Mental health awareness in Australian foster care centres remains a vital issue for Australian children. Among other things: communities are barely aware of the mental health issues facing children in foster care centres; inadequate specialist training dispatched in foster care centres to promote psychosocial assessment and timely intervention; poor management of placement centres; and poor education background among the foster care children. Accordingly, this report pointed out significant recommendations to address these issues, which either trigger or aggravate mental health issues the children experience. The recommendations can be narrowed down into three main actions: (1) awareness campaign and capacity building; (2) psychotherapy services; and (3) education. To apply this program, the Critical Reflection Model is used to assess the effectiveness of this action research project.
Mental health threatens the lives of children and young people in Australia as their number of enrolment in foster care increases. Studies show an increase of seventeen percent in 2016, when compared to 2012, and more precisely, 8.6 per 1000 children seek out of home care support (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017). As these children adapt to their new homes, they face significant behavioural and mental challenges that hinder their integration into their new families. At first, the children are joyful for their temporary shelter, but some have to spend years with different foster families prior to finding a permanent place (Lockwood, Friedman & Christian, 2015).
The first action will be to establish an awareness campaign and promote capacity building among foster care staff, parents, and communities. Advocating for the promotion of mental health awareness, enables communities and individuals to adapt to the strategies, enhancing mental health wellbeing, and is one of the key areas of practice by social workers (Zlotnick, Tam & Zerger, 2012). Thus, awareness creation can be addressed from an advocacy perspective, in which the target group are encouraged to champion for mental wellbeing of children under foster care services. Social workers, working with foster care staff/parents and communities will be equipped run campaigns and training programs targeting key stakeholders to address the children’s mental health and behavioural issues.
The second action will entail advocating for and providing early psychotherapy services for children being admitted into foster care as well as those already admitted to the foster care services. This must first commence by adequate assessment and screening to collect information from biological parents, foster parent, vulnerable children using the Children’s Global Assessment Scale (CGAS), a useful tool to design case management and treatment options for children in foster care (Conradi et al., 2011). Through this tool, it is possible to maintain the highest level of objectivity throughout the program, and thus, eliminate any instances of assessor biasness.
The third action will entail advocating for and educating foster care children while in foster care. Apparently, children who have faced maltreatment, abusive parenting, and living in poor socio-economic status have been associated with poor school performances in the early school life (Pears, Kim, Buchanan, & Fisher, 2015). As such, the project will have to involve other stakeholders, such as schools, religious centres, and families, as well as government institutions, such as the Ministry of Education to develop appropriate curriculum that factors in mental health in a constructive and meaningful way.
These strategies are considered universal and proper in promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing. Through awareness, Odar, Canter & Roberts (2013) note that social and psychological support is offered to vulnerable children, parents, caregivers, and helping them to identify any variation from normal behavioural pattern, which will enable to act early and effectively to prevent long term damage in children. In light of education, Pears et al. (2015), point that children who gain academic achievements and complete higher education are likely to register economic stability, improved living standard and security in life can be accomplished.
Thus, the actions proposed for this project are effective.
The subject of children’s mental health is something I hold dearly. Recently, my childhood friend was hospitalised for six months for PTSD having lost his father in a tragic road accident, where he was the only survivor without even a single physical scratch. The issue affected many people within his circle. His single parent mother had to sell her house, the only asset she had to settle the psychiatric hospital bills. It also affected his elder sister’s education who dropped out of campus due to lack of school fees. Personally, I was depressed. At the macro level, his school realised a shortage of students when my friend and his sister discontinued their schooling for of lack of school fees. This affects the school retention rates for Australia’s education system. Thus, I selected interventions that would address young people’s mental health, especially those in foster care.
The first intervention to address the mental health among foster care children is awareness campaign and capacity building. I intend to make this personal and up close through leadership perspective. Accordingly, the project will use involve a team of professionals and ToTs from different fields. To make the workshops, conferences, and trainings personal, the team of professionals and ToTs will be people who have directly experienced foster care as foster care children, parents, activists, policymakers, administrators, and so on. That way, they will be able to share the most difficult and/or untouchable topics by providing real life examples, testimonies, and stories of the impact of poor mental health and behaviour modification interventions within the foster care system. I believe that this approach will influence foster care stakeholders to prioritise the mental health of foster care children.
The second intervention to address the mental health issue among foster care children is delivering continuous therapy and counselling services for the children, as well as the staff and parents taking care of those children. This strategy will take both leadership and advocacy perspectives to promote the implementation of psychotherapy and motivate the key stakeholders to attend those services. According to Kim et al. (2012) people who attend therapy appreciate and thus recommend therapy for other people. We intend to leverage Kim et al. (2012) findings by encouraging foster care parents and staff to attend therapy. From that perspective, we believe that while these groups address their psychosocial issues with a therapist, they will encourage children under their care to enrol for therapy sessions.
The third action involves education for the foster care children. Aforementioned, children who have faced maltreatment, abusive parenting, and living in poor socio-economic status have been associated with poor school performances in the early school life (Pears, Kim, Buchanan, & Fisher, 2015). As such, I intend for the project to enrol foster care children in schools, and collaborate with those schools to implement lessons that enlighten both foster and non-foster care children about the plights of foster care children.
I believe that capacity building will influence foster care stakeholders to prioritise the mental health of foster care children considering that they will be sharing from their individual experiences and testimonies. In a study conducted by Kim et al. (2012), positive behavioural change – quitting smoking – was significantly associated with narratives, testimonials, and personal cases of nicotine addicts, thereby informing our choice of stakeholders with experience. I intend to leverage Kim et al. (2012) findings by encouraging foster care parents and staff to attend therapy. From that perspective, we believe that while these groups address their psychosocial issues with a therapist, they will encourage children under their care to enrol for therapy sessions. I believe that as schools prioritize foster care children’s mental health, schools will appreciate that foster care children are humans and need institutional protection from discrimination and maltreatment. Lawrence et al. (2006), demonstrate that the need to address mental health issues in the US influenced the establishment of counselling services in American schools. Thus, the actions proposed for this project are effective.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was enforced in 2008 (World Health Organization, 2018). According to the World Health Organization (2018), ‘the convention sets out a wide range of rights including, among others, civil and political rights, the right to live in the community, participation and inclusion, education, health, employment and social protection.’ Mental health legislation, policies, and programs are considered among the effective ways of preventing discrimination and violation of human rights to promote the mental autonomy of people with mental disabilities. As such, this action research project was designed in light of the convention that strives to promote mental health as a human right. The three main areas of focus aligned with the convention include participation and inclusion, health, and education.
The first plan of action is creating awareness and capacity building through advocacy and leadership. This will involve enabling individuals and institutions to acquire, enhance, and retain their knowledge, skills, equipment, tools, and other resources to conduct their work competently and with great enthusiasm and understanding. According to the United Nations Development Program, community capacity building is a long-term process that involves trainings, learning, fundraising, and other socioeconomic activities to promote social and economic wellbeing (Smillie, 2001). In that regard, the project strategies will involve training, workshops and conferences to equip foster care stakeholders with the appropriate knowledge, skills, and tools to address mental health and behaviour issues for foster care children. More so, fundraising will ensure the project has the money to acquire resources to achieve the project goals.
The second action plan involves providing psychotherapy for the foster care staff and parents, and more so, the foster care children. This multidimensional approach to mental health and behaviour change among foster care children and families is espoused by Fisher & Gilliam (2012). According to Fisher & Gilliam (2012), severe mental health and behavioural issues are costly to manage, and the costs can be reduced via a multidimensional treatment foster care. More so, the assessment of foster care children will be conducted using the Children’s Global Assessment Scale (CGAS) to assess and screen information from biological parents, foster parent, vulnerable children.
The third plan of action is education. Vinnerljung, Sallnas & Berlin (2017), maintain that good attachment and stress reducing caretaker relationship for preschool aged foster care children proved to be effective in maintaining stability in placement homes. Individualised learning environment provided by school professionals who are trained to address the challenges faced by out of home care children is highly effective (“Systems of mental”, 2012). Moreover, Pears et al. (2015), noted that when children gain academic achievements and complete higher education, economic stability, improved living standard and security in life is accomplished.
I believe this approach will promote positive outcomes in light of foster care children’s mental health and behaviour. Accordingly, it will reinforce both normative and prosocial behaviour, enable early identification and intervention of mental health and behaviour issues, promote close supervision of foster care children, limit the instances of violent and nonviolent actions of parents and children, encourage positive academic and personal habits, enhance parenting skills, promote bonding, assist in conflict resolution, and develop adult role models. Thus, I am confident that these theory-oriented strategies are effective in achieving the desired project goals.
Having examined the norms, emotive, and theoretical aspects of my action plans, it would be appropriate to think outside these dominant frameworks and ideas. Foster care stakeholders would be involved in addressing mental health and behavioural issues is using modern technology and involving the community in the planning process.
Thus, the first action plan entails creating awareness and capacity building through advocacy and leadership. To be unique from the dominant frameworks and ideas, the project will involve the target communities in a pre-project meeting to add into the ‘think otherwise’. By involving the local leaders, villagers, and stakeholders in the communities, Kim et al. (2012), noted that health communication targeting behaviour and mental health have been successful. These leaders play a role in enlightening their communities about mental health and advocating for its adoption in local foster care institutions and programs.
The second plan of action is providing psychotherapy through advocacy and leadership. Aforementioned, foster care staff and parents will be encouraged to attend therapy sessions, and in turn motivate foster care children to attend therapy and promote screening for the children at the time of admission. As such, besides using the Children’s Global Assessment Scale (CGAS), I intend to develop an assessment mobile phone app and computer program to collect significant biodata, which will in turn assist foster care staff, parents, institutions, and donors to track the mental health and behavioral progress of children under their care.
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