Community Around the Child: A program to reduce the criminalisation of young people in residential out-of-home-care

Date: 29th March 2022 and Mode: Zoom

Organisers: Centre for Evaluation and Research (CERE), Department of Health, Victoria

Community Around the Child (CAC) is a component of the Building Resilience in Children and Young People in Residential Out-of-Home Care (OOHC) Initiative in Inner Eastern Melbourne.  The aim of CAC is to build capacity in the community around the young person, including residential staff, frontline police, and the wider care team. By operating as a ‘parenting community’ the aim is to provide a holistic response to the needs of each young person living in residential OOHC, most particularly when they are engaging in behaviours of concern. A key goal of the initiative is to reduce the criminalisation of young people in residential OOHC.

CAC sought to address the criminalisation of young people in residential care resulting from the prevalence of this group coming in contact with the justice system and experiencing subsequent negative outcomes.  This initiative aimed to strengthen collaboration, trust and common understanding of trauma informed practice across the services that engage and support young people in residential care.

The program brought together both direct and indirect members of the child’s care team – carers within residential units, members of child protection, and Victoria Police, to work together to build their understanding of trauma and how this could be incorporated into their work with the young people. Trauma was considered to include: the trauma a young person faced prior to entering the Out-of-Home-Care system, and the trauma of removal from birth parents. The care team participated in trauma informed training where facilitators supported them to understand their own strengths and limitations and learn new insights and practices together. They also shared ‘a-ha’ moments and use this shared insight to work together to improve the lives of young people in residential care.

Together, those participating in the program developed a practice guide and ‘profile on a page’, aiming to mitigate calls made for police intervention. The ‘Profile on a page’ supports staff to understand behaviours of concern, triggers and regulating strategies that can be implemented. This supported the sustainability of the program even in the face of a casualised workforce with high staff turnover.

Care staff observed a significant improvement in the relationship between the police and the young people following the program. Prior to the program, young people would often be defensive and oppositional to police. After the program, those attitudes changed and young people were no longer thinking ‘oh, what have I done now?’; they began calling local police to ask for assistance for their friends.

Critical elements of CAC:

  • Providing trauma informed care training to police officers, residential care workers, child protection representatives and youth justice services
  • The development of a consistent application of trauma-informed care, outlined in a program guide supporting the formation of a “parenting community”
  • The development of a “profile on a page” for each young person

Key success factors in facilitating the evaluation:

  • Using an ‘upside down’ approach: Bringing together residential home carers, staff from DHHS (now DFFH), and Victoria Police to work together on improving their understanding and ways of working with young people in residential care
  • Improving understanding of deeper issues for collaborative support: Bringing together all involved stakeholders surfaces different perspectives which help in understanding real world problems. This supports collaboration to support possible solutions that achieve a common goal.
  • Openness and flexibility of operations is vital: Enabling a space to be open and flexible allowed all parties to work together in an unstructured and often chaotic environment
  • Building trust was crucial: It was important that everyone involved could provide honest feedback without “throwing each other under the bus”.

Mixed methods approach to evaluation:

  • Presenters discussed how comparisons were made using quantitative data made available to them and was enriched by the qualitative data collected through interviews and focus groups to support the evaluation

Findings, in order of strength:

  1. Improved relations between young people and police
  2. Perceived reduction in the criminalisation of young people
  3. Improved working relationships between police and carers
  4. Increased knowledge and understanding of the impact of the impact of trauma

Limitations and future implications:

  • Quality of available data from VicPol and DJCS
  • Representation of participant views
  • Generalisability to different regions

Additionally, questions were raised and discussed with the audience on the scalability and sustainability of such an approach.


Jane McGillivray is Professor and Head of the School of Psychology at Deakin University. She is a clinical psychologist and the focus of her research is on mental health and social and emotional wellbeing, particularly in marginalised young people with developmental challenges.

Soula Kontomichalos is General Manager Youth Justice East and Children’s Court Youth Diversion South East Metropolitan Region, Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS); previous member of the Youth Parole Board, Victoria; co-winner of the 2018 Robyn Clarke Protecting Children Award; and a higher degree student at Deakin University.

Recording Link:

Watch the seminar here 

Additional resources:

  • Commission for Children and Young People, Out of sight: systemic inquiry into children and young people who are absent or missing from residential care (Melbourne: Commission for Children and Young People, 2021). – read here
  • Centre’s Quick Review of the framework which was first released in Feb 2020 – read here.
  • Guide to Support Children in Residential Care during times of Crisis: Building Resilience in Young People Initiative – Developing the Parenting Community Around the Young Person (Victoria) – read here.
  • Vic Government Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020–2030 to strengthen the state’s approach to diversion and early intervention for children and young people on child protection and Youth Justice orders which recognises the importance of a trauma-informed approach and the need to strengthen connection to culture – read here
  • Victorian Legal Aid’s Research on the need for prevention strategies to reduce criminalisation of young people in OOHC (2016) – ‘Care, not custody’