of storybooks are a great tool to open up these conversations. So what we realized, Alice and I were driving home in the car thinking about the resources that we're recommending and these storybooks where most of them actually centered around a child character who lived at home with their parent or who actually returned home at the end of the story. So they might have a period of time where they're in the care of someone else or with family while mum or dad are seeking support, but then at the end of the story they're reunified. But what we know about children living in foster care or kinship care is they may move between care and home and then they also the reality for some of them is actually that they won't return to live with their parents in their childhood. So we just saw this big gap for these children that they're falling through again and so we decided that we wanted to fill that gap and so we came up with the idea to write a story that hopefully these children can relate more closely to. [00:11:39] Speaker E: Yeah, that's a pretty clear gap, isn't it? [00:11:42] Speaker D: As well as I suppose the messaging. [00:11:44] Speaker E: For kids about being in care and perhaps staying in care, not that reunification. [00:11:51] Speaker F: Yeah. We found there were lots of books that helped children with the emotions and some of the context of their lives living in foster and kinship care, but nothing really that addressed why they were in care in relation to something that was happening for their parents. So that's really also what we wanted to make sure children had some opening to have some conversations about that and got to better understand some of the reasons why they couldn't live with their parents at that time. [00:12:20] Speaker E: Yeah. So one of the issues that I'm hearing a lot about in researching out of home care and children's experiences in foster care and kinship care is that they may not know why they're in care or have an understanding of why they're in care. What can some of those impacts be on the child's mental health and well being if they don't know why they're in care? [00:12:41] Speaker G: Yeah, it's really complex when you think about the reasons why children enter foster care or kinship care. It's 99% in relation to complex relational trauma. And so the idea of being able to unpack for children what's happened in a parental relationship that's caused them to be unsafe enough for a court to remove them and place them into the out of home care system, that's really complex for adults to talk about, let alone with children. Particularly when you think about babies entering care, if they're in long term placements, for example, they can begin to see foster carers as a parent, really. And so it becomes almost more tricky to begin to explain what's happened in relation to a parental care relationship and how they've come to be in very we need to consider the age of the child, how we go about having those conversations. But I think Nat and Alice so beautifully picked up a gap in the system where, really, if children in care don't see themselves in the media, never in a positive way, that's for sure. So to have a book that helps to open the conversation, particularly for adults in their lives, to have those complicated conversations because we need to have them, but how do we begin? And I think that's what this book does so beautifully. You read it to any child, really, and it just opens up a dialogue. I think the messaging for adult readers to help children to have those conversations is just so succinct and beautiful in that book. And for carers to be able to read that and feel safe enough to have those conversations, I think there's a lot of fear from adults around how do we have those conversations? Because we're fearful that we're going to impact children's mental health more by having those conversations, when in fact, it's often the opposite, really. They need to understand it, but how do they understand it in a way that they can be supported? To not feel like it was their fault or that they're the problem here. So it's a very complicated kind of issue, but I think this book is just such a beautiful way to start to open those conversations. [00:15:00] Speaker F: I think Sally's point about that sometimes adults find these conversations hard enough and then how do we break that down into an age appropriate kind of way of explaining it to children? But what we know is that if we don't do that, children can come up with their own conclusions or they come up with their own meaning. And often the ones I've heard of can be pretty creative and elaborate and often have nothing to do with really what's happened. So just an example that comes to mind is that we've had children we've spoken to when their parents have gone to hospital and we ask them why they think their mum or dad's gone to hospital and they said because they didn't put their toys away or because they were fighting with their brother or and sister. And so these children, I think, can be impacted by that too, when they're silenced, is that all they can do is come up with their own ideas. And often if we can open a conversation that helps them to really understand some of the real reasons why it's happened. And as Sally said, that it's not their fault, it's nothing they did, but that their mum or dad is unwell. And that's why they're surrounded by people that are going to look after them and perhaps to explain to them a little bit about a parent's recovery from mental illness. And it's not always straightforward and smooth, but that it's not their job to fix that and trying to explain to children who will be helping their parents and that's their job, to get on with their childhood. So this story hopefully brings some of those themes forward, so that children's well being and their future trajectory is really positive. [00:16:36] Speaker E: That's such an important message, I think, to get out there, that children are going to make up their own mind about things if we don't talk about it. So it's really important to talk about it. Yeah, that's a really important message. So, Alice, I think you've covered off on a few of these things, but what are the benefits of having stories like this for children? [00:16:55] Speaker F: It takes me back to the conversations we had with the foster carers and kinship carers, who said, really one of the most important things about having a book like this was that these children would feel seen, they'd feel heard, they'd feel understood, and it would give them an opportunity to talk to the adults that are supporting them about what's happening. For them, that was one of the greatest benefits. And I think, as I said before, I think it really helps for adults to join alongside children and gives them a mechanism for getting children to talk about what sense they've made of it. So that foster carers or kinship carers can guide children through that meaning making of their situation. And I suppose, as some of the research tells us, that when children are supported to have these sorts of conversations that are age appropriate and are ongoing, it really helps with that growing sense of identity that they're developing. And that can be really positively shaped if we support children along the way. So as they grow and develop, what we tell them or how we tell them might change as well in relation to their developing understanding. So I think these sort of conversations can be the building blocks for supporting children's growing identity and sense of well being and connection in the world. [00:18:16] Speaker E: Absolutely. [00:18:17] Speaker D: Such an important conversation to have. Sally, were you wanting to add something to that? [00:18:22] Speaker G: Yeah, so I think probably it's twofold really around the benefits. So one is obviously for children reading the story and kind of being able to resonate in terms of other children having a similar experience to them, but equally around adult readers being able to read the notes that support them to have conversations with children. I think a lot of the time within the child protection system, there's a lot of questions around who is the right person to have these conversations with children. And it just gives people the confidence to be able to open that book and feel like, yes, there's a story for children in there, but there's equally a message for carers in there around how can they support children to understand even if they don't know all of the details? It's just an opportunity to open the conversation and it's okay to sit in a place where we don't always have the answers. [00:19:14] Speaker E: Yeah, I think that's a really important message because that might contribute to that fear of going, well, I don't have all of the details or I might stuff this up. So, yeah, having something, a resource that supports those conversations is really important. And in thinking about the messaging both for adults and children, what was really important to include in the book? [00:19:36] Speaker B: Nat, I guess similarly to what Sally and Alice have spoken about, it was really important for children, particularly about the why why they're living in foster or kinship care. I think that's our biggest message around the storybook and also that it's not their fault that it's not their role to fix things and they're cared for and that they are safe. I think when we think about what the children take away from it's also the pictures that are in the book as well. So having really clear pictures about different ways that you can talk about mental health and also thinking about there's pictures in there around a parent seeking help and where they might go to do that. So there's a building that could either be a hospital or a clinic. It can be interpreted anyway, but it gives an example of a parent sitting with a group of people and I guess seeking that support to help them understand, when I'm not with my parent, what they might be doing or where they might be or who might be supporting them. So then in regards to the adults, I guess it's important that they get the message of the importance of these conversations as well and that it is something that we need to be doing also. It gives them some prompts around the language that they might use as well. There's the notes to adult readers at the beginning that does clearly support them in what they might be able to say, and as Sally said, that you don't have to have all the answers straight away, and that you can buy yourself some time to think about what you might say and the language that you might use and how important that is. There's also examples of those as well in the book. [00:21:01] Speaker E: Yeah. Fantastic. And you, Alice and Nat, you've actually developed a training in how to use this book therapeutically with children. Can you say a bit about what that training involves and I suppose what you're hoping people will get out of that, or the skills and the knowledge you're hoping that they'll walk away with? [00:21:19] Speaker F: Well, I think we realised early on that it wasn't as simple as just producing a book and giving it to people and say, we'll read this to children because these conversations need to be guided and people need to feel supported and confident to have these conversations. And so we then thought, well, how can we support the story to be read in the spirit in which we've developed it? So that's sort of where the idea of developing some training for workers in the book came about. [00:21:48] Speaker D: Fantastic. And Nat, did you want to speak a little bit more about who the training is for in terms of the audience? [00:21:55] Speaker B: Yeah, for sure. So we have targeted the training towards foster and kinship care agency staff and also other workers in the sector. So the reason that we focus the training for that group is because they are the key people involved in coordinating the care for the children and they also have more direct contact with the carers parents and other people involved in the child's life. So we think that they would have sort of the biggest insight into who might be the best person to have this conversation with the child. Because as we've discussed, it doesn't automatically mean that if the child's living with a foster carer, that the foster carer is the most appropriate person. So it is about really thinking about who has this conversation, who's ready to have this conversation in order to provide some support to them. So our idea is that the agency staff would then work with that adult around, encouraging them to use the storybook. [00:22:46] Speaker E: And so what's involved in the training? [00:22:49] Speaker F: Well, we developed it to be done either face to face or we've also delivered it online and we've tried to sort of condense a lot of information into about two to 3 hours. So it's training that's interactive, it's trying to give workers a bit of sort of some of the knowledge behind why we're encouraging people to have conversations with children about why they're in care, but also give people some of the skills in how to do that. So some ways of talking about parental mental illness, for instance, that children might understand. And some, I guess, things to think about in terms of how to respond to children's questions, or how you might open a conversation like this, and how you might make sure that the context was safe for children to have these conversations and what sort of follow up you might be wanting to do afterwards for yourself if you've had the conversation, but also to make sure that children still feel that these conversations can be ongoing. So we try and bring that all into the training so that the workers feel better equipped to use the story in the context of their work. [00:23:59] Speaker E: Yeah, I think that's a great addition. Like you said, it can create a storybook, but this training kind of just adds that confidence for workers to utilize it and stay true to those messages that you've brought into it and worked so hard to bring into it as well. Brings me to one of my other questions, which is a statement that's in the notes to the adult readers at the beginning of the book and I really like this one, it's that the power behind the story comes from the conversations it opens. And I wonder how practitioners or carers can feel confident in having those conversations and not being fearful of those conversations being opened up. [00:24:40] Speaker F: Well, we hope having a tool like this really helps. It's bright and it's engaging and it's been designed by lots of people who have had input into it. And I suppose that confidence will grow in time and the more people have practice and support to have these conversations, hopefully that will help people to sort of continue to keep doing it and see the benefit of it for children. And so I suppose receiving some training, getting support, making sure that whoever it is that's reading or using the storybook with children get support with, debriefing afterwards, or even have someone to talk to say how did it go and what did the children ask and what did you find? There are lots of little questions in the story along the way and so that's just inviting people to get a sense of the sorts of things they could talk to children about. So there's some little prompts throughout the story that we hope might guide the person reading the story. I guess the other thing we always suggest is that adults read the story first, make sure they know the content before they open up the pages with children. So they're a little bit prepared for what children might say, what they might ask, and be prepared with some answers, or even the answer that, look, I'm not sure about that right now, but I'm going to find out and let's talk about that tomorrow. So people feel really well prepared. And I also think the other thing that people might feel confident to know is that they're not one off conversations. You don't have to do it all at once in that moment. We invite people to think of these as ongoing conversations and ones that will come not necessarily when you're sitting reading the book might be while you're driving a car or when you're walking along the street. Children might ask you a question related to the story. So there's time to help children understand these things. So I guess my last way of helping people to feel confident is that we know that this is what children want. They've told us that this is important to them, that this will make a difference. And so connecting with children's voices hopefully will help us all as adults to get better at this and continue to do it for children's ongoing well being. [00:26:58] Speaker B: I think in just extending on what Alice was saying as well about that it's an ongoing conversation and that these questions will come up in different forums is also that the hope is that by sitting down and reading a storybook like this with the child is that they then identify an adult who does feel comfortable and does feel safe to have these conversations. So they've clocked someone now who they know that they can go to and ask questions because they feel safe and comfortable to do that. [00:27:26] Speaker E: Yeah, that's a really powerful part of it. [00:27:29] Speaker G: Yeah, I was just going to say I find the parallel in terms of the process of actually developing the book was collaborative, right? We sought so many voices to ensure that this was something that was helpful for children and adults. And I suppose the process of children reading it also needs to be collaborative. So how do we include everybody to ensure that children have the experience like you're talking about now? So they can understand who might be their person that they can talk to, but that equally that person that adult has got a group of people that they can seek support from as well to debrief, as Alice said, or understand the child's story more thoroughly so that it can be ongoing conversations, as you've both mentioned. It's not just a one off, it's something that continues. [00:28:17] Speaker F: And I guess also that the messages that children get are consistent so that group around the children can talk about the words that they're using actually to describe what's happened. So we try and use the same sorts of words so that children are developing that meaning. And so even if adults might decide to say. Your mum's unwell at the moment. So continue to use that one unwell word to describe what's happening, rather than changing your words, because children can get confused by that too. So, say having some of that collaboration around, actually, what's going to be said and how it's going to be said also, I think, can be really helpful for children. [00:28:55] Speaker E: Yeah. So collaboration and communication all round is important, sounds like. Yeah. And what about copies of the book? Where can people get their hands on a copy and have a look through? [00:29:09] Speaker B: So the book is actually available as an ebook on the Alfred website, monash Health website and Oschild websites, so that way you can read it on an iPad or on a laptop. We do have hard copies that we have had printed. These are in short supply and we have supplied them in Victoria again to the agency staff as well, so that they are armed with them, ready to distribute to their carers and children as they identify the need. So, yes, we've always seen ongoing conversations about how we can get more and how we have had inquiries from Interstate, we've had inquiries from New Zealand as well, which has been fantastic, and it would be great to get it out to as many families as possible. But just at the moment, we don't really have an answer as far as a hard copy. So we would probably recommend accessing it as an ebook to start with. [00:29:57] Speaker E: Yeah, I definitely would encourage people to get online and have a look at this book. I have a copy of it on my desk and it really is a beautiful resource. So well thought out. The collaboration is really clear that that's happened and that there's been so much thought put into the messages for adults and for children as well. Just a final note, is there anything that anyone would like to add before we finish up today? [00:30:24] Speaker F: I think also, just a congratulations to our author and illustrator, to Linda and SB and Gwyneth Jones, because without their creativity and their flexibility in hearing all the feedback we got, we wouldn't have had the sort of story we've got, and certainly the illustrations just bring those texts to life. So I just wanted to acknowledge their expertise in this too, and what a pleasure it was to work alongside them as well. [00:30:53] Speaker E: Yeah, fantastic. Yeah. I imagine it would have been a tough job to consolidate all of that feedback into one book. Like you say, you could have written ten books. [00:31:03] Speaker F: They were so patient with us, as we said, oh, no, could you just draw it that way? Or we're not quite sure about that word, but because language and images are so important to children was really important, they joined with us in that. So big thank you to them too. [00:31:18] Speaker E: Yeah, fantastic. And well done to all of you involved. It's been a real pleasure to hear about this book and the process and such important messages throughout. So really appreciate you guys coming in and having a chat about it today. [00:31:32] Speaker F: Oh, thanks Nicole. [00:31:33] Speaker G: Thank you. [00:31:35] Speaker C: Visit our website at you to access a range of resources to assist your practice. Brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health led by Emerging Minds. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child or Youth Mental Health Program.

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