media release

Better supporting children and young people in residential care

Children and young people living in residential care will benefit from a new, trauma-informed, therapeutic model of care – with the aim of better supporting, empowering and engaging our most vulnerable South Australians.

The Marshall Liberal Government is investing more than $600,000 to rollout the “Sanctuary Model” across all Department of Child Protection residential care homes.

The evidence-informed model recognises the past adversity experienced by many children and young people living in residential care and delivers new ways to support them through trauma-informed care.

It will require about 600 staff to attend at least two days of training, with a core team of staff to receive extensive training and development to support their colleagues through the rollout.

Training will be provided by MacKillop Family Services, an organisation that provides care to more than 900 young people in WA, Victoria and NSW. The model is delivering positive results interstate and internationally, with DCP to be fully-certified over the next three years.

The new model will also support staff to deliver care that respects and responds to the unique cultural needs of all Aboriginal children and young people.

Minister for Child Protection Rachel Sanderson said the Sanctuary Model will build on the existing skills and knowledge of residential care staff and better support our most vulnerable children and young people.

“We know that children and young people living in residential care have often experienced significant trauma, abuse and neglect and have lived through much adversity,” said Minister Sanderson.

“Our most vulnerable children and young people often have complex needs, which means they really benefit from consistent support through therapeutic care, and in this instance the Sanctuary Model will deliver that.”

“The Sanctuary Model aligns with our strong commitment to deliver therapeutic care that meets the individual developmental needs of children and young people and is focused on healing trauma.

“I’ve seen first-hand the Sanctuary Model in action interstate and it’s evident children and young people in this model of care generally do better – and better supporting our most vulnerable South Australians is our continued aim.”

DCP Lead Psychiatric Director Dr Prue McEvoy said the Sanctuary Model “encourages staff to work with children to empower them to discover their strengths.”

“We have seen great results in other jurisdictions, with staff feeling better equipped in their roles and both staff and children and young people feeling safer, more secure and better understood, which goes a long way towards addressing trauma-related behaviours,” said Dr McEvoy.

“Training will provide the skills for staff to approach conflict situations, using specific and consistent language and demonstrating a strong understanding of what the child or young person needs to heal and grow.”

MacKillop Family Services Chief Executive Dr Robyn Miller said the Sanctuary Model was helping to build safe communities that help young people to heal from trauma.

“The Sanctuary Model ensures that all staff in an organisation understand how past adversity and trauma can impact the way people behave. This creates more empathy and patience, so that staff can be more effective in the care they provide to vulnerable young people,” said Dr Miller.

“It also provides the young people with a shared language so they can better articulate what supports they need to feel safe.

“We are delighted to be working with the South Australian Government to bring the Sanctuary Model to its residential care program as we know from firsthand experience that it works.”


Case study (provided by MacKillop Family Services)

When Tom* first arrived in residential care, he was violent towards staff and the other residents of the home, and frequently damaged property. Over time, the staff worked with Tom to develop a safety plan, a tool within the Sanctuary Model that helps young people to identify the moments that trigger them to “act out” and develop strategies to manage their emotions more effectively. If Tom felt his behaviour was escalating, one of the strategies was Tom would simply say “I’ve got to go”. This was an indication to staff that he needed to get out of the house and go for a walk or a drive to de-escalate. With the support of staff, Tom became adept at recognising his emotions, and learned to trust staff to help him calm down. After six months, incidents of property damage and violence towards staff had decreased by 90 per cent, and Tom was thriving in the home.

*Name changed to protect privacy