Fostering Lifelong Connections is an action research project undertaken by the Research Centre for Children and Families (RCCF) which focuses on caseworker practices to promote positive relationships between children’s carers and families when they are in permanent care. Understanding the perspectives and needs of these children and how they can be supported to feel safe in relationships after experiencing trauma is key.
“Children in out-of-home care rely on caseworkers and carers to sustain their relationships with family members, so they can keep their connections to their cultures and important people in their lives.” Said Professor Amy Conley Wright, lead Chief Investigator of the project.
These relationship dynamics can be complex, and this project has developed strategies for caseworkers to strengthen these relationships. An important part of the project has been developing resources for children, families and professionals.
Given their lived experience, Billy Black and Bobby Hendry are engaged as co-researchers by the RCCF as ‘Experts-by-Experience’. Billy Black is an artist who grew up in care, and since leaving the system has been involved in research programs, training carers and caseworkers, and represents the children's voice on a carer authorisation panel. Bobby Hendry is a graphic designer and photographer with a lived experience in the out-of-home-care system, who is passionate about using her creative skills and story to incite progress and change in out-of-home care.
As part of this action research project, Billy Black wrote and illustrated Roar, and Bobby Hendry developed a guide, My Family Time is Mine. These much-needed books fill a gap in terms of resources that are relatable to children and speak to the experience of children in care.
Roar is an illustrated storybook for young children in out-of-home care that explores the complicated feelings that arise for children during contact visits with their family members. It uses animals to relay the story – a lion cub who has big emotions when spending time with their father is guided by a gorilla (foster carer) and bear (caseworker) to help understand these emotions and find ways to regulate and enjoy the time they have together.
Billy Black said: “My inspiration for this story is in part a great dearth of resources to support young kids in care. I know one of the hardest barriers to overcome is learning to cope with stressful situations where you have zero power. Roar teaches children that it’s normal to have big feelings, and big reactions to big feelings.”
My Family Time is Mine is a guide full of practical tips for young people in out-of-home care that explores their rights to be heard in matters that are important, including around time spent with their families. Bobby Hendry has developed this guide with an experienced understanding of a child’s emotions and how trauma affects the brain, and how they can learn to take charge of their reactions.
Bobby Hendry said: “I created My Family Time is Mine using my own experience of out-of-home care to empower young people with a care experience with knowledge about their feelings, how to communicate, their rights and more. My hope is that this book helps young people in care feel a little less alone and a lot more in control in a childhood that I know all too well can feel lonely and helpless.”
Fostering Lifelong Connections is in its third and final year and involves action research with caseworkers from seven NGOs and NSW Department of Communities and Justice. Billy and Bobby will be giving a presentation on working with traumatised children at the International Childhood Trauma Conference, organised by the Australian Childhood Foundation, 3 August 2022.
Both books are available for purchase through University of Sydney press:
Roar by Billy Black available here
My Family Time is Mine by Bobby Hendry available here
Declaration: The Research Centre for Children and Families receives funding from the NSW Government through the Department of Communities and Justice.