“I think every child in Out of Home Care should have access to this program”

Barb and Jodi have been Seasons for Growth companions for many years. In their role as Out of Home Care teachers, they support State schools with students living in Out of Home Care. They support the teaching and learning of young people in care, and build the capacity of teachers to respond to challenging behaviours. They also provide transition support for pre-schoolers in the care system. For the school years of a young person’s life, Barb, Jodi, and others like them liaise with the Department of Communities to help young people navigate the school system.

They are mediators and sharers of information, alerting teachers/the schools when a young person might be going through a challenging time. Children and young people living in care experience a lot of change and Barb and Jodi’s role is to support them through this. Their training in Seasons for Growth supports them to deliver this role.

Seasons for Growth offers children and young people a safe space to come together and share their experiences of change and loss. It aims to strengthen the social and emotional wellbeing of children and young people who are dealing with significant life changes by exploring the impact of loss and change on everyday life and learning new ways to respond to these changes.

Jodi decided to retrain as a Seasons for Life Companion when she was teaching at a Catholic School. Two of her own children had accessed the Seasons for Growth program and she saw first-hand the difference it made to them. Jodi finds the program so helpful in her current role and sees the benefit it provides for the young people in her groups.

The benefits and challenges of Seasons for Growth for children and young people in care

Barb talks about the heartbreak of seeing children in care go through so much change, with family breakdown, removal from the home, foster placements that don’t work out, resulting in subsequent moves to another placement and often another school. She recalls a child who moved two weeks before the end of the Seasons for Growth program, who had only just started to talk about her feelings in week five of the small group sessions. She had shut herself down.

“We thought she really needed the program, and then she moved placements and schools,” said Barb.  

Barb works with the Learning and Support teachers in her schools. She finds that extra person important as they usually know the children well from their role in the school and can offer the children comfort if they become distressed.

When children in care move placements there can be many other changes. They may change school and have a new caseworker. Barb and Jodi agree that it’s challenging for young people in care, as they experience multiple losses.  They share that the biggest challenge for participation in the group is finding 6 months in the children’s lives where there hasn’t been a major change, as the sessions are usually run at least 6 months after a major change has been experienced.

Jodi highlighted the layers of change, loss and trauma that children in the care system experience.  Their removal from their parents is a major trauma, and then there is the uncertainty of being placed in the care of someone they may not know. They lose their old, familiar life. They lose their family, their home, neighbourhood, friends, and most often their school. If the care placement breaks down, they will move to another family, and possibly another school. This can occur often in the life of young person in care.

They both agreed how much they love the program for kids in care.

“It doesn’t go straight to questions about why they are here. It’s gentle. Children are never expected to disclose,” said Jodi.

Jodi and Barb find many of the children connect instantly with the program. They like the structure, being in a group, and developing a relationship with the other children.  They like the safe space. They don’t feel they have to give.’ 

Seasons for Growth resources

The child-friendly journals play an important part in the children’s healing. They can be a tool for the children to write down or draw their feelings.  However, Jodi emphasised the importance she places on reassuring the children that the journals are for them only and are not marked. Whilst she holds on to the journals after every Seasons for Growth session, so the group have them for the following week, she lets them know that at the end of the program they can either keep their journal, or she will shred it for them. This helps to build trust. They know it’s not for anyone’s eye. For children in care, so much of what is ’private about their lives is known by so many people. They are interviewed by people they don’t know and are often being asked about personal things. Seasons for Growth ensures they have a confidential, safe environment to explore their feelings.

Not all the children in the groups that Barb and Jodi run are living in out of home care. They both agreed how important it was that the sessions weren’t seen as reserved for children and young people in care - this could make those children feel ostracised. The mix of children allows each child to understand that everyone can experience change and loss. Some children have lost a grandparent, others have lost a puppy, or their parents have separated.

Classroom teachers welcome the support as it allows children, who may have behaviour challenges due to the trauma they have experienced, to receive the time and support they need to talk about their loss and grief, in a safe space. 

The children have a trusted adult who they can talk to, with peers who are also experiencing grief and loss. Together they grow in the understanding that like the seasons, there is always change and growth. 

At a recent group Barb facilitated, a couple of the children shared the highlights of their experience: 

The most important thing I learnt in my group was: ‘To talk to an adult about my feelings’; and I really liked: "that I have a friend in me"

Change happens for all of us, but for children who are in care, change can be traumatic and is often a constant. Giving children and young people in care the skills they need to manage their response to change is critical. Both Jodi and Barb agree that access to Seasons for Growth has been hugely beneficial for the young people in out of home care they have worked with, and would love to see it available for every student in out of home care.