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Vulnerable children in out-of-home care receive post-pandemic support on family camp

Welcome to camp: First-time Edmund Rice Camps volunteer Bonnie Ranger is immersed in the experience of a family camp.

EDMUND Rice Camps Queensland emerged from a COVID-enforced six-month break with a special treat for six families that achieved “amazing outcomes”.

The organisation, which supports vulnerable and disadvantaged children, has been unable to hold any camps for the past six months due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Its first one back happened to be its annual family camp, held recently with the theme of “Marvel: Superheroes”.

Six families from the out-of-home care sector joined in with their “care team”.

Edmund Rice Camps Queensland executive officer Nick Martin said a care team for the children included a case manager, foster carers, biological parents and other supports, and the children themselves.

“Our family camp operates on the ethos that some guardians and therefore some children need the support of an entire care team to provide the necessary and appropriate care required for a child to grow up healthy and happy in a safe environment,” Mr Martin said.

ERCQ partnered with local not-for-profit organisation Kyabra Community Association, “leaders in the social services sector”, to run the family camps, he said.

“Kyabra are also leaders in capacity-building and facilitating skill development workshops for parents and carers,” he said.

Mr Martin said the “care team” model of a family camp was designed to improve placement stability.

“We know, in some cases, children must be removed from their parents’ care, and with that a lot of tensions exist between intervening agencies and departments, and between the biological and foster carers,” he said.

“Our programs ensure all parties can have fun, learn and grow together in a safe and non-judgemental environment, with the support of our one-to-one volunteers.

“Through this model we see the relationships develop so that an out-of-home placement can be as stable for as long as possible, always aspiring for reunification of the child and their biological family.

“This year we saw amazing outcomes (at the family camp) with children opening up to foster carers for the first time, families working together and providing peer-to-peer support and affirmation.

“Following our final reflection and skill-building session with the caregivers, Kyabra staff commented that the session was the highlight of their career.”

The camp also had an impact on the young people who were there as volunteers, especially Bonnie Ranger, who was volunteering for the first time.

“Boy, did she throw herself into the experience,” Mr Martin said.

“Bonnie was a crowd favourite amongst the little buddies, covered in paint, slime and always seen with a big grin on her face.

“She was a real asset to the program and we are excited to have Bonnie on board as (hopefully) a regular volunteer in the future.

“Bonnie must have enjoyed being in the Edmund Rice Camps community, too, because she has gone above and beyond, putting her hair on the line, and signing up for the 2020 Save or Shave fundraiser event.”

Ms Ranger said she offered to volunteer with Edmund Rice Camps “because I really wanted to give back to the community, but I found it super hard, being under 18, to find a way to do so”.

“Then I stumbled across Edmund Rice Camps and they had previously done Head2Heart camps at my school which I mised out on,” she said.

“I had heard so many amazing stories about it from girls at my school, so I knew the perfect way to do something good for others.”

Ms Ranger said she was “quite scared going into my first camp and with it also being a family camp”.

“But after the first 10 minutes I knew that it was only the beginning of my journey as an Eddie Ricer,” she said.

“The other volunteers were so amazing, welcoming me on board, and I felt part of the ERC family instantly.

“On the camp it was great getting to work closely with my team and help create a fun and crazy (while still COVID-safe) environment.

“Having the two other volunteers in my team alongside me the entire time was fantastic …

“By the end of the camp we had worked together and created what I believed to be an unforgettable experience both for the kids and families and myself.”

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