When a child first enters care, it can be scary, overwhelming and a difficult time in their life. With this in mind, bring the child into the decision-making process as much as possible, and ensure they are included (not just informed) regarding the significant change to their lives.
Change generally involves both loss and opportunity. A move to a new care arrangement may create loss for a child, even though it is securing their safety. A key element in supporting a child is to recognise that in negotiating a major transition, they are grieving. If the transition is to prove successful, you must identify the losses sustained by a child in transition and sensitively respond to their individual reactions.
To make transitions less traumatic for children, there is no magic wand, however, the closest thing you have is the power of relationship. Use your relationship with the child, their family and carers to:
- directly support the child
- enable others who the child or young person considers important to assist.
Use The immediate Story tool to help the child understand what changes are happening and why.
Sometimes a child in care undergoes planned or unplanned placement changes. Where possible, minimise the number of changes occurring at the one time.
This will involve careful planning, inclusion of the child, collaboration with parents and carers, advice from community members and thorough assessment of the needs of the child.
Transitions are a core experience for children and young people in care which highlight the need for continuity. Continuity is a concept that conveys a sense of important relationships, attachments, connections and activities that continue over time, despite a change in placement or situation.
If a child must leave their home or change placements ask yourself what can be kept the same (for example, child care centres or school, sports, church, cultural activities or clubs).
How can you keep children in touch with their family and significant people in their cultural community?
What emotional, physical and material needs does the transition create for the child?
What emotional and practical supports does the child need in order to negotiate this transition?
To ease the impact transitions have on children, maintain as much of the child’s life and routine as possible. For example:
- Facilitate time with their parents, siblings, extended family and other important people in their lives.
- Maintain connection to their pets and to places that are important to them.
- Maintain daily activities such as bedtime routines, favourite breakfast cereal, or favourite book or toy.
- Make an effort to find out about and maintain cultural traditions and special rituals important to the child.
- Find out about jobs or roles that are important to the child so these can continue into their next placement (such as tending to the vegetable garden).
- Consider plans so the young person can still attend their school and after-school job.
- Work with the safety and support network to involve them in planning and actions that support the child in their transition as much as possible.
Practical considerations to do with placement availability, geography and financial resources may affect the initial response to major transitions for children. Keep the child at the centre of the process and do whatever you can to meet the child’s needs for safety, belonging and wellbeing.
The Child Information form is a useful tool to support continuity during a transition. Gather as much information as possible from a child’s parent or carer about the child and their day to day routines to support the carer to create familiarity for the child in the new care arrangement.
‘Transitions are often governed by systemic timelines and rarely represent a pace conducive to the emotional wellbeing of children.’ (McIntosh, 1999)
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