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For children who have experienced significant and repeated trauma, traditional out-of-home care doesn’t always work. Understandably, they can struggle to cope and this can play out in challenging behaviours. It can mean they end up being shifted between homes. That’s where the Teaching Family Model steps in.

The Teaching Family Model (TFM) offers a new, innovative way of caring for children in out-of-home care. The model supports children and young people in a family-style setting, where practitioners with specialised training help children learn how to form healthy family relationships. It aims to improve young people’s social, problem solving and interpersonal skills by helping them identify the main triggers that cause them stress and helps them manage their emotions.

“An important part of the model is how family meetings and leadership roles are used in the home to allow young people to learn.”

Peter and Nicole Teaching Family Model practitioners

Peter* and Nicole* are dedicated carers who have become Teaching Family Model practitioners. They were caring for brothers, Sam* (age 9) and Simon* (age 10), for several months before introducing TFM. Ruby* (age 7), an unrelated child, joined the family soon after.

The children had previously displayed a range of challenging behaviours. When Sam first entered the home, for example, he often ran away from his carers and school. TFM helps motivate children to change challenging behaviours through using basic behaviour explanations and giving children responsibilities within the family. It also teaches carers to focus on the most difficult issue at a time for a child, giving them a simpler approach to difficult problems.

The children have now picked up the new skills. Once, when Ruby was playing with Sam and started to get argumentative, Sam explained, “When you talk to me like that I don’t want to play with you. Why don’t you try asking nicely?”. Another time, after Ruby displayed some difficult behaviour, a carer checked to see how Simon was feeling. Simon reflected that Ruby was in their home because she needed to learn new behaviours, adding, “I was like that when I first came too.”

It is Simon’s job to check if everyone in the house has done their chores and he has learned how to lead with tact and empathy. Sam chairs the family meetings, learning how to lead discussions and resolve conflict. In one meeting, the children had to decide if they would go without pocket money and take-away food nights so that they could go to Luna Park. They had to negotiate and advocate for their own ideas, but also accept the final decision.

Sam has also been able to use the TFM skills in school. The carers spoke with Sam’s teacher about the skills he was learning at home, such as ‘staying calm’, ‘following instructions’ and ‘accepting no’. When the teacher started to use this same language, Sam could see how these skills could be used in different contexts, and his classroom engagement improved. All 3 children have shown huge improvements.

Berry Street began implementing this innovative model with some children in 2017. In 2018, we were proud to support 2 of our carers to become Australia’s first certified TFM practitioners.

We aim to be fully accredited with support from New Zealand-based organisation, Youth Horizons | Kia Puāwai, in 2021.

When children like Simon, Sam and Ruby have such positive outcomes within a new model, we are driven to advocate strongly for this new way of caring.

Read more about the Teaching Family Model
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*Name has been changed in the interest of privacy. The models and volunteers pictured are not connected to the case study.