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Two Berry Street employees were highly commended in the 2021 Victorian Protecting Children Awards for the tremendous contribution they made to both our organisation and the sector – in full PPE!

When a young person in a residential care unit in Hume tested positive for COVID-19 last year, Nicholas (Nick) Varcoe, didn’t hesitate to volunteer to isolate with her for two weeks.

“Rather than just highlighting the issue or pointing a finger at it, I think the best thing to do is to put your hand up to help,” said Nick.

More help was then needed to support the group of young people (who were all close contacts) remaining in the residential care unit. Kade Rzepecki, was happy to help and isolated with the group for 16 days.

I feel committed to residential care and I knew that if someone with my experience could help, then that might be ideal,” said Kade.


The necessity of a safe and secure place to live

For many Australians, we have been able to deal with the challenges of the global pandemic, while safely living (and perhaps working) at home.

But what if you don’t have a safe and secure home to go to?

Residential care offers a place to live and 24-hour in-home support from Berry Street staff for children and young people who have experienced trauma.

Both Nick and Kade have worked with Berry Street’s residential care units and have a lasting connection with the homes and staff.

I was happy to return to working in residential care again because I am passionate about this work and really enjoy the direct contact with young people.

Kade

Getting creative in isolation

Entertaining children or young people at the best of times is no easy feat!

With the addition of being in isolation – the young people were not able to leave the unit – Nick and Kade had to get creative to keep them engaged and distracted.

Nick developed different strategies to pass the time, including reading and exercise. He also made sure to engage the young person he was isolating with in one-on-one conversations to remind her of the importance of what she was doing.

Kade and his group of young people at the residential care unit watched Netflix and ordered tasty meals off Menulog.

“There were varying emotions and it was different for each young person,” said Kade.

“The spectrum ranged from not wanting to be there, to not worrying at all. There was one young person who was particularly anxious about contracting COVID-19 and we had to get creative to engage him.”

Kade had also packed his guitar for his “downtime”, which along with video calls with his wife and 7-month-old baby, helped him through the two-week isolation.

A Berry Street team effort

“It’s always good to be recognised for your work, but there are staff coordinating so much behind the scenes, which is much harder,” said Nick.

Thank you to all the Berry Street staff who checked in with Nick and Kade via message or phone call, ran errands for the pair or dropped off food.

“This was an amazing example of different regions coming together to respond to a crisis. Everyone was taking part and doing their bit,” said Kade.

Nick, Kade and all the young people have since tested negative to COVID-19 and are doing well.

Find out more about Berry Street’s out-of-home care programs – foster care, kinship care and residential care.