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Community Kinship Care involves openness & real relationships. Shared dinners/experiences are key.

Community Kinship Care - Recording 

Mitch and Rach spoke to us about the community kinship or village care model that they operate within to surround a young boy in care. They are the extended family to this boy who is in kinship care with another family. Mitch is the Director of Complex Behaviour Change at CBC Change in Melbourne and has 30 years clinical experience. Rache is the Director of Resources at CBS Change and has worked in supporting adoptive, permanent and kinship carers with strengths based culturally sensitive case management. Mitch and Rach have a wealth of experience to share. We learnt some really important lessons about what is important. Whether that is falling in love with the child or surrounding the child with real family experiences. Sharing dinners together as carers are simple things that can normalise relationships and keep everyone connected. Similarly talking through with openness how to parent and how to add value and enrich the child's life are equally important for the child to continue to repair and move forward. A really honest account of how we can all be making a difference in someone else's life.

00:00 - Start 00:53 - How Mitch and Rache got involved in village care 03:43 - How the village model works - a primary carer and flexible carers who talk and discuss things openly. 05:40 - The secret ingredient - falling in love with the child, becoming like a family 08:46 - Looking to add value at all times - dinners, broad social groups, culturally appropriate care and different skills in different homes. Its about more than just sharing clothes. 14:16 - Attunement and connection require you spend the time being available and that you eat together so the child sees people around them functioning in a relationship 19:39 - So much pleasure by contributing in this way and each person in the family has a different special relationship with the child 22:45 - If others want to get involved ask at your school who may need help or contact various agencies from foster care to permanent care 24:40 - Your job is to just listen and keep children safe, not to determine who is right or wrong. Be flexible and open and supportive of the team around the child, no matter your personal views 28:22 - Secure attachment involves "learning the child" and bring them into your rhythm and connect. When ruptures occur reconnect. Reconnect often. 34:02 - You need to hold in mind that the child has not had a secure start, so security in relationships is key. Attachment, connection and relationships that are rick and repair and heal are important. Use a strengths based approach. 40:46 - Child protection is a system and it will have flaws like any system but you can do something to change that.

Community Kinship Care - Transcript

This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings that capture lived experience and best practice research-based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people. PCA Families has a zero tolerance of child abuse. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay respect to elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership. 

Today we are discussing kinship care with a village care approach and how to provide behaviour support.  

Mitch Bayliss is the Director of Complex Behaviour Change with over 30 years clinical experience as a  sociologist in Metropolitan Melbourne. 

Rache O’Dowd is the Director of Resources and Support at CBChange and previously headed up St Luke’s Anglicare in Bendigo, supporting adoptive, permanent and kinship carers with strengths based culturally sensitive case management. 

Mitch and Rach are also “village” respite carers to a young boy alongside the main kinship carer and other “village” respite carers. 

0:53 Welcome Mitch and Rach.  Would you like to tell us a little more about yourselves? 

Rache - I can tell you a little bit about how we got into this. We did kinship care for a number of kids in particular one where Mum had mental health and the father was deceased, We had this boy here on and off for 2.5 years. Prior to that we had a couple of children come and stay through my children’s friends. We connected with the children’s families, let them know we were here and they could come and visit anytime. We had no rules about that because they were adolescents. We were minding children rather than parenting these adolescents because they were older.  That was how we formed a relationship was to try and not be a parent.  Even though there were some times where you had to parent. There was one boy that stayed with us that smelt bad. He didn’t know how to wash. Mitch eventually had to show him how to wash. You need to have a shower and put new clothes on, not put the old clothes back on. 

So that led us to our children being very open who was here and how we did things. 

We were very clear with our children from day one that when a child walks in here they will try and stake out a place and that as a family we needed to stay firm, without being rude or anything.  Immediately as a child comes in they will try and stake out a place, so we had to stay united as a family and communicate with each other. 

We had my daughters, partners, sister come and live with us through the department, which was the worst experience. She came through the Department (kinship care), which was the worst experience we have had. She didn’t last long as she was extremely damaged, she was a runner and had no idea what family care was about. 

We got into this village care situation really because of Covid and no one wanting to take on children. A lady I worked with offered that if there were any babies that came up that she and her husband would be prepared to have a child. I wasn’t a friend with her she was just someone at work. They knew in this foster care system people just weren’t taking on children. At that time I was setting up the Section 18 at Mernda Aboriginal Corporation and I was aware of this young child. So that was sort of how it happened because there was this child that needed care and there was nowhere for this child to go. So that’s how this village model got setup. And this commitment around sharing support started there. We all committed wholeheartedly even before we met the baby. 

3:43 So you have this village model that sits around the child. Can you tell us about how that works day to day and how you share and navigate that. 

The primary carer is the primary carer. That is our friends now. Because I was extremely lucky to understand the field, we have been able to have conversations between all of us that can be tricky, but you have to remember at all times that the primary carer is the primary carer. It was being able to have those conversations and be very honest. We are very honest but at the end of the day that couple have full responsibility for the child and how they want to parent the child. 

They are very flexible though. They hate guns. We have toy guns here everywhere because we live with our 8yo grandson as well. Nerf guns. So that is challenging for her, but she accepts that she cant rule everything, so we talk about it and she accepts it. You have to be prepared to get upset and to sit on the sideline because that’s your job. The whole idea for this young man was to have respite care built in from the start so if there were any issues or anything happens there is support. He is extremely comfortable with the child. 

5:40 You need to fall in love with the child. 

Mitch - You have to fall in love with the child, so there is a process, and there is a certain point in the care at which that is very clear that you have fallen in love with the child and then you grieve and feel it when they don’t come one day. Because primary carers make decisions actually we are off to Melbourne this weekend. That also says to you it’s kind of working – we are attached and have formed a bond. Rache is the motivator and she has been very set on being able to do this.   

Rache - My next job is caring and I am devoted to it and I enjoy it. With all the experience I have I hope this will continue.  We have the time and space and our family is not perfect but we have raised socially conscious children.  Our family is not perfect, far from it.  You have to accept at times your children will get hurt because that has happened in the past. We can be way over the top. 

Often day to day we keep in contact all the time. If she needs an extra day she will call me. We have him overnight one night a month.  And we have him every Monday and sometimes on a Sunday. Its very flexible – if they need the whole weekend we do that. And he goes away too. Its very flexible. 

The other day I was talking about how we run into him in town now, and he used to be a bit confused about am I going with you or he would be a bit defensive “I don’t want to go”. Now he is hi and understands the transitioning and coming and going. We were very worried about what we were doing as well, because it’s a bit of a trial. Its no different to me living around the corner from her and doing all the things we did together. 

8.46 You also look for opportunities to impact his or his situation in other ways. What are some of those things that you do? 

I bought him some shoes or when she comes to pick him up I might have a platter ready for his dinner. She always feels guilty because I have younger children here than her and our house is very busy. I grew up with 8 brothers and sisters so this is not busy to me. This is just life. 

We are trying to mimic what would already be in his culture and have all eyes on and a community around him that are close to him so he can go to different people, a network of family, because we are becoming family for sure in the way we operate, even when we have a fight. It’s about trying to be very culturally connected in the right way. And doing things that are purposeful for him. 

We share clothes like you wouldn’t believe so sometimes I’ll run out of a jumper or socks because they are all at the carers house. We share the clothes and whatever else we have. People in the community were so good. We also had babies so we kept a lot of things from our grandson who is only 8. We got given a pram.  The carer has been given so much stuff also. People are willing to support and I think it’s the only way they know how in a whiter society. In another culture they may support in other ways. People are very curious but its so easy to step forward. 

The day when we realised what Looneys we were was when Mitch, I and the mother/carer (because she is the mother and I am happy to call her that as she acts very much like the psychological mother). We were on the couch and we were talking about how brilliant he was and how he was going to be the next Prime Minister because he is very advanced. We looked at each other and said we sound like those nutty parents. You know that that is there.  Once that is there, that love and connection, you know it. 

The other thing we do as a community is she looks at what we have and she trys to provide something different for her child at her house vs ours. Like we have a big trampoline so that is something special that he does with us. 

We have a few manly things like a punching bag and our grandson has been teaching him how to use it. The mother/carer would take him for a bushwalk and discover nuts. We would do that but we are into other things as well. We have a knife throwing range and we throw 12 inch nails. He is learning different skills in different families. 

14:16 He is getting connection and a variety of quality attuned carers. Can you tell me more about that and working out where they are at when they first come into the home? 

We are attuned in and know the background. It’s the standards as you have to learn how to connect and regulate. Picking up rocking patting good structure and routine, predictability, lots of engagement and fun and play. All the stuff you would normally do. That’s what we have been doing. Because we are so tuned in you watch and you know when to pickup, hold or explore. That dance that occurs is the key to it and you let the child grow and do what they need to do. He has been so easy, this little boy, and I think its because of our experience. Also having an 8yo who is a big soother, and is growing up like a brother, is really good for him. Our grandson is living with 5 adults so its good for him to share and play too as we all automatically give to him and share with him.  So these two are interesting to avoid the me me me. They are like mates now. 

I think children have lost the concept of imagination and play. We are very much outdoor people. But nowadays you are competing with machines that somehow seem more interesting than the world. With Atticus we explore as much creative play as we can before you get to school and you have to do all that writing and your imagination changes. The early years should be spent exploring the world and that is where our parenting is all similar.  

He has a plastic keyboard from the op shop that the mother/carer would never have.  We loved it when she came over and we said look he already has a computer. 

And the food you need to eat together, you need to look after each other, that’s really important, and he needs to see as people functioning in a relationship. 

We have lots of animals. They don’t have animals.  He collects the egg and does the chooks as part of his routine.  We have a big dalmation. He is not scared of dogs or having a dog whack him in the face with his tail. He will push him away.  We have two cats and he is going to get bitten or scratched because he wants to grab their face. We have a parrot that flys around the house at night. We have a budgie. We have guinea pigs. We like animals and a lot of its about wandering around in that environment and just talking.  

19:39 I just think it is so hard to get people to understand how easy this is to do this for just one day and how much pleasure we get back. Absolute and total. Imagine being able to give and every pleasure receptor in your body gets set off. And then you say goodbye and they have to do all the hard work. They can’t believe how trashed we let our house get. I say he is only here one day and he can do what he likes. 

When he arrives there is a like an echo throughout the house with his name.  Everyone says his name. 

My daughter is always present but each of my sons has a different way of dealing with him and what they do. One takes him out into the yard and talk to him. The other one is very gentle and very sweet. For us we are more active play. He is immersed in a world. The only thing we don’t do is take him out a lot. She takes him out a lot and they go to bands and recently went to Carols by Candlelight. We tend to just keep him at home so for us he is just engaged with us. One thing I have noticed is that peoples curiosity is not always good. They talk in front of him as though he is not even there.  You see the good side and you see the ugly side of the community. That’s why I try and be a little bit protective.  

We have had some atrocious things said to us. Its racism. I have got myself in trouble with my family now because I didn’t like something that got said and I’m not going to back down. People should know better. You have to call it out. I have worked at Bendigo District Aboriginal Corporation and Njernda and racism is still there. Actions too. Reconciliation is a very powerful idea, if we were able to actually work it. There are elements that are working very well and there are elements that working at all. There is still a them and us. White people are still learning to respect. They are not there yet. 

22:45 How do you get started with this type of respite? How would you recommend others create this for themselves? 

All I know is we do it with our own families. We see our Aunts and Uncles and we offer care out when we can.  Not everyone does obviously. I don’t live near my family so I don’t have that sort of connection. If I was at primary school now and I realised some child was in care, I would offer them help. Maybe go to the school and say is there a child being cared for here? With foster care they are not going to do it and with kinship they probably don’t really look at family relationships and what is actually going to happen when you have a child in care. They often don’t look at family relationships and what is going to happen and they are left on their own. When we had that young girl that was absconding and breaking things it wasn’t child care protection that were concerned, it was the police. If you cant get that system to care, how is that going to work. For me it needs to be in your local setting what you are going to offer. I am sure there are so many people that want to offer things but don’t know how to do that. Its also hard sometimes to ask for help. 

24:40 Listen and safety, with flexibility and openness 

I think me having an eye for noticing when something is wrong has helped. Also when children came here distressed because of things that had happened, I didn’t push them away. I have a very strong agenda around adolescents because I see how badly they are treated. No matter what school you go to or where you come from often when two or more adolescents are together they can be seen as a threat. It was important if a child came here I would listen to them. I don’t care who was right or wrong. My job was to listen and to keep them safe, tell their parents where they were and say they were able to stay and we can sort it out. Adolescence is a very bad time. Our adolescents were crazy. For me it started with being open.  

That is an important point because you have different parenting approaches and different people involved and its very easy to fall into judgement about how people should parent if they are doing something different to you. That openness and willingness to talk about it and accept that there is difference and difference is actually good. Its ok. There isn’t one perfect approach. I think its also about communication and talking and it’s a bit like us dancing around him as a bigger system, always trying to stay in tune and connected, with each other and also with him. The big advantage he has had is that we are educated and understand how to foster secure attachment. That is an important point. This worked for him but it may not have. That idea of an understanding about how you do that for a child and how you do that together as you need to have security as a team here. You need to feel safe with each other in order to provide the safety that he requires. 

That’s what they do really well as they let us know regularly how important it is for us to be in his life. They manage that like the team leaders. It’s very important to have that and keep connected and have that all there. It is different parenting and different styles. We are different people.  Like Mitch said, I’m not going to get into an argument about what is best and what is not because that is not the point for this young man. The point is to feel and grow be loved and strong in a community with people that care for him. 

He is at the centre of all our thinking. We have approached it as it is what it is for as long as it is, because it was a bit uncertain, but its for life. He is part of our family and that is something that happens over time naturally of course. The intention is we don’t put a time limit on it. We will do everything we can while we are there. If he is with us in our lives forever great. 

28:22 Top tips for secure attachment 

Secure attachment is about being totally attuned and reading and learning that child. Hours sitting there, whatever you have go to do to learn the child. I did it with my own which is just spending time holding them and talking. Mitch has got this fantastic trick he does that he has used on lots of babies, including strangers babies like the 5 month old baby from next door. This is his trick for attuning in that works really well. 

The infants, very young children, you really have to tune them in and bring them in to your rhythm. Regulate against you. I have an interest in meditation which is where some of this comes from. So I get the child and you do the normal patting and rocking but I bring my breathing down and time it with theirs. I use a visualisation of breathing out breathing into their body and when breathing in bringing it back in. It takes about 1 or 2 minutes for the child to settle. I did it a few years ago. The mentalisation is taking in the child and responding on that basis.  Once I have the relationship or the connection by matching, I will then gradually bringing them down to a relaxed state. Once I have matched them and have the connection I will bring them down. 

That capacity to attune. Secure attachment is the circle of security and that idea and fitting into that space. I do think it is about providing a safe space when they are distressed and an opportunity to support their ability explore in the world. A lot of that is about being tuned in to where the child is at and what they need. The child yesterday he is beginning to form language. He comes in, sees me and connects with me immediately and we had been outside for a little while playing. He is pointing at the table and getting upset. It’s a different problem solving now that he is communicating, but it’s the same idea here. I keep going to the table and eventually it is the little brown cup he wants. I said do you want a drink and he goes yay (claps hands) - finally I got it. He had a couple of drinks. It’s a different type of problem solving but the same thing that is forming for him is that I am regulating with him. That repeat pattern as your child needs to be in a relationship with you. As they get older they cant always have it. Theres a rupture. So there is always that rupture repair dance. Out of a relationship and back into a relationship. That to me and with the child exploring, taking risks and becoming more resilient, not wrapping them in cotton wool, having the opportunity for risk, is what builds the secure attachment and develops a child that can regulate themselves over time.   Secure base so if something happens you can come back. Safe hands secure base. 

34:02 Security in relationships is key to compensate for a compromised early start 

For me I often react intuitively and think later but for me it is being present and having that absolute unique opportunity to be a part of their development in whatever way you can. You cannot do that if you are worrying about the washing. Or worrying about this. That’s why this community idea of kinship connection works. If she has something coming up and she is busy, why would you be disengaged with the child just to get that done when she can call me and say blah blah this is what happening and we will go yeah sure fine. She has birthdays, she has 50ths and she has all those normal things that we do that sometimes, if they are your child that is different in terms of biological and that is the network. But if it’s not, your mindful of what you are doing. And you need to be. Because that didn’t come because the family was ok. And that never goes and it will always be there and it needs to be paramount in your thinking. Someone like this young chap who is just adorable needs that presence of mind. There was no presence of mind for at least the first 9 months. I know that. So there is still a long way to go with him and you need to keep that in mind. I must present. Whenever she calls we just do it. We are boring and don’t do much. If it’s not convenient, which rarely it is, its easy to accommodate. Her and her partner and the family and the kids are amazing and we are lucky to be a part of it. That’s what I want people to understand. You get more out of it than you give. If I could spruik it so the government paid you to go around to every school and every doctors surgery we would do that. I have done it more than once and the kids have come and gone or stayed in contact thats their choice.  It works just to be there. 

What Rache was indicating there too is the fact that secure attachment is also that security in  relationships and you are really fostering secure attachment between adults. I like the idea of in some ways all attachment, connection and relationship going on here. That is what he is being surrounded by, the milieu of relationship worlds. Because the beginning hasn’t been great, you are actually always sensitive to providing experiences that are rich, that are repairing and potentially healing. The impact of neurobiology because of what had happened to him. 

But also holding in mind those parents and not thinking and being negative. You can have your own thoughts and feelings when he is not around. I watch the carer. She is so supportive in now engaging us with now doing unsupervised contact and get the Department away to make it as normal as possible between her and the parent. She keeps informing us and is very positive about all that, even though we know it is heartbreaking to think of what he went through and heartbreaking to think Mum and Dad can’t have him. Even if that is fake, even if that is you being compassionate on a level that you produce the empathy rather than feeling it, then do it. Its too easy to judge and what is the point. That is his mum and dad and you can’t remove that. Its having compassion and understanding for others, holding him in heart and also to have others around like his family involved over time and find a way of making it all work. You have got to extend to them first, and not accepting things that may be abusive, but be open to making the relationship work. It’s a strength based approach for what is working, not for what is not working. Try and find those moments. The family connections are slowly building now because the carer is just a powerhead for being culturally ok. Going around the sides sometimes so the people have an opportunity to be with this young man. The first feeling you have is oh what no you have run away. You have that emotional feeling but you need to channel it in a way that is positive. We always share photos so we are all connected.  So that the maternal side know about what we do and want to know about it and they are in agreement with what is going on so we can provide as much of a positive relationship as we can about everything. The carers are A1 when it comes to this and its about relationships. 

40:46 Is there anything else to discuss? 

There is something about working in child protection that people need to be clear it is a system and it is very much like Centrelink or any other Government system. It is floored because there is not enough money and for different reasons but it’s the only system we have and can go to and its hard. I don’t think the carers have a great time with it as well but its about making sure that the Department is not central to your problem. Don’t make the department your issue. Get away from them if you can. Go to permanent care if you can as quick as you can. No child should be raised attached to the Department.  Sens of belonging. There is nothing worse than hearing a child say at 8 my worker says. I think people need to understand that.  The department isn’t doing it to them so remove yourself from that and the legalities as much as you can. 

I just go back to fall in love with the child. It is essential Not just making it work in that sense, but for you to be willing to do the extras. They cease to be a burden and they become a delight and a joy.  That is how we approached it.  We welcome him because we missed him.   

I experienced hands on when our daughter got pregnant at 18 the communities ideas of that sort of thing. It wasn’t what people perceived as normal. We got asked blatant open questions about things that were none of peoples business when you are exposing yourself to things that aren’t the norm. You need to put yourself out and not care what others have to say. All I used to say about my daughter’s child is any child is welcome in our home and that’s what you have to think fullstop.  It doesn’t matter about the disaster or chaos or anything that is going to happen. There is an element of unconditional love and openness to others in a way that supports them. People should do that with all children to support them to have positive connection. We sound like saps but we are normal people and do stupid things. Even the older ones.  

My father grew up in out of home care in a boys home and then in foster care and his way he managed caring about people and vulnerability was amazing. He was very open to difference. He never used to say well you don’t know what is going on in someone else’s life. He was just very generous with other people and brought other people into our home and he said you accept and be kind.  Our kids have told us where they think we were fools. They have fallen in love too.  They love it and are old enough now to reflect on what having other children here was. They were never put second ever.   

Thankyou for making the time today. 

OTHER RESOURCES CBChange – Dr Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey Dr Bruce Perry