Meeting the challenges of becoming a parent after a childhood experience of being in State care

A child or young person’s concept of family and parental responsibility is largely informed by their own experience of being parented.

Complex lives

The Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee reviewed the deaths of fifteen children whose parents had a history of being in State care. Most of the children who died were infants born prematurely. Many of these children’s siblings were living in State care and some had the added challenge of living with disability.

The stories of the young parents’ lives illustrated the complexity of their experiences of severe and ongoing abuse and neglect throughout their early lives. Service systems did not meet their needs for a sustained and coordinated response to their drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, family violence, challenging and/or suicidal behaviours, and mental health problems. Almost all of the young parents reviewed experienced most of these factors prior to, during and on transition from State care.

The Committee’s review recommended the following systemic changes to improve chances of a healthy pregnancy and positive start to their own child’s life.

Implementing trauma-informed care

Children and young people need effective trauma-informed care from the beginning of their time in State care, and for as long as required thereafter.

Recommended service response

  • Child protection, family support services, education, health and justice service systems should ensure that trauma-informed models of therapeutic care are relevant to the experience of young parents with life-long complex support needs, and are effective in assisting them to live with their experiences of abuse and neglect.

Culturally appropriate service provision

Aboriginal children and young people need services that recognise the complexity of their life experience within a service framework of cultural respect and safety.

Recommended service response

  • Child protection services should continue to ensure their obligations relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle are implemented and evaluated.
  • The child protection and family support services implement evidence-based service models for early intervention that meet the needs of Aboriginal children and families. This should include support for their Aboriginal clients to access Aboriginal family birthing models of care.

Planning for transition out of care

The five years after the end of State care is a time when young people need intensive support to transition to adulthood and independent living.

Recommended service response

  • Transition planning should address the requirements of young people with life-long complex support needs. Planning should include preparation for adulthood, independent living skills, and supporting young people in their role as young parents.
  • The Committee also recommends that care extend beyond the age of 18 years up to 26 years, and include assistance with trauma-related support.

Planning for parenthood

This review suggested support for parenting may be needed during young people’s experience of State care or in the five years after care.

Recommended service response

  • The Department for Child Protection ensure that carers provide young people with specific support regarding pregnancy and parenting at the time they are considering starting a family.

Help with access to antenatal care

Most of the young parents reviewed started their families early in life, either during their time in State care or in the following five years.

Recommended service response

  • The health care system should implement and evaluate effective trauma-informed programs that assertively engage with young people about to become parents, and extend that engagement throughout the early years of their child’s life.

Ensuring long term responses to grief are available

Young parents who have a history of abuse and neglect need intensive support to come to terms with the loss of an infant or child.

Recommended service response

  • If young parents who have a history of State care suffer the loss of a child, the Department for Child Protection should be notified of the death and should assist them to deal with grief and loss by arranging for support for as long as is needed.