The ‘Circle Program’ aims to provide a caring environment capable of contributing to healing the traumatic impact of abuse and/or neglect.
The Salvation Army Westcare, the Australian Childhood Foundation and Anglicare Victoria continue to work in partnership to deliver the ‘Circle Program’ in the North and West region of Melbourne.
The group are funded to provide 12 therapeutic placements at any given time, with Westcare providing four of these. In 2011, Westcare’s ‘Circle Program’ operated above targets and provided care to six children with four foster families providing long-term and respite care.
The ‘Circle Program’ was developed in recognition of the increasingly complex needs of children entering care, and the importance of early intervention and placement stability for better outcomes for children.
The relationships that a child develops and maintains while they are in care are critically important and the child’s relationship with their carer/s is central. This relationship, and the care provided, is often the primary vehicle through which healing can occur. The ‘Circle Program’ cares for children and young people between birth to 18 years of age.
'Circle Program' Case Study: Ruby*
Ruby is eight years old and has been with her 'Circle' carer for two years. Ruby's family was already known to Child Protection when she was born. By the age of two, she had been exposed to chronic neglect, significant family violence, parental substance abuse, criminal activity and mental health issues. She had also had multiple primary caregivers. At age three, she was treated for failure to thrive. After experiencing some time in care with her siblinging at the age of nine months, Ruby re-entered the care system at age six and was placed in the 'Circle Program'. She was significantly under-weight and a pediatric assessment found she was the size of a three-year old. Ruby also exhibited poor self-care skills, hoarded food and was extremely hyper vigilant and hyperactive. She was wary of her carer and resisted any close contact or affection, as well as having very limited social skills.
Ruby started pre-school soon after coming to her placement. Despite being a year older than most of her fellow pupils, she had no knowledge of letters, numbers of colours. Ruby was assessed by the school psychologist and regarded as having intellectual disability with an IQ score of 50. Her school put pressure on the carer to transfer Ruby to a special school, however Ruby's carer, supported by the Care Team, disagreed with this view and advocated that she remain and complete the prep year, to which the school reluctantly agreed.
The Care Team has worked hard to support Ruby in her placement. Her carer was able to provide her with a consistent and nurturing environment that met her emotional and developmental needs with strong support from a therapeutic specialist and the foster care worker. Ruby responded very well, tolerating more-and-more closeness with her carer as she developed a strong attachment to her. This has enabled her to be much calmer at home, with a greater capacity to sit still and concentrate, to develop age-appropriate self-care skills and begin to form positive friendships with other children. Ruby has grown considerably and, although still small, is now within the right range for her age.
The most significant outcome is Ruby's progress at school. Within two years she has demonstrated incredible progress - she has gone from not knowning the alphabet to being ahead of the expected literacy levels at the end of grade one. The school have emphatically agreed with her carer and Care Team that Ruby's diagnosis of having a disability was incorrect. Her earlier difficulties were considered as being consequences of her early life-experiences of trauma and neglect rather than 'disability'. The provision of a stable, therapeutic placement, with a Care team that was committed to working together with the school and Child Protection has meant that Ruby's needs were met in such a way that she has experienced successes that otherwise would not have been possible for her.