November 13, 2020

Empowering Carers with SPACE

Here, Colin Hayes and Shaun Chandran share how the newly funded OurSPACE WA Program has been able to support Kinship Carer Leslie, empowering her to get the outcomes she and her grandchildren were looking for.

This blog article was written by Colin Hayes, Therapeutic Specialist and Shaun Chandran, Manager, Therapeutic Services, Western Australia.

In October 2020, the Australian Childhood Foundation launched OurSPACE WA: a new state-wide therapeutic consultation and support service in Western Australia for Department of Communities foster and family carers, where the placement may be under stress and/or at risk of breaking down. The program offers culturally responsive and trauma-informed counselling and support; to empower carers to understand and meet the needs of the children in their care and to reduce carer stress.

ourSPACE WA SPACE diagramOurSPACE WA seeks to support carers to provide Safe, Predictable, Adaptive, Connected and Empowered placements.

The program can provide up to 8 sessions of telephone or videocall counselling and support for foster and family carers, and operates within a care team approach to promote collaboration and consistency between other professionals, education providers and the care setting.

Caring for children in foster and family care can be challenging and often support services are focused on the individual needs of children, rather than the needs of foster and family carers. COVID-19 has added a range of additional worries, uncertainty and pressures to the lives of children and their carers that may be adding additional challenges to their capacity to care for children.

The case study below illustrates some of the challenges that carers might experience and the scope of the support that OurSPACE WA can provide to meet the needs of carers, children and the broader system. All names and information have been de-identified.

Dylan is an 8-year-old male who lives in family care with his grandmother Lesley and his 6-year-old sister Gemma. Lesley was referred to OurSPACE WA by her case manager from the Department of Communities. Lesley was reluctant to engage with OurSPACE WA because she’d had some negative experiences with other services, and was worried she’d be viewed as incapable if she talked to workers about her struggles with the children. With some encouragement from her case manager, Lesley agreed to speak with a counsellor from OurSPACE WA. When the service was explained to Lesley and her questions were answered, she felt more comfortable to try the service. The counsellor reassured Lesley that her challenges as a carer were common and that seeking support reflected positively on her because it indicated that she wanted to do what was in the best interests of the children.

Empowering Carers OurSPACE WA BI2It took Lesley a few sessions to start to trust her counsellor. She began to talk openly about her struggles with the children, particularly Dylan. Lesley found Dylan’s high energy, behaviour and up and down moods difficult to deal with. Dylan had sleep problems as well and Lesley felt like she never got a break. Lesley opened up about her thoughts and feelings in relation to caring for Dylan; she was overwhelmed by his high energy, struggled with negative feelings towards Dylan and felt like she was failing because nothing she did seemed to work. Lesley told her counsellor that she didn’t think Dylan was getting the support he needed and that she didn’t feel like she could approach her case manager or the school about this; she didn’t want to tell professionals what to do and she didn’t really know what Dylan needed. Lesley was stressed but she didn’t want others to think that she couldn’t cope with caring for the children.

Lesley’s counsellor helped her to explore how Dylan was presenting and how the past trauma he had experienced was still affecting him now. Lesley started to make some connections between Dylan’s behaviour and his past; much of Dylan’s behaviour could be understood as a way that he communicated and coped when he felt unsafe and stressed. Lesley began to understand that responding to the fear and pain he was experiencing and his underlying needs, rather than just the behaviour, helped to reduce some of his challenging behaviour and made their connection stronger.

With the support of the counsellor, Lesley was also able to understand how Dylan’s arousal level and stress response are elevated due to growing up in an unsafe environment and how this affected his mood, energy levels, emotions and behaviours. Lesley was empowered to try some different strategies to channel Dylan’s energy constructively and to help Dylan to regulate and calm down. Lesley developed a plan with her counsellor to help support Dylan’s sleeping difficulties. Lesley and her counsellor continued to develop her understanding of Dylan’s needs and to reflect on and adapt her responses to the challenges. The counsellor incorporated some psychoeducation around trauma and the effect this has on children, their development and relationships; this helped Lesley to have empathy for Dylan, rather than taking his behaviour personally or seeing everything he did as deliberate. Lesley began to understand how her own ability to stay regulated also assisted Dylan to learn this skill, and this became easier as Lesley was supported by the counsellor around her own emotions and stress. Lesley felt heard and understood and much more confident in her role as carer. 

The counsellor attended care team meetings and spoke with the case manager, school and other professionals involved. The counsellor helped Lesley to articulate her needs and the supports she wanted to be considered for Dylan. The counsellor provided consultation and advocacy for Dylan within the school, to support a trauma-informed approach to manage his emotions and behaviour and assist with his learning. Lesley felt like everyone was working together, that Dylan was getting the support he needed, that there were less challenges and that she had learnt how to care for Dylan in a way that was helping him. 

OurSPACE WA is a carer focused and child-centred service that offers counselling to carers, support to understand and respond to children’s therapeutic needs, consultation to others involved and advocacy.

OurSPACE WA accepts referrals from foster and family carers and the Department of Communities via 1300 381 581 or ourspacewa@childhood.org.au (Monday – Friday).

Download the information sheet for Carers and Professionals here.