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The number of children and young people coming into out-of-home care in Victoria has increased significantly in the past 5 years. But for those who have experienced significant and repeated trauma, traditional out-of-home care (such as foster and residential care) doesn’t always provide the right specialist support.

It is critical that they get the care they need to recover and ultimately thrive. This is why Berry Street runs a new, proven model of care to reimagine the future for our most vulnerable children and young people: the Teaching Family Model (TFM).

An alternative approach to residential care

TFM is evidence-based, with more than 40 years of research evidence. In 2019, accredited TFM agencies supported 51,747 people across 4 countries[1].

TFM practitioners provide children and young people with trauma-informed care in a family-style setting helping them to:

  • learn how to form healthy family relationships
  • improve their social skills
  • identify the main triggers that cause them stress
  • better manage their emotions.

All this means they’re better equipped to return safely to their families or to ongoing stable placements when they can’t live safely back home. It also means they have the chance to reach their full potential.

How we’re rolling out the model

Following our successful TFM pilot in 2017, we have:

  • transitioned 5 Therapeutic Residential Care homes to TFM, supporting up to 20 children and young people at any one time
  • provided 141 staff with intensive training in the model, including 106 TFM practitioners and 7 TFM consultants
  • embedded training modules designed and delivered by Berry Street’s Take Two clinicians for TFM practitioners, focusing on therapeutic principles and trauma-informed care.

TFM staff have amazing skills and knowledge as to what their young people need to thrive and are always there to support and guide them.

Professional working closely with TFM staff

We ultimately plan to transition all Therapeutic Residential Care units to TFM.

Impacts of TFM – what we’ve seen so far

We’ve seen many positive impacts and significant improvements among children and young people in TFM homes so far, including:

  • increased placement stability
  • increased family contact and connection
  • reduced trauma symptoms
  • improved behaviour and school attendance
  • more connections to community and social activity.

How TFM supports children and young people to reach their full potential

Wonderful caring staff. [My child is] the most stable and loved she has been in a long time.

Parent of a child in a TFM home

TFM is a model of care where children and young people learn new behaviours by observing and imitating others. The focus on building their strengths, problem-solving and leadership skills means they can grow their confidence and reach their full potential.

Some key strategies and features of TFM include:

  • Problem solving: using decision-making tools that empower children and young people, increase their self-confidence and encourage them to think about a situation before acting. These strategies can be used in other contexts such as at school, and enables them to assess their options and make better choices.
  • Family meetings: regular family meetings allow children, young people and practitioners to come together and discuss house matters. When children and young people have input into how the home is run, they are more likely to stick to the decisions. Together they set appropriate rules including no interrupting, sticking to the topic and respecting others’ opinions.
  • Responsibilities and manager roles: various leadership or ‘manager’ roles are taken on each week, including:
    • Chore Checker, who makes sure the chores are completed on time
    • Greeter, who greets house visitors and shows them around
    • Chair of the family meetings, who runs the meeting and keeps everything on track.
  • Praise: TFM practitioners use regular praise to acknowledge children and young people’s strengths and areas of progress. This helps give positive reinforcement and recognition when they’re doing well.
  • Relationship development: TFM practitioners take an involved, engaged approach with the children and young people. These strong connections encourage openness about how they’re feeling and what’s going on in their lives, which means we can better support them.

I know they want what’s best for me. You can see it in their faces. They are helping me to get home.

Young person in a TFM home

Children and young people in care deserve a safe and caring home where they are supported to heal the trauma of their childhoods. We are excited about the opportunities that the Teaching Family Model will create for the children and young people we care for.

More information

Thanks to the generosity of our philanthropic partners, we were able to run the successful TFM pilot in 2017. Find out how to support TFM through philanthropy.

Discover a young person’s favourite things about living in a TFM home

Learn more about the Teaching Family Model

[1] Teaching-Family Association: