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Trauma informed involves relationship based transitions when leaving home and 24/7 interdependence


Jenna Bollinger is a trauma informed psychologist who has worked with young people who have experienced early childhood trauma.

Jenna recently shared some insights in an article with Philiip Mendes from Monash Lens on how to create smoother transitions when young people leave care and the importance of offering extended support beyond 18 or 21.

Jenna helps us understand more about those insights.

00:00 - Start 02:26 - Focus on Accommodation First: studies showing up to 50% of young people leaving care have experienced homelessness over the past 12 months 04:18 - Skill Development: Living skills comes from home learning not skills development programs 13:09 - Recap on Skill Development: Skill development comes from repetition with support and by people they trust and who can explain things to them in ways that they can hear it and make sense of it. They also need someone who can answer questions when they forget or make mistakes. 05:12 - Engagement and Connection with Old: Young people want ongoing connection and love. They want those relationships to continue for life. They want meaningful connection like being picked up and being brought to family dinners or birthdays or significant events. 09:34 - Engagement and Connection with New: Young people need helping building formal and informal networks. They need help with transitions. They need slow, gradual and relational based transitions, similar to school orientation programs. 15:50 - Outcomes: International young people in care do worse than their peers. They have experienced high trauma. There are fundamental differences in whether their families can get it together enough for them to return home or not. 19:06 - Accommodation Stability: There is insufficient housing, insufficient support for paying rent and if you have to leave at 18, what do you do? 20:28 - The markers show a little worse across the board 20:50 - Employment, education and training: Trauma impacts capacity to learn in a structured environment meaning education is more difficult and schools are not equipped to deal with it. Often it may be that young person isn't ready for education until they are older, and then the financial support may not be available. 22:35 - Relationships and Support Networks: Young people need to be independent but more importantly they need to be interdependent. We need to be independent and know how to do the washing or care for a pet, but more importantly, we need to have a relationship with a caring, supportive significant person that we can call for informal support when we need it. We need structured support to teach us that. 25:50 - Outcomes: For every $1 spent on extended care, $2 is saved. Investing time and money beyond 18 or 21 is important! 27:50 - Resources: We need caseworkers to advocate for young peoples entitlements (for example TILA or the Better Futures and Home Stretch Program). And we need to ask young people what they want to do with a pool of money eg driving lessons, university fees or otherwise.


This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings that capture lived experience and best practice evidence based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people.

PCA Families has a zero tolerance of child abuse and follows child safe standards.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land 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 speaking about transitions, such as leaving home or leaving care with Jenna Bollinger.

Jenna Bollinger completed her PhD in the Department of Social Work at Monash University and is a psychologist in private practice. Jenna has worked in out of home care in different capacities and is the Director of Psychology and Clinical Services for Knightlamp, offering trauma informed approaches to high risk behaviour and to young people who have experienced early childhood trauma.

Welcome Jenna

00:58 You recently shared some insights into the ways to create smoother transitions for care leavers in an article you published with Philip Mendes through Monash Lens. While those insights were framed around residential out of home care, I imagine there are many parallels for our families. Can you tell us a little more about the background to your article?

Absolutely. Philip and I put that article and another article together that was examining and forming an argument for why we need to ensure that extended care is here. It has happily been accepted by all the States now but at the time of the article NSW had not jumped on the bandwagon. Essentially extended care has been brought in but it largely excludes residential care. So the articles were forming an argument for why extended care was important and why it needs to include residential care (This is about extending support to 18 to 21 year olds)

2:10 I understand there are some important aspects to consider that offer care leavers the best outcome. Can we talk about those aspects and look at them one by one?

  • 02:26 Accommodation

A no brainer really isn’t it. If we don’t have somewhere safe and secure to live our basic needs cannot be met. For a lot of kids leaving care it’s a really sudden transition. Telling a child the day they turn 18 is the day they have to live independently is a real challenge. Not many 18yos are equipped to work and look after a home and take care of all the tasks associated with living. But if they haven’t got somewhere safe and secure to live then they haven’t even got a shot to do all those things. So making sure that we have accommodation for young people as they transition from care is important.. Some of the studies were saying up to 50% of the young people that have left care over the past 12 months have experienced homelessness. So it is a huge problem for a lot of young people leaving care. So it needs to form one of those integral things that we work towards for young people as they look towards leaving care. It’s a frightening experience. You don’t know what you know until you are out there and experiencing the reality of it.

  • 04:18 Skill development

It’s a really interesting one. We need to be able to do things in order to live independently. We need to be able to work the washing machine. We need to be able to budget money. We need to be able to get ourselves meals. We need to be able to (depending on where you live) drive. We need to be able to do those things. That being said, I was just in a meeting a couple of days ago where one of the things that was raised in a meeting the other day was that living skills programs don’t contribute to outcomes. I wondered if that was related to the check box nature of a lot of living skills programs.

  • 05:12 Engagement and connection with old groups (contact with old carers, inclusion in activities)

In terms of maintaining older connections, that was a really interesting. This was one of the only points of difference in the interviews and the young people raised the importance of ongoing contact with staff. This would also relate to foster and adoptive parents about the need to maintain contact after care. They were talking about the need to maintain contact once they have left care. But what they were talking about was there was a need for that contact to continue, to stay in touch, to call when there was a problem. In an ongoing way the young people wanted to feel a connection to the people that cared for them. For most of us we have those relationshps for life and for those young people those relationships need to continue as well. Maybe its not possible for life but it should certainly be possible for an extended period of time. One of the young people I spoke to and it was quoted in the article from Philip and Katherine, by this young man who was fabulous, was  “We felt like all these blokes they still speak to you today, they have met my kids, they offer hands when you need it, they lend a hand and they are part of my family”. He said he felt loved by the carers. I said you feel like they really cared for you. He said no I felt loved.

07:42 What did those carers do? Someone else I spoke to in the adoption community, the research was saying really connect in and be a real grandparent at the time the adopted child has their own child. They were saying to really checking in. I wonder if there are some similarities there?

The Lens article says the staff need to do that. Go and pick them up and bring them back to family dinners for birthdays and significant events and be supported to do that. Not just off the clock. Once you are for a young person and build a relationship that carries on until the young person doesn’t need you anymore. Just like a child that you birth or adopt. That ongoing contact means those relationships are not superficial or time limited or only when they are being paid. Those relationships continue to exist and be meaningful beyond the period of care. Knowing that you have someone you can call is important. It sounds like real inclusion and activities and events to engage with.

09:34 Engagement and connection with new (supports, peers, other)

One of the things that seems to come about, because of the limits of residential care, is that young people can’t have friends over in the same way that other foster, adopted, biological or other kids do. That limits the capacity to build relationships in safe and healthy ways. For kids to spend time with their friends they are having to abscond from placements. They have to come home instead of having sleepover instead of having normative experiences. What we want to do is help young people build those informal supports as well as formal supports going forward. Once they have left the home, they need support networks available to them.

One of the proposals, particularly for residential care, is to put together something for them like the Staying Close program in the UK. I have my issues with that program but that’s neither here nor there. What it is talking about is that the support workers are familiar to them before they leave care. Once they turn 18 and they move onto their new placement or support, that’s not a whole new set of people that they have never seen before. Those people have built relationships with them since they were 16 or 17, whenever the program develops, that the people are known to them. The people that they will be living with in their accommodation are known to them. Those transitions are slow, gradual and relational. So when we move onto our next home we know who we will be living with. If we think about starting school, often schools run transitional programs. The kids get taken to the schools a couple of times to get to know the teacher and the other kids. Presumably the same happens in Year 7 where they get school tours and meet the teachers and other kids. So when they transition in it is not a complete culture shock. They have someone they can sit with. They know where you have to go on day 1. We want to do the same here. They know who can help them if the plumbing is not working. They know who they will be sharing the kitchen with.  We want to make that more gradual, more relational, so its not the same kind of culture shock. Not moving in cold turkey into shared accommodation.

13:09 Recap on skill development

I think when it comes to skill development we want to ensure that is done relationally. We are not checking boxes on a book to say yes Ive shown you how to put a roast in the oven. That that is done together. Come and help me do the washing. Here is how to not get the colours to run if you don’t separate them.. Here is how you change the filter in the dryer or washing machine. Through relationships we learn how to do those things. We do them with the people that we feel safe and connected to and we do them repetitively. Its part of life. Part of growing up. Part of growing up and getting older and having chores. I will show you again and next time you may be able to do it by yourself. As we are building skills we are doing it together. Does doing a course work? Probably to a degree. When you go off and do a course it may work, but how much do you take in when you listen to someone tell you one time. How much do you take in just one time. What we need is to learn how to drive safely with people that we trust. People that explain it to us in ways that we can hear it and that make sense to us over and over again. When you don’t remember how many minutes to hard boil or soft boil an egg you need someone you can call and say hey I’ve forgotten how many minutes for a boiled egg.

15:50 What are the likely outcomes for young people leaving care?

Not great is the take away message. Internationally kids who leave care do worse in general.  There are a million reasons for that. It would be virtually impossible to nut out what is different. But children in care have experienced huge trauma. They are at risk of significant harm if we do not intervene. Those people leaving care are doing so because their families could not get it together. So there are fundamental differences between families that can get it together and where they return home. We start off with different pre care experiences. For some young people, kids go exactly as they should. They are part of that family and they go home to Mum and Dad whenever they need to. That is not always the case. When we look at residential care we are looking at a different cohort again. Youth in residential care have higher rates of drug and alcohol use. At baseline they are not the same group. When we look at the leaving care literature, it looks like they do a little worse, but its also a different baseline. But what we know is that young people leaving care do worse than they peers.

  • 19:06 Accommodation stability: About 50% will experience homelessness in the first few years after they have left care. So we know that we are not doing a great job. There is insufficient housing. There is insufficient support for housing. Everyone knows how expensive housing is and how difficult it is to find a rental. How are you paying that? Who is paying that? How do you find that? If you are home with Mum and Dad you can stay until you find a rental, but if you kick them out at 18, what do they do. So we need more supported funded accommodation.
  • 20:28 Wellbeing: They do a little worse across the board in those markers as well, although not too differently over time.
  • 20:50 Employment, education and training: The impact of trauma impacts on capacity to learn in a structured environment. Education is generally more difficult. Schools are not always equipped to manage trauma. We need to create more trauma informed schooling and support. Most financial support is gone by 25, but it might take them until 25 before they engage with education. How do they pay for that then. Without any education, the minimum wage is around $700pw so how do they pay for $500pw for housing. Schools will continue to get a bit better at it. We need to create more.
  • 22:35 Relationships and support networks and Independent living: We need to be independent but what we need more than that is to be interdependent. We need to cook dinner, keep on top of the washing, if we have pets they are well looked after and all that sort of business. But what we need most of all is to do that with someone that cares for us and that we feel safe to call. If we have made a mistake we need someone to call and say I made a mistake I don’t know what to do. Or call and say I forgot to put petrol in the care and now I cant get to work can you help me? We need people to call to help us with those things. So we need to build up support networks available to us. We need young people to have informal and formal support. We need people to call. Its their job and they will be there, so we don’t have to wait for someone tomorrow in business hours. We also need someone to call when we hear a funny noise and we are scared. We need someone to call at 10pm at night and say I don’t feel good right now can we chat a little bit. The formal and informal supports are so important and that connection with old and new. The fact is that we feel safe with and grown up with aren’t done with us because we are 18 or 21. We continue to matter and we matter not just when we are being paid. And we need a structured support to teach us

25:50 Do those outcomes improve significantly with the right supports in place?

It looks like yes. International research that is all fairly new does appear to show benefits for extended care and ongoing support. For every dollar spent we make $2 in savings. Which is one of the arguments we have made in the articles, that while residential care is hugely expensive, but if we invest in ensuring our children do well we will save money later in the criminal justice system, in the mental health systems, and if they don’t need any of those support services then that’s better. The cost is not a good enough reason not to do. So putting the right supports in place is important. When we don’t know who we will live with or who we can call or what is going to happen tomorrow, how are we going to feel good? It takes time and we need good relationships to do that.

27:50 Are there other resources or factors families could be referred to?

We need caseworkers to let us know what young people are entitled to like the TILA allowance. Whatever it is we need our caseworks to advocate for our young people’s entitlements.  Some services can pay for therapy or driving lessons, so we need to make sure young people are getting them.

We need caseworkers to advocate for young people. But also what is fundamentally important is that we need to talk to other young people and find out what they want and let them have agency. When they are 15, 16, 17 they know what they want from their life. It shouldn’t be the grownup saying this is what you are going to have. It should involve asking what sort of life do you want to live. Not many can voice it but if they can we can say we have this pool of money, and we can put it to driving lessons, university or whatever. How do you think this can be best spent for your life? And taking that into account.



//">Article on Smoother transitions when leaving care by Jenna Bollinger and Philip Mendes


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