In a life threatening emergency dial Triple Zero (000)

In a life threatening emergency dial Triple Zero (000)
ACT Public Hospitals

Canberra Hospital

5124 0000


Calvary Hospital

6201 6111

Mental Health

Call Mental Health Triage on

1800 629 354

(free call except from mobiles or public phones) or

6205 1065

Poisons Hotline

For a poison emergency in Australia call

131126

Drug and Alcohol Help Line

The Drug and Alcohol Help Line is available 24-hours, 7 days a week on

5124 9977

Health Protection Service

For after hours urgent public health matters including environmental health, radiation safety, food poisoning and communicable disease management phone:

(02) 6205 1700

healthdirect

24 hour health advice

1800 022 222

ACT State Emergency Service

Emergency help
during flood or storms

132 500

Responding to Behaviour


Acknowledging and responding to behaviour

In this section: Learn how behaviour may not always mean what you think, how to respond to the child’s behaviour in a trauma-informed way, what help is available to you, and what you should do if the child tells you something has happened to them.

Making meaning of behaviour

As a carer, you have an important role to understand and work with the child in your care to make meaning of their behaviour. This is because often their behaviour does not tell the whole story of what is happening with them, but may be the only way they can communicate – this is especially so for children who have experienced trauma, which all children in care have. It is important for you to consider the feelings and needs that may lay beneath the child’s behaviour and help guide them towards other more positive forms of communication.

By working to build a trusting relationship with the child and modelling appropriate behaviours and ways of communicating, you will help the child develop increased self-control, self-reliance, sense of responsibility and the ability to behave and participate positively.

You are not expected to manage this all on your own. Your case manager, Care Team and other professionals are available to help you and work with the child.

Specific trauma training is also available for kinship and foster carers. Using trauma-informed approaches to managing a child’s behaviour is important to help them heal and recover from past trauma. Please speak with your case manager about accessing this training if you have not completed it already.

Regardless of whether you have or have not completed the training, here are some basic tips to guide you in managing behaviour:

  • Communicate openly. Ask questions, listen and respond to the child. This will help you understand what is going on, recognise triggers and why the child may be behaving in a certain way.
  • Be a good role model. This is one of the best ways to show the child what you expect.
  • Implement a routine. This helps the child to predict their day, which can relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Develop some basic and appropriate rules – but not too many. Explain why they are important and that you expect the child to follow them. It is good to also share with the child rules you will stick to so they can see rules are not about being punished but are there to keep everyone safe and well.
  • Respond in a consistent way to their behaviour, both desired and undesired.
  • Acknowledge the child when they behave appropriately, it encourages them to continue to use the behaviour in the future. For an older child, it might be saying ‘Thanks for coming home on time’. For a younger child, it might be saying ‘Yay, you packed up the toys’.
  • Avoid battles. Sometimes it is better to talk to the child later once they have calmed down and are ready to talk about their behaviour and what happened.
  • Don’t ignore your own needs or those of other loved ones. Looking after yourself ensures you are in the best position to respond calmly, fairly and appropriately to the child’s behaviour.

It is also important for you to know there are things you cannot do to manage the behaviour of the child in your care. As an approved carer, you have certain aspects of parental responsibility under the Children and Young People Act 2008. You also have obligations under the ACT Reportable Conduct Scheme. This Scheme requires CYPS and ACT Together to respond to, and report to the ACT Ombudsman, any allegations, offences or convictions of child-related misconduct by their carers (or their staff).

The following activities could be considered a reportable offence under the Scheme and an abuse in care allegation under the Act:

  • punishments that frighten or threaten the child
  • use of physical discipline, such as hitting, smacking, locking up and physical restraint
  • public or private humiliation
  • verbal abuse, such as shouting, threatening or belittling
  • ill treatment of the child
  • physical and/or emotional neglect of the child.

If at any time you are finding it difficult to manage the child’s behaviour, reach out and ask for help from your case manager, Care Team or another professional in the child’s life. For more information about the ACT Reportable Conduct Scheme, see ‘Reportable conduct’.

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Children who smoke or use alcohol or drugs

If the child in your care smokes or uses alcohol or drugs, or you suspect they are, you should make every effort to actively discourage them from these habits. This can be a difficult situation as you cannot physically stop the child from these habits, but it is important you show you do not support them.

Talk to your case manager about how best to respond to this behaviour. It is also a good idea to consider getting support from a drug and alcohol support service.

For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs, contact the 24/7 Alcohol and Drug Services Helpline by:

  • P: 6207 9977

Kids Helpline also has resources specific for carers that can help you help the child in your care. You can access these from the Kids Helpline websiteExternal Link

You can also put the child in touch with Kids Helpline. It is a free, 24/7, confidential and private counselling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years – ‘no problem is too big or too small’. The child can also access a range of resources from the Kids Helpline website or speak to a trained counselling by:

  • P: 1800 55 1800

The Junction Youth Health Service is another free service available in the ACT for young people (12 to 25 years) to help them with drug and alcohol issues, smoking and other healthcare matters. They can be contacted by:

  • P: 6232 2423

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If a child runs away

If the child in your care runs away, you must contact your case manager immediately. If it is outside business hours call the relevant after hours service to inform them of the situation.

Often, if a child runs away, it is their response to an underlying issue they are struggling with. Your case manager will work with you to identify what may have led to the child leaving. They will consider the current situation, where the child may be and what they are likely to do. If the Police need to be contacted, you and your case manager will decide who should do this and how information will be shared.

When the child is located, it is important you work as a team with your case manager and other support members to make every effort to have the child return to your care. If the child refuses, your case manager will look for an alternate care arrangement and explore the reasons why the child does not want to return.

If the child does return to your care, your case manager will work with you and the child to help stabilise the placement and put strategies in place to discourage the child from wanting to leave again.

It is also possible that when the child first came into care, your case manager had already identified a concern the child may try to leave. If this is your situation, your case manager will work with you and the child to develop a safety plan. This will happen early in the placement if not before the child comes into your care. By including the child in the plan’s development they are made aware of what will happen in the event they choose to leave.

If you suspect the child may be thinking of running way, talk openly with them and notify your case manager immediately. At this point, a plan can be made for what may be needed to assist you and the child to stabilise the placement.

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If a child damages your property, steals or injures another person

If the child in your care damages your property, steals from you or causes an injury to another person in your home, speak to your case manager. There may be a whole range of complex reasons for the child’s behaviour, including testing boundaries, seeking attention or inclusion, dealing with stress, excitement or it can be a cry for help.

Whatever the reason, it is important you try to understand the behaviour and the underlying problem. Speaking with your case manager can help you work through these challenges and to access further guidance and support to resolve the situation.

In exceptional circumstances, it may be possible for you to receive a reimbursement for the damage or injury caused; however, there is no legal obligation for CYPS or ACT Together to make these payments. Please speak with your case manager if you believe this is relevant to your situation. Where appropriate, they can provide the necessary forms.

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Self-harm and suicidal behaviour

When a child (or adult) has feelings of extreme psychological distress or emotional pain, they may be at risk of suicidal behaviour or self-harm. Self-harm is when they deliberately hurt themselves, without wanting to die, as a way of coping with difficult or painful feelings.

People who self-harm find it difficult to talk about their feelings and use self-harm to express and release these emotions privately. They often hide their behaviour and are not usually trying to gain attention or manipulate others.

Children who have experienced trauma are at an increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

If you notice the child in your care is not themselves and you are concerned they may be at risk of self-harm or suicide, you should not ignore it. Talk to the child. Let them know you are worried and ask them what is happening for them. Listen and do not pass judgment. Tell them you will seek additional help from others, including their case manager, because you care about them and want them to be safe. Let them know you will support them.

It is important to get the child help as soon as possible through a GP or a mental health service such as Lifeline, beyondblue, Headspace or Kids Helpline.

Lifeline is a confidential crisis support and suicide line available 24/7 from a landline, payphone or mobile. Lifeline also has a webchat function that may appeal to some children. Lifeline can be contacted by:

Beyondblue is a national, not-for-profit organisation that aims to address issues associated with depression, anxiety and related substance misuse disorders. They can be contacted by:

Headspace is a confidential service for 12 to 25 years olds experiencing a tough time or who are worried about their drug and alcohol use or mental, physical or sexual wellbeing. They can be contacted by:

Kids Helpline is a free, 24/7, confidential and private counselling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years. It provides both phone and web counselling. Kids Helpline can be contacted by:

These services also provide support for carers, so feel free to contact them to help you also.

If you are concerned about the child in your care, it is important you discuss this with your case manager.

If the child’s life is in immediate danger, call 000.

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Responding to disclosures

During your time as a carer, you may notice unexplained physical bruising or marks on the child or be told by them that something has happened to them. It is also possible as the child becomes more comfortable in your care that they open up about past abuse or neglect.

Hearing about any abusive or neglectful experiences can be confronting and distressing. It is important though to immediately respond so the child can be supported in the best way possible and the situation can be investigated.

Your role in responding to a child opening up about their past or an injury you cannot explain, is to inform your case manager or the relevant after hours service as soon as you are able. You should also immediately write down exactly what the child has told you so you can provide an accurate description to support any investigation or response.

It is important not to promise the child a particular course of action or that you will not tell others about the incident. Instead reassure the child that what happened was not their fault and you are there for them.

It is recognised such instances can also impact you, so remember support is available to help you work through your feelings. See ‘Supports and services’.

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