Trauma responsive approaches to healing

Our Therapeutic Services

Therapeutic Services

The Australian Childhood Foundation established our first Child Trauma Service in Ringwood in 1991 with four staff. We now have over 130 staff in therapeutic roles working in a range of different programs across Australia.

At its core, our therapeutic services have retained the fundamental principle that informed and intentional relationships are the primary means through which children and young people’s abuse and violence related trauma is addressed. Our national therapeutic services support children and young people who live with their family or are living in foster care, kinship care or residential care.

We work alongside and in collaboration with government and non-government agencies from a number of different service sectors including child protection, out of home care, youth justice, family support, homelessness and education. We deliver these services independently and in partnership with other organisations, such as OzChild in Victoria and the ACT, Anglicare in Victoria, Barnados in the ACT, Brophy Youth Services, CatholicCare in the Kimberley, Anglicare and NPY Women’s Council in the Northern Territory and others.

Direct therapeutic support and intervention for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse.

The experience of sexual abuse for children and young people is a deep violation of their bodily and psychological integrity. They are traumatised by the experience. It terrifies them. It destabilises the foundations of their development. It undermines the strengths of their relationships. It can overwhelm them. It establishes traumatic traces that require sensitive and purposeful responses within relationships that are safe and acknowledging.

Our sexual abuse therapeutic programs start with comprehensive assessments of children and young people within the set of important relationships around them. They recognise the strengths and resources in those networks. It also integrates culturally strong approaches to intervention. Using body-based, play, relational and cognitive-behavioural modalities, our ways of working respect the capacities of children and young people to heal in environments which are compassionate, supportive and nurturing.

We provide therapeutic programs in room and through online resources to support children and young people wherever they are and whenever they are in need.

We also provide therapeutic services for children and young people who have experienced the trauma of online sexual exploitation and abuse. This is a specialist area that involves active case management in collaboration with police and law enforcement agencies. It also requires knowledge of interruption strategies that improve safety and eventually support integration of young people’s experience of shame and loss of control.

Direct therapeutic support and intervention with children and young people who have been forced to live with family violence

Children and young people experience family violence deep in their mind and body. They see it. They often hear it. Their bodies react to it as a threat to their survival. They see the aftermath of it. They sense its impact. They watch for it. It forces children and young people to know what can set it off. It shapes who they can trust – who will hurt them and who might protect them. Experiences of family violence define what children and young people can say, when they can say it and to whom. It dictates what they should think. It determines how they should react. Sometimes it makes the truth a secret.

In the face of family violence, children and young people need to experience safety. They need to be comforted and reassured. They need their questions answered and their feelings acknowledged and validated. They need the world to feel more consistent. They need their bodies to relax and feel calmer. They need to experience softness in their relationships. Safety and security spreads in concentric circles around children and young people affected by family violence locating the basis of change in their relationships with their mother and siblings, with their father, their extended family, their community and their friends.

Over the past twenty years, we have been at the forefront of providing services that specifically address the needs of children and young people who have been forced to live with family violence.

We have extended this experience to run state-wide trauma responsive therapeutic services for children and young people affected by family violence in Victoria, Northern Territory and Tasmania. We also run the respected Bringing Up Great Kids – Parenting after Family Violence Program nationally.

Direct therapeutic support and intervention with children and young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour

We first pioneered a program for children between 7 and 11 years of age who engaged in problem sexual behaviour in 1998. It won a National Crime Prevention Award in 2001.

Since then, we have integrated our knowledge of the neurobiology of trauma and emerging evidence about effective intervention for children and young people who engage in harmful sexual behaviour.

We support children and young people engaging in harmful sexual behaviour who live at home and in all forms of alternative care. Risk and safety assessments are cornerstones of our approach.

We run these programs directly in Eastern Metropolitan Melbourne, Shepparton Victoria and across the Northern Territory. We provide secondary consultation and advice to families and professionals nationally.

Trauma Responsive Therapeutic Foster Care Programs

We pioneered therapeutic foster care programs in Australia with the development and implementation of the TrACK Program in partnership with Anglicare Victoria and the Department of Human Services Victoria in 2001. This program has continually run and is one of only a few of its kind to have undertaken longitudinal evaluations highlighting its success and effectiveness.

Children and young people who had experienced many placements and years of threat and deprivation before they entered TrACK were almost always able to achieve stability as a result of TrACK.

Clearly, TrACK can prevent young people from entering residential care, or provide an alternative pathway supporting young people to leave residential care, and to be looked after in family-based care.

We have continued to evolve these approaches and programs nationally. Our therapeutic foster care programs are based on creating a home life for children and young people which promote predictability, routine, consistency and acceptance. Through applying therapeutic parenting approaches, carers focus on the critical aspects of the carer-child relationship, offering love, nurturance, security and belonging. This results in placements which are more stable and are able to remediate the negative consequences of early abuse and neglect on the emotional regulatory systems of children. The placements are also supported with specific care teams of professionals that ensure co-ordination of all activities involving the child, young person and their family as required. We work alongside foster care agencies through the resourcing of additional Therapeutic Specialist roles to undertake trauma based needs assessments and therapeutic planning that support enhanced outcomes and improved placement stability for children and young people in foster care.

Additional examples of these programs include Circle (Victoria), OurSPACE (NSW), OurSPACE (Western Australia), ACT Together Consortium (ACT), Therapeutic Care Support Program (Tasmania) and Therapeutic Foster Care Support (Northern Territory).

Trauma Responsive Therapeutic Kinship Care Programs

We have developed and implemented models of Trauma Responsive Therapeutic Kinship Care Programs in ACT, Northern Territory and Western Australia.

The Woon-yah Ngullah Goorlanggass (Caring for Our Children) Program run through Australian Childhood Foundation in Western Australia is an innovative, culturally responsive, trauma informed model of therapeutic family care support. The program seeks to address a critical gap in support for Aboriginal family carers.

The model integrates trauma-responsive approaches, embedded within a cultural framework, focusing on the strength that can be drawn from connection to culture and uses this as a primary platform upon which support and intervention is based.

The model consists of the following streams of activity:

  • Trauma informed and cultural needs based assessments for all children in the program as the basis for comprehensive planning.
  • Enhanced engagement between the children and their community. It facilitated relationships by enabling a set of family and community relationships that may not have been engaged had it not been for this program and its emphasis on cultural connection of children.
  • Multi-systemic work with Caseworkers, Psychologists and other key stakeholders. The aim of this approach was to ensure a coordinated approach to responding to the needs of the children and young people and their carers/families.
  • Regular home visits to carers, children and young people to provide support and advice to carers regarding their care of the children and young people, using a trauma-informed approach to understand and respond to the needs and behaviours of the children.
  • Positive engagement with the carers to support self-reflection on their own histories of trauma, resilience and strengths. This enabled them to relate their own stories as a way of understanding their current relationships with family members and the children and young people in their care.
  • Support with practical needs including access to financial, housing and other supports, developing routines and responding to trauma-based behaviour in the children and young people in their care.
  • Active advocacy and support of carers with government and other service providers regarding case-planning and decision–making for the children in their care, with a particular focus on ensuring the cultural and familial context was well-understood within these processes.
  • Active support of the schools of many of the children and young people in an effort to support their educational placement and learning outcomes. This was achieved by training and consultation to school personnel in understanding the child’s trauma-based behaviours and needs and the development of support plans that enable meaningful engagement of the child/young person at school.
  • Direct provision or coordination of therapeutic support and counselling for the children/young people as determined via their assessed needs through the program.


We deliver aspects of this model in differentiated forms through OurSPACE NSW and OurSPACE WA programs as well as the Children’s Spirit Program in Broome and Derby (WA).

Trauma Responsive Therapeutic Residential Care Programs

We have worked in partnership with many residential care providers nationally to support the evolution of child and young person centred, trauma responsive, relational forms of residential care. Recognising its expertise, the Foundation has been funded by the NSW Government to establish and run the Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care and support the implementation of an essential element approach to reforming residential care. The CETC mobilises trauma, practice based and cultural knowledge for use by practitioners, managers and care staff to enhance their understanding of ways to more effectively create environments of care that promote young people’s resilience and development.

We also work in partnership with agencies to provide Therapeutic Specialists into the Residential Care environments to resource wholistic support of young people with clear therapeutic intent and trauma response planning. Our partnerships have included: Anglicare VIC, Anglicare NT, Wimmera Uniting Care, NT Government, Brophy Youth and Family Services, Uniting Care West, Uniting Care VIC, Salvation Army TAS, MercyCare WA, Centrecare Djooraminda (WA).

Trauma Responsive Therapeutic Early Years Support Programs

Our Early Childhood Team has established partnerships with a range of providers of early learning services to enact trauma responsive and relational approaches. We have worked in partnership with Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative (GEGAC) in their preschool centre to implement a trauma informed and culturally strong approach to educating and supporting a group of 3-year-old and 4-year old children. This beautiful centre is set near parkland and offers traditional ways for children to learn about their cultural heritage. Our team introduced ways of supporting the GEGAC staff to create opportunities for therapeutic forms of play. Children come to find healing in their relationships with their families who also come into the Centre and are supported. The partnership between GEGAC, our team and the families becomes an important bridge helping children’s development to flourish.

We have partnerships with other early years services providers to support the implementation of these approaches nationally.

Trauma Responsive Youth Justice Program

Our StrongWays Program is part of the Back on Track initiative funded by the Northern Territory Government. We work with young people aged 8-18 years who are involved in or at risk of involvement in the youth justice system. We have teams based in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Nhulunbuy. Our role is to undertake assessments, case management and direct therapeutic support for young people in the program. Our work is underpinned by an approach that understands and integrates the influence of trauma and experiences of past significant disadvantage and the strength offered to children and young people through living strong in culture. We support young people, families and their communities. Our team of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff work in close collaboration with Anglicare NT, Save the Children, Jesuit Social Services and Saltbush together with NT Police, courts, child protection and youth justice teams to support young people in their efforts to not engage in further offending behaviour. This new model developed by Australian Childhood Foundation offers a blueprint for community based trauma responsive intervention with young people in the youth justice system nationally.

Trauma Responsive Educational Needs Assessments

We have developed a comprehensive approach to undertaking Educational Needs Assessments of children and young people who have experienced trauma and/or are at risk of disengaging from formal education.

These assessments are tailored to each school or learning environment and allow teachers, school support staff and Principals to easily understand how best to configure those learning contexts to ensure they are positive environments for hard to reach young people.

We deliver Behaviour Support Plans that are strengths based and trauma responsive which are developed in collaboration with young people themselves. We also support the initial implementation of these plans with Care Teams that are established around the unique needs of each child or young person.

We can undertake these specialist assessments in person or using a telehealth model ensuring young people do not miss out on accessing this important support because of where they live.


We are always open to partnering and working together

We believe that working together achieves better outcomes for vulnerable children, young people, their families and their communities. Partnerships are part of our DNA. If you want to find out more, then fill in the form below and we will get back to you.

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Prosody Blog

Prosody is the pitch and tone of the human voice. It is the very essence of connection.

Our blog, ‘Prosody’ hosts an ongoing forum for the exchange of ideas about protecting children and young people from abuse and exploitation, advocating for their rights, resourcing the adults who are important to them and applying the neuroscience of trauma and healing. It is filled with articles reflecting on research and practice knowledge written by professionals who share in a commitment to the wellbeing and safety of children and young people. We hope you join the conversation too!

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