What belonging and security feel like for young people in out-of-home care

Image and caption from The Meanings of Permanency.

Image and caption from The Meanings of Permanency.

A University of Sydney research project asked young people with foster care backgrounds: ’what does ’permanency’ mean to you?’ Their answers, in photographs and words, have been collated into a book that the researchers hope will inform government policy.

"If it wasn’t for permanency, I wouldn’t be able to do all those things that I can now, like going to Japan to connect with my culture."

"The ocean represents continuity, peace and flow. It is always there no matter what else is going on in life."

These thoughts, provided by young people with a care background in NSW, represent how they understand ’permanency’ and what helps them feel connected, safe and secure.

They form part of a larger publication, The Meanings of Permanency , which will be officially launched by the NSW Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, Gareth Ward, on Tuesday, 17 November.

The publication is the brainchild of Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright and Dr Susan Collings , who research the experiences of children and young people in out-of-home care.

"The material highlights the strengths and resilience of young people in care, and the things that matter to them," said Associate Professor Conley Wright, Director of the University of Sydney’s Research Centre for Children and Families.

Real stories of permanency

Nine young women and two young men, aged between 16 and 25, participated in the project over two sessions in 2019 and 2020. They came from many parts of NSW, and from different cultural backgrounds, but shared a common experience: they had all been in foster care.

One participant, Bobby Hendry, had lived in 40 homes with 16 different foster families. At 15, she was facing a final move to a group home when her teachers decided to foster her.

Now a photographer and graphic designer, she made The Meanings of Permanency book and a companion digital storybook. Bobby said, "for me, the greatest part was collaborating with other young people and collating their images and thoughts into the book. It was cool to hear my feelings and experiences echoed by other young people. That sense of belonging was really powerful."

Another participant, Emily Backhouse, contributed the ocean, pets and house keys photographs to the publication. She entered the foster care system just before her 10th birthday, and found a permanent carer after her third placement, at age 12.

She explained her representations of ’permanency’: "The ocean always stays, always the same no matter where you go.

"Things like pets create an environment to help you feel safe.

"The photo of my first house keys from when I moved out at 18 is about the house being mine - going from a ’house’ to a ’home’. A lot of young people identify permanency with something being theirs."

Associate Professor Conley Wright and Dr Collings hope this research further informs the NSW government’s Permanency Support Program.

"With approximately 45,000 children and young people in out-of-home care in Australia, finding meaningful ways to support them is a continuing priority," Dr Collings said.

Declaration:  The Department of Communities and Justice also supported the study by allowing the researchers to involve members of its Youth Consult for Change group. Special thanks to the group’s coordinator, Freija Brandie, whose assistance was invaluable.

Hero image credit: The Meanings of Permanency. 

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