17 February 2023

Safe and Connected Youth Program a saving grace for more than 30 Canberra families

| Dione David
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Rear view of a mother and daughter embrace sitting on bed at home

In Sarah’s experience, relationship breakdown between parents and their children can take us by surprise. Photo: File.

Can you bring lollies home? I’ll do jobs.

Receiving this text from her 14-year-old daughter, Sarah* can hardly believe this is now her reality.

“I’ll do jobs” hints at a level of compromise and respect in their communication that she had thought was lost to them.

“We’re so much more connected now,” she marvels.

“We’re able to talk, to negotiate, which is all I wanted. For her to come to the table.

“It’s exponentially different from what it was last year.”

There had been a time when this pair was like any mother and daughter, but at some point, things changed.

Despite her best efforts, Sarah watched as a struggle for control progressively broke down her relationship with her daughter, culminating in school refusal and sometimes, self-harm.

“I was walking on eggshells,” she says.

“At the same time, I needed to be the mum. But by that point I had lost all confidence in my parenting.”

Things became increasingly fraught at home until one day, they reached a fever pitch and the teenager ran away.

The police were involved in her return. In the process, they put through a recommendation to the Conflict Resolution Service (CRS) and Sarah and her daughter entered the CRS-managed Safe and Connected Youth (SACY) Program.

READ ALSO Safe and Connected Youth program to keep children off the streets

A partnership between CRS and Marymead and funded by the ACT Government, the SACY Program is a coordinated service response for young people aged eight to 15 years old who are experiencing family conflict and may be at risk of homelessness.

The program aims to help families rebuild relationships, improve family functioning and enable young people to return or remain safely at home where possible.

“It provides a neutral third-party voice that supports both of us,” Sarah says.

“They create a space where I can work within my boundaries as a parent and she in turn has an advocate.”

Sarah says this kind of relationship breakdown can happen in any family and can catch parents by surprise.

“It doesn’t matter how much of an expert you might think you are, there comes a time in every parent’s life when they realise raising children needs to be a community effort,” she says.

“Community comes in many forms – aunties and uncles, grandparents, other parents or, in this case, a service.”

READ ALSO How Canberra businesses are helping keep youth safe and connected

Sarah says the qualified SACY Program family practitioners provide a degree of separation that can “take the intensity out of inflammatory situations”, facilitating constructive communication.

They do so in a non-judgmental fashion and “meet the young person where they’re at”.

“They’re very good at reading the room and striking a balance between integrating into the environment to put everyone at ease while maintaining professionalism,” she says.

“My daughter is quite physical, so one session the practitioner kicked around a footy as they talked. If they arrived and she was all doom and gloom, they’d go for a drive.”

CRS Senior Manager of Services Cindy Young says this level of adaption by CRS family practitioners isn’t surprising.

“Our mediators have a youth focus and a background working with young people but have also undergone trauma-informed training,” she says.

“Our therapeutic case managers have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field of social work or counselling and psychology and understand how to connect with families from different demographics and backgrounds.

“Both have critical skillsets to provide a holistic approach to the care needs of an individual family.”

CRS Senior Manager of Services Cindy Young sits at a desk with a young person and their parent in the Safe and Connected Youth Program

CRS Senior Manager of Services Cindy Young says family conflict doesn’t discriminate. Photo: Region.

Since its official launch in April last year following a successful pilot, the SACY Program has helped more than 30 families from Canberra and the region.

That includes via their early intervention stream and a more intensive program for young people unable to remain at the family home while dealing with their conflict, who may stay at the therapeutic accommodation known as Ruby’s House.

“The Safe and Connected Youth Program is one of the few services with the resources and practitioners to support young people and families across a wide spectrum of needs,” Cindy says.

“Aside from our accredited mediators and therapeutic case managers, we have youth workers, counsellors and team leaders all in-house, so there’s no need to interrupt continuity of care or have families and young people relive trauma repeatedly having to explain things again when they’re referred out.

“We know conflict doesn’t discriminate, and we’re prepared to deal with diverse needs.”

Sarah says she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the SACY Program to other families struggling with conflict.

“We are doing so well, and I understand there has to be an endpoint to the services, but if I’m being honest, I don’t want them to go!” she laughs.

“As a single parent they’ve become a bit of a safety net for me.

“But they’ve given me back confidence in my parenting, so I will put my big girl pants on and let them help other families.”

Visit the CRS website for more information on the Safe and Connected Youth Program.

*Name changed for anonymity.

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