An examination of individual packages of care for young people under ministerial guardianships

Author: Ryan Scott Ogilvy

Ogilvy, Ryan Scott, 2013 An examination of individual packages of care for young people under ministerial guardianships, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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The research conducted in this thesis was initiated based upon on the need to evaluate and provide feedback about Individual Packages of Care (IPC) for adolescents in alternative care in South Australia. Despite maladaptive behaviour being prevalent in this population of looked after children, little is known about how stakeholder groups understand and manage behaviour within an IPC. Furthermore, whilst the complexity of young people's mental health and behavioural needs necessitates constant interaction between many agencies both private and government, research has sparsely explored how collaboration can be achieved within a professional foster care placement such as an IPC; particularly in relation to supporting young people and their carers. The enduring effects of mental health and behavioural problems that remain unaddressed are significant and include decreased placement stability and poor relationships with others into adulthood. This inspired the direction of this thesis. This research had two major intentions. The first aim, to identify factors preventing effective practice in IPCs using the specific example of stakeholder experiences in supporting adolescents in out-of-home care to resolve the challenges faced with maladaptive behaviour and mental health problems. Second, to identify common accounts of behaviour between social workers and professional carers and to discuss what these accounts could imply in supporting adolescents in an IPC. The findings present a thematic analysis of transcripts obtained during the interviews of 44 participants, representing three cohorts: professional foster carers, social workers and young people who have recently left care and were looked after in an IPC. Each cohort participated in an individual semi-structured interview in which their views and experiences were discussed. The focus of the interviews included experiences of each cohort with improvement in behaviour, improvement in stability of care and overall experiences with interactions between cohorts and with working in an IPC. Thematic analysis of stakeholder experiences of interagency work confirms several barriers that have been reported in other research, indicating the ongoing difficulties experienced in service provision across a broad range of client groups and disciplines. Incidental data provided some interesting additional findings including: 'manipulation' by youth of social worker and carer relationships, presenting functioning problems within the IPC. This resulted in a reduced capacity for professional carers and others to implement behavioural strategies in a timely manner. Participant views about behaviour were analysed to identify consistent views, experiences and points of discrepancies in understanding and responding to maladaptive behaviour and mental health needs. The analysis identified several ways in which behaviour was viewed and highlighted a dominance of poor understanding of young people's behaviour in alternative care. Reports of behaviour occurring due to environmental influence, including abusive environments and placement disruption, appear to be few amongst participants in this research, despite accounts of incidents being consistent with environmental and post-trauma behaviour. Disparities in participant views are discussed, together with common views which assist stakeholders to arrive at an agreed understanding of behaviour. Hutchinson (2003) stresses that individuals do not behave independently of their environment, rather, they exist within their environment. This concept is known as 'Person-in-Environment'. The concept of person-in-environment was found to be viewed by carers and social workers in ways that are not consistent from established theoretical understandings, and the potential negative outcomes for practice in IPC were highlighted. Purposeful behaviour was not readily considered in placements and appeared to be a source of frustration amongst carers trying to understand youth behaviour, where many suggested that behaviour was deliberate and served only to cause disruption in the placement. Finally, the views and experiences of two cohorts (professional carers and former youth) were individually analysed due to the centrality of their involvement with the IPC. Professional carers, it would seem, are frequently required to manage stressful, dangerous and difficult situations with young people. These findings provide the opportunity for those involved in the IPC, and external to the actual placement, to understand the systems and relationship context in which efforts to implement effective care occurs, and the unique challenges faced in professional foster care and more specifically in an IPC. The range of individuals to which this information applies are numerous, including policy makers, supervisors, managers, front line social workers and those who work directly with young people in an IPC. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the practical implications of the findings.

Keywords: foster care,residential care,child protection,policy,social work

Subject: Social Administration thesis, Social Work thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2013
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Dr Damien W. Riggs