For children who have experienced significant and repeated trauma, traditional out-of-home care (such as foster and residential care) doesn’t always provide the right support. Berry Street is implementing a new, proven model of care to reimagine the future for our most vulnerable children: the Teaching Family Model (TFM).
TFM is an evidence-based, alternative approach to traditional residential care. It offers an innovative way of caring for children and young people in a family-style setting. TFM practitioners provide children with trauma-informed care, help them learn important interpersonal and living skills, and how to better manage their emotions.
In the words of Elijah*,13, who has been living in a Teaching Family Model house for about a year, “TFM is about:
- learning skills to help us
- having family meetings to decide things about the house
- doing different leader roles in the house.”
Elijah has begun to really settle in. Here are three of his favourite things about living in a Teaching Family Model home.
1. Calming spaces for reflection and focus: his bedroom and sensory room
It’s important that children and young people in care have their own bedroom that reflects their individuality. Creating personalised spaces also helps give the TFM house a ‘family-like’ feel.
With a lime green feature wall, new floating shelves and drawings on the walls, Elijah’s bedroom is as unique as he is! Elijah made the design decisions, giving him a sense of pride in his own space:
“I love my room because it feels like me and all my things are organised. I like to go in there to be by myself.”
There is also a new sensory room in the home (pictured above): a therapeutic space that the young people can use to calm and focus themselves. Everyone in the house contributed to its design and selected sensory items, such as cushions, fluffy toys, fidget toys and blocks.
Elijah uses the room to practice the ‘15 second rule’: when he feels annoyed or upset at another house member, he distances himself for 15 seconds rather than reacting immediately. In these moments, the sensory room helps him calm down and reflect on his emotions.
2. A chance to be a leader: chairing the family meetings
A strategy of TFM is having regular family meetings to come together and discuss house matters. When the young people have input into how the home is run, they are more likely to stick to the decisions.
Together the young people set appropriate rules for the meeting to be a safe, respectful forum for everyone. Rules include no interrupting, sticking to the topic and respecting others’ opinions. The meetings help grow problem solving, listening and decision-making skills.
The young people take on various leadership or ‘Manager’ roles each week, including:
- Chore Checker (who makes sure the chores are completed on time)
- Greeter (who greets house visitors and shows them around).
Elijah’s favourite leadership role is chair of the family meetings – it gives him responsibility and the chance to contribute:
“I like being chair because we get to decide important things together. I am fair with the others and give everyone the chance to speak.”
3. Receiving praise: being recognised for his achievements
TFM practitioners use praise to acknowledge the young people’s strengths and areas of progress. This helps give them positive reinforcement and recognition when they’re doing well.
For Elijah, routine and consistency is key to helping him feel settled. Elijah has been great at following his Daily Plan – an individualised schedule to help him organise his day. Anita, a TFM practitioner, praised Elijah for sticking to his plan for 2 full weeks, which boosted his confidence:
“When Anita said I had been doing really well sticking to my daily plan, I felt so happy! I tried hard… Especially with going to bed on time.”
Lately Elijah has been taking inspiration from this Dr Seuss quote: “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”
Following Berry Street’s successful TFM pilot in 2018, we have since launched 4 homes across Victoria. Ultimately, we plan to transition all Therapeutic Residential Care units to TFM.
We are incredibly excited about the opportunities TFM will create for the children and young people we care for.
*Name has been changed in the interest of privacy. The models and volunteers pictured are not connected to the case study.