Innovative Foster Care program continues to expand across Australia

PHOTO: OzChild Treatment Foster Care Oregon

OZCHILD has launched Treatment Foster Care Oregon program (TFCO) in South Australia, just in time for Foster Care Month this September. 

Developed as an alternative to residential care, TFCO is a targeted intervention for children and young people who display complex and extreme emotions.

These behaviours get in the way of healthy relationships with family members or long-term foster carers. 

Chief Executive Officer of OzChild, Dr Lisa Griffiths said the aim of the program is to keep vulnerable youth out of residential care and into family homes. 

“Wherever possible children and young people should live within families, not staffed residential care facilities,” she said. 

“Children in residential care develop a whole range of unhealthy behaviours, most of which are unacceptable in society.” 

Behaviours can include meltdowns, tantrums and expressions of anger. PHOTO: Unsplash/ Keren Fedida

The TFCO program works towards providing consistent support, which is “often what kids are missing at that end of the system [residential care],” said Dr Griffiths.  

A nine to twelve-month placement with a specially trained TFCO foster carer is the first stage of the program. 

During this time, the child or young person is taught social learning and behavioural modification principles. 

“The premise is straightforward, you want to catch the child being good and positively reinforce this to create a desirable experience,” she said. 

“If the negative behaviours are somewhat ignored, and not encouraged, but the positive ones are enforced and rewarded, kids will begin to recognise that behaving in positive ways is desirable.” 

Real-life success stories, like Jane* who entered OzChild’s TFCO program when she was 12 years old, are evidence of the programs capacity to transform.

Due to a history of trauma, which resulted in a lack of trust with adults, Jane struggled following instructions and respecting rules. 

After six years in and out of home care, Jane was placed with TFCO carers for ten months. 

The program taught Jane how to manage her behaviours and afterwards provided a stepping stone to cultivate a positive relationship with her biological mother. 

At the end of the TFCO program, the child or young person is reunited with their family. PHOTO: Unsplash/ Sandra Seitamaa

OzChild’s South Australian and Queensland director, Estelle Paterson, believes the positive outcomes of TFCO are plentiful.  

“Benefits for the young people extend further than just preventing residential care placements,” she said. 

“They experience improved health and wellbeing, positive inclusion in community activities and enhanced pro-longed social behaviours.” 

Ms Paterson is excited for South Australia to reap similar TFCO rewards. 

“Entry into South Australia really cements the incredible, life-changing outcomes being achieved,” she said. 

According to OzChild, there are 45,000 children and young people in out of home care in Australia. PHOTO: Unsplash/ Bianca Berndt

The South Australian State Government has backed the program, committing $3.8 million towards a two-year trial period.

Minister for Child Protection, Rachel Sanderson said the South Australian Government is committed to supporting family-based care. 

“Children and young people in care have often experienced significant trauma, abuse and neglect and finding the right foster care placement for them can be challenging,” she said. 

“The Treatment Foster Care Oregon trial builds on our commitment to support children and young people in care.” 

TFCO carers are trained specialists who work around the clock to keep children and young people out of residential care and back home. 

With 40 years of international evidence up its sleeve, the TFCO program is a story of ongoing success and has been backed by real and measurable outcomes in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.

Every 45 minutes a child enters the Foster Care system in Australia, yet Dr Griffiths is confident that TFCO’s long-term benefits mean “effects of disadvantage are not irreversible.” 

*Name changed to protect privacy

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Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media & Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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