An online trauma-informed training program can help your aged care staff better deliver individualised person-centred care, writes Meg Schwarz.

More than half a million children were placed into institutional and out-of-home care from the 1920s to the 1980s.

About 450,000 of those children were non-indigenous children, known as Forgotten Australians. An estimated 50,000 were Indigenous children, some of whom were also from the Stolen Generations. And 7,000 to 10,000 were former child migrants from Britain, Ireland and Malta.

Meg Schwarz

Forgotten Australians and care leavers who were placed in institutional care had varying experiences. Many were subject to social isolation and neglect, and in many cases emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

As a result, spending time in institutional care is often associated with a range of negative impacts – social, economic and health.

Forgotten Australians and care leavers report significant anxiety about accessing aged care services due to their previous experiences. Many report that the prospect of accessing aged care, particularly residential and palliative care, represents another experience of institutionalised care and can be especially traumatic for those still suffering the life-long consequences of abuse and neglect.

Trust in authority and institutions has been impacted, and many report ongoing mental and physical health concerns. These lifetime experiences create important barriers to accessing safe and inclusive care.

This is a large cohort of ageing Australians who deserve to be better understood – and receive more informed care – from aged care providers.

“Understanding our history and experiences is so important,”

Care recipient Jo

To assist with this, we have developed an innovative trauma-informed training program. Helping Hand’s Real Care the Second Time Around project was funded by the Federal Government to respond to the aged care needs of Forgotten Australians and care leavers.

In association with project partner Relationships Australia South Australia, we have developed a learning program. This includes an online training course – Working With Aged Care Clients Who Have Experienced Childhood Trauma in Care and case-scenario-based videos that outline best practices.

The course is an introduction to understanding the impacts of childhood trauma for people now entering aged care. We worked with people who identify as Forgotten Australians during the development of this new training.

Among them is Jo (pictured top), who was one of 15 siblings placed in orphanages in the early 1960s, as her single mother could not support her children. Jo experienced many forms of abuse in care and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other health conditions as a result.

She says that while she now feels more confident in her life – and with the support of the RCSTA team has a Home Care Package to support her needs – she thinks it is vital the aged care sector understands the history and experiences of older people who have faced trauma.

“Understanding our history and experiences is so important,” Jo says. “Many Forgotten Australians and care leavers have multiple triggers, do not easily disclose, and find it difficult to trust people. Listening to us – understanding our stories – is critical to being able to identify causes rather than just symptoms and provide us with the real care we need.”

“This [course] will help staff stop and think about the individual even more.”

Residential services manager Stef Dawson
Stef Dawson

We have rolled out the 1.5-hour online training course among our staff, and it is now ready to be promoted more widely.

“When they were telling their stories, I just couldn’t take my eyes off it. I thought I was empathetic and compassionate, but this has made me even more empathetic and compassionate. I really think this will help staff stop and think about the individual even more.”

The training comes with a guide for managers to support conversations after staff have done the training.

Stef Dawson, residential services manager at two Helping Hand regional facilities – Carinya in Clare and Belalie Lodge in Jamestown – is one of many within the organisation who completed the training. “It was brilliant – it was so informative, and it was a bit heart wrenching to be honest,” says Dawson.

Royal commission recommendations identify the increased focus on trauma-informed care, diversity, inclusivity, and cultural safety over coming years. The work we have achieved over recent years, and that we are committed to continuing, is perfectly placed to raise awareness and upskill the aged care workforce across the country in trauma-informed service delivery.

We encourage all aged care workers and indeed all healthcare workers to access this training. It supports aged care organisations to meet quality standards and ensures that those coming into care can receive truly individualised person-centred care.

To complete the e-training course and access all the resources developed through the project, please visit the RCSTA page on Helping Hand’s website. Or email me at mschwarz@helpinghand.org.au for further information on this project.

Meg Schwarz is a project co-ordinator at not-for-profit South Australian aged care organisation Helping Hand

Main image: Care recipient Jo

This article appears in the Australian Ageing Agenda magazine (May-Jun 22)

Meg Schwarz

Meg Schwarz is a project co-ordinator at Helping Hand

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