/ Resources
Taking care of the carers

Taking care of the carers

Learning through 'real enough' scenario training

The Mirabel Foundation assists children who have been orphaned or abandoned due to parental illicit drug use and are now in the care of extended family (kinship care). Established in Victoria and NSW, supports over 1,900 children and young people, as well as those caring for them (usually grandparents with little or no support).  

For Mirabel’s youth workers and staff, the challenges of dealing with dysregulated children and young people, intergenerational trauma, and the unresolved grief of carers who have lost their own children to drug use (as well as their retirement thrown into chaos), are immense.  Their roles require quick thinking, emotional intelligence, and the ability to stay calm under pressure.  And a sense of humour.

How do you prepare for that type of work?  You could try some workshops in simulation training, which Mirabel did, and we facilitated in July 2023.

Learning on the job

While it’s true that there are situations you can’t prepare for, there are many you can.  Our role as a facilitator is to create scenarios just real enough to give participants the physical experience of being ‘on the spot’ without the panic of dealing with the real thing.  To be able to stop a difficult scenario midstream and say “Okay, where do we go from here?” is a rare opportunity to crowdsource solutions and ideas from colleagues.

Here's a few scenarios from our day at Mirabel – see how you think you’d deal with these:

  • A youth worker walks into a Macca’s in the city at 1am to be recognised by a Mirabel teen he knows lives in the outer suburbs and should not be out with mates this late.  Do you put him in a cab?  Do you walk him to the train station?  Do you wag the finger and tell him to get home asap?
  • You’re taking a group of teens on a trip through the botanical gardens and one of them keeps disappearing. So the group is constantly stop-starting as you have to bring them back. Is there something you can offer to ‘bribe’ them back, like a hot chocolate treat?  And is that for everyone or just the absconder?
  • A young person is away on camp and showing some violent behaviour.  They can’t stay, so a staffer has to drive down to the beachside location and deal with the child’s anger and disappointment when they realise they’re going home.  The child throws a spectacular tantrum in a public park; do you intervene or wait for them to calm down?
  • You’re delivering some teenagers back home after an evening’s activity, and the last one won’t get out of the car.  No reason, no attempt to explain, just won’t budge. What to do?
  • A carer is picking up their grandchild and starts complaining about the child, loudly abusing them in front of everyone.  Do you try to shut them down or move the conversation to somewhere more confidential?  And how does that happen exactly?

Over the day, we took on the roles of various troubled teens and angry carers, as we put each participant in their own self-devised ‘hot spot’ (the difficult situation they wanted help with). Having had no experience with these situations we were guided by the Mirabel team who, one by one, gave us the set-up and enough background information to get started.

Geoff Paine, BehaviourWorks Australia facilitator, and Blair, a Mirabel youth worker


The key to this simulation training is to crowd-source solutions from the group.  It gives credibility to the various solutions generated, and builds a strong team ethos; everyone is there to help the others dig themselves out of a hole.  Our job is to create these ‘holes’ and make them just real enough to get a true sense of the scenario without making it impossible.  It’s a fine balancing act.

The various scenarios went from awkward to funny to painfully sad and back again. Thanks to the good will in the team, many scenes ended in a laugh and prompted valuable shared stories from those who’d ‘been there before’.  In the words of a participant, “It is not often we have the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on our interactions, so it was a real treat to bring the team together and have you there to support us with that journey.”

Author: Geoff Paine

Contact us find out more about simulation training

Sign up to the broadcast

Get monthly behaviour change content and insights

I'm an alumnus, friend or supporter (including donors, mentors and industry partners)
I'm a Monash student
I'm interested in studying at Monash
I recently applied to study at Monash
I'm a Monash staff member
I recently participated in research activities or studies with Monash

I agree to receive marketing communications from Monash University. Monash University values the privacy of every individual's personal information and is committed to the protection of that information from unauthorised use and disclosure except where permitted by law. For information about the handling of your personal information please see Data Protection and Privacy Procedure and our Data Protection and Privacy Collection Statements.

If you have any questions about how Monash University is collecting and handling your personal information, please contact our Data Protection and Privacy Office at dataprotectionofficer@monash.edu.

Education & training

Looking to upskill?

Check out our Monash University accredited courses, along with our short and bespoke training programs.


Have a project for us?

We offer a broad range of research services to help governments, industries and NGOs find behavioural solutions.


Explore our resources

We believe in building capacity and sharing knowledge through multiple channels to our partners, collaborators and the wider community.