Kids in care don't need fixing, but the systems do

Written by Missi Joyce, Youth Council Member

'I am more than my experience. It’s time for our systems to catch up.'

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At the end of year 12, a social worker I met while living in care let me know about an inquiry looking at the education of children and young people like me. The Let us learn inquiry, run by the Commission for Children and Young People, was gathering insights to see how education could be improved for children and young people living in state care, as I had done for many years.

A phone conversation about the inquiry soon followed, leading me to become a member of the Commission’s Youth Council. Through the Council, I was given massive opportunities to speak with other young people, staff and Commissioners, drawing on my experiences to help shape recommendations and call for change to what I considered a broken system.

Favourite recommendations of mine, formulated in our group, was to ‘advocate for trauma-informed teaching practices to be incorporated into teacher training’ and ‘adopt a whole school approach to trauma’.

These really hit close to home when it came to the lack of understanding around trauma in education settings for children and young people in state care.

I was often the ‘troubled kid’... the ‘she’s too much’ kid. I engaged in disruptive and destructive behaviour patterns frequently and it wasn’t until I got to year 11 and started to learn about impacts of trauma on the brain, that I finally understood that part of myself.

Not only did I find closure on these parts of myself that were so unclear for so long, but I also developed an understanding of perhaps why my teachers responded the way they did to my behaviour, with the common solution being exclusion or suspensions – expecting a child to ‘go home’ for a few days to give yourself a break, when not all kids necessarily have a home to go back to.

Reflecting now from a completely different position in life, I find it much easier to see the perspectives and have compassion for the reactions of the teachers that were a part of my life then. It’s not ‘normal’ as such, to witness a child exhibit such behaviour, let alone be fully prepared on how to react.

Likewise, it becomes an emotionally draining process on all parties – you’ve got a young person feeling a higher sense of rejection than they already do, and teachers feeling hopeless in their approach. This doesn’t happen because teachers don’t care, or because young people in care are ‘too much’. It happens because the opportunities to learn about the impacts of trauma, and help these kids learn life instead of learning how to run, don’t yet exist.

Another recommendation that I as part of the Youth Council helped to shape was to 'ensure equitable financial support for kinship and foster carers'.

Money is often a barrier when it comes to caring adequately for a child, especially one that isn’t your own. Young people in care, especially in my experience, often hold a lot of emotional baggage, trauma, and other prolonged physical or mental health issues that impact massively on their education.

Many of these issues need to be addressed professionally. However, they cost money that too many carers struggle to pull from their pockets.

Most carers struggle financially as is, and in a world like today where money is scarce, it makes it very difficult to support the growth, development, and healing of a child, which only takes a negative toll on their education.

A family that is restricted financially and left without adequate support and resources will not be able to climb the same ladder as those around them, and this is especially the case for children in state care. But I believe with this recommendation and with the many others I worked on for the Let us learn inquiry, change is possible.

More information

Read more about the Let us learn inquiry.