A place to call home for children in state care – home-based care

house and heart graaphic

31 January 2017

One of the greatest issues facing us when we remove children from their birth families is finding safe, stable and nurturing homes in which they can live.

In this three-part article we look at the problems identified in Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report and the Government’s response in December.

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You can also download this article as a PDF.

 In South Australia, children are cared for under three main systems, home based care  (which includes foster care and kinship care), residential care and emergency care. 

Home-based care

In this article, we will look at home-based care; what Commissioner Nyland recommended in her and how the Government is responding.

Foster care

Home-based care is thought by most authorities and researchers to be the best option for most of the children placed into state care. In recent years, however, the supply of families willing to foster children has not been able to keep up with the increasing numbers coming into care.  Changes in society in Australia and in similar countries around the world have meant that there are fewer families willing or able to foster children.

In her report, Commissioner Nyland was persuaded  that the poor treatment of foster carers by staff of the then Families SA, lack of clarity about roles and a lack of support for foster carers have dissuaded families continuing or becoming foster carers.

Commissioner Nyland made a range of recommendations designed to improve the skills, remuneration, support, rights and voice of foster carers, most of which were accepted or accepted in-principle by the Government in December 2016. These are the major changes.

  • Induction training for foster carers is to be changed to include material on managing trauma-related behaviours and on the types of support available (R112) and will include input from agency staff, children and existing carers in foster carers (R113). For consistency, all foster carer training will be co-ordinated by the Child and Family Welfare Association (R125).
  • Advocacy organisation Connecting Foster Carers will be funded to provide advocacy services for foster carers (R115) and to develop new materials making clear foster carers’ rights (R116).
  • A system for resolving carer complaints will be set up (R127) and there will be a revised process within the Department to ensure that proper consideration is given to the removal of children from long-term placements, though this is not the independent panel that Commissioner Nyland recommended (R118).
  • The right of approved carers to have access to information about the children they care for will be guaranteed in the new child safety legislation (R98).
  • The role of the NGOs that provide support for carers will be clarified (R115) and those organisations will be reimbursed more consistently (R115). The Child and Family Welfare Association will be contracted to coordinate respite services for carers (R126).
  • Placements that are at risk or under stress will be guaranteed access to therapeutic support (R84).
  • The Government has also supported a number of recommendations leading to a more flexible tiered model of foster care. Remuneration rates and structures will be reviewed (R119).  Foster carers will be able to change support agencies (R121) and to develop their skills and increase remuneration (R120) in line with the changing needs of the children they care for.
  • Pre-empting the formal response, a handbook documenting carers support payments has been produced and is publicly available (R123).

Kinship care

Kinship care has grown rapidly in recent years and it was popular within Families SA because it promised an alternative to the declining numbers of foster placements available. It also offered the opportunity for children to maintain family connections, including recognising the significance of cultural connections for Aboriginal children coming into care.

As Commissioner Nyland revealed, though, the rush into kinship care has meant a lack of careful screening of many care placements and the lack of ongoing support to kinship carers once placements are started. Many children placed under fast-track interim registration processes have not had their situations reviewed. The result has been an increase in unsuitable and, at times, unsafe placements and increased numbers of placement breakdowns.

The breakdown of home-based placements is not just a numerical problem for the system. Each breakdown represents a significant crisis in the life of children who are frequently already traumatised.

  • The Government has accepted the need for a complete overhaul and expansion of kinship care assessment processes, resources and tools to improve speed and efficiency of their response (R104,R105,R106). As part of this, there will be developed or purchased a new tool to assess the safety and appropriateness of prospective kinship placements (R103).
  • A backlog team is promised within the Department to review the placements of children who were placed under interim registration processes and not reviewed within the required three-month period (R109).
  • The Government has not accepted the recommendation to outsource to NGOs kinship care recruitment and support as is done with foster care, keeping it within the Department instead (R102).

The full paper A place to call home for children in state care is available for download.

The Guardian welcomes the Government’s response to the Nyland Royal Commission

 

1 December, 2016The Guardian for Children and Young People Amanda Shaw has welcomed the Government’s announcements and additional investment in response to the Nyland Royal Commission Report.

‘These undertakings, if carried through, will mark a significant breakthrough in promoting the wellbeing of all children in our state and meeting the needs of those in need of protection’, she said.

‘The changes in legislation and practice to make us listen to and act on the voices of children should produce a profound change in the way we work with them.

‘I am pleased to see the restoration of the Charter of Rights to the proposed new child safety legislation and look forward to considering other aspects of the Bill over the next few weeks.

‘Promoting partnerships, networks and collaboration gives me hope that at last we will end the inter-agency disagreements, indifference and mis-information that so often blighted our efforts to assist our most vulnerable young people.

‘A new Department for Child Protection where planning, evidenced based decision making, collaboration and transparency flourish will be a great starting point for building a genuinely child-focussed protection system.

‘The promised early intervention with vulnerable families offers us the opportunity to keep more children safe without removing them from their families if the work is thoroughly done and well-resourced.

‘While this will help in the long run, we urgently need to address the dire situation of young people in emergency care and large-scale residential care.  Our Office’s experience tells us that even more are unhappy, fearful and vulnerable to abuse than when Commissioner Nyland drafted her report.

‘Recognition of the particular needs of children and young people of Aboriginal heritage, those with disabilities and those from culturally diverse backgrounds is welcome.  To address them will a need long-term commitment and ongoing investment even beyond what Commissioner Nyland has recommended.

‘The promised improvements to services for young people leaving care will start to bring South Australia in line with comparable communities in recognising that the transition to adulthood extends well beyond the current cut-off date of 18 years.  The state must take seriously its role as a parent for many of the young people in its care well into their mid-twenties and beyond.’

For more details of the Guardian’s analysis and expectations from the Nyland Royal Commission Report read the Child protection reform checklist – December 2016

You can also download a copy of this text as a PDF in media release format.

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The child protection reform checklist

28 November, 2016

Commissioner Nyland’s two year inquiry into child protection in South Australia has produced a document that is comprehensive and detailed. The Guardian’s Office Child Protection Reform Checklist identifies the major themes from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report, and checklists the responses we look for as the government and community responds.

There is no substitute for a close reading of the Report but, as a solid guide to what is needed, what is promised and what is delivered, we are happy to share our tool for monitoring progress on child protection reform.

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Services for young people leaving state care

25 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #14

picture of girl on jettyThe team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report[1].  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first 13 in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. [3]

Commissioner Nyland was particularly critical of the support provided to young people during and after their transition from care at age 18.  She presented data that showed proper transition planning had never been provided for more than one third of young people exiting care.  Where it had been provided, she said, it had been delivered by under-qualified staff and the support services available were rendered inadequate by a lack of coordination and cooperation between services.

Young people…report receiving limited career planning and little information about what training and employment options may be available to them. All too frequently, young people approach the age of 18 without a clear understanding of how they will access adult services and accommodation.

The Commissioner recommended a change in legislation to oblige the Minister to continue to provide assistance to care leavers up to the age of 25.

Such assistance should specifically include the provision of information about services and resources (especially financial grants and assistance for care leavers); financial and other assistance to obtain housing, education, training and employment; and access to legal advice, health services, counselling and support.

Services funded by government and delivered by non-government organisations should start working with young people well before 18 and continue through the transition period and into adult life.  Analysis of current post-care services usage could be used as an indicator of areas of need.

The Commissioner also recommended a review of the South Australian service model to align it with the principles and practice of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, Transitioning from out-of-home care to independence: A nationally consistent approach to planning, commonly known as the National Approach[4]

The Commissioner recommended that a re-invigorated Rapid Response process also be reviewed to extend the range of priority services for young people up to age 25 and that home-based carers be funded to continue supporting care leavers where they were engaged in school, trade or tertiary training until that qualification was completed. 

Independent living programs, she said, needed to be made more flexible about the ages at which young people could be admitted and leave and post-support programs should be more generously resourced to meet the unmet need.  The Commissioner also pointed out the opportunity for Housing SA to develop new housing models more suitable to the needs of care leavers. 

Recognising the central role of smartphones in the lives of many young people, she recommended the development of a smartphone app. to provide readily available information about the range of services available to them during and after transition from care. 

The Commissioner also recommended changes to allow care leavers to see and make copies of documents held by the organisation that had provided services for them more easily.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • amendments to the Children’s Protection Act 1993 to require the Minister to provide or arrange assistance to care leavers aged between 18 and 25 years
  • definition of a range of information services and practical supports to be provided for young people post-care including financial, housing, education, health care, education and training, employment and legal advice
  • payments to home-based carers continued past 18 while young people in their care pursue education and training
  • review of the service model for care leavers to align with the National Approach
  • greater age-flexibility in the provision of independent living programs
  • expansion of the priority services provided under Rapid Response to care leavers up to age 25
  • provision of intensive case management assistance to care leavers identified as particularly vulnerable
  • greater resourcing of post-care services
  • changes to facilitate care leavers’ access to documents about them from carers and organisations that had provided services to them.

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below.

[1] Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

[2] See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal children, Education , Stability and certainty in care, Responding to abused or neglected children, Children in care with disabilities, Children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Children in care in regional SA.

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

4 Council of Australian Governments (COAG), Protecting children is everyone’s business: National framework for protecting Australia’s children 2009–2020, Canberra, 2009.

Children in care in regional SA

24 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #13

map of South AustraliaThe team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1.  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first 12 in the series are available.2 We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3 

Meeting the needs of children in care in regional areas presents additional and different challenges to those faced in metropolitan Adelaide. 

In many regional areas, the limited number of foster care placements is compounded by there being no, or very few, residential care facilities.

Children removed from the care of their families are sometimes placed many kilometres away, interrupting their education, their stability and their ability to maintain contact with their family and friends.

The use of unsuitable rotational (emergency) placements, she noted, was particularly prevalent in some regional locations.

Commissioner Nyland found that services, particularly psychological assistance, were not able to be accessed easily.

Specialist therapeutic services necessary to respond to children who have experienced abuse and neglect are also limited in most regions.

The quality of justice for children also suffers in regional areas. It is undermined by the poor quality of the conferencing technology used and the need for families and witnesses to travel long distances to attend trials held in Adelaide.

It is unacceptable that child protection proceedings have less access to court facilities than many summary criminal matters.

Commissioner Nyland recommended the use of properly staffed videoconferencing facilities for pre-trial hearings and that ‘care and protection trials should be held at the court location most convenient to the parties.’

She highlighted the success of examples of regional co-operation in the provision of services and that the ‘child and family assessment and referral networks’ she recommended elsewhere in her report would be instrumental in identifying, planning for and coordinating responses in regional centres.

The Commissioner acknowledged that working in human services and statutory roles in regional areas could be especially difficult and confronting and that recruiting and retaining suitable staff is a chronic problem.  She advocated a suite of incentives, supports, professional development opportunities and rostering arrangements to assist in filling staff vacancies and improving staff continuity in regions.

The Commissioner noted that Aboriginal children and young people additionally ‘faced the combined challenges of remoteness and high need’.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • increased focussed on the recruiting of foster carers and the establishment of appropriate residential care facilities in regional areas
  • the development of a specialist psychological service for children in regional areas.
  • improvements to the videoconferencing facilities for hearings for families and children in regional areas
  • attraction and retention strategies and improved opportunities for training and development for Department for Child Protection workers in regional areas
  • the development of regional needs planning and cooperative models of delivery in regional areas
  • consultation with each remote Aboriginal community about the implementation of the recommendations arising from the Nyland report. 

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below.

1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal children, Education , Stability and certainty in care, Responding to abused or neglected children, Children in care with disabilities and Children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. ***

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

Children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

22 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #12

The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1.  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first eleven in the series are available.2 We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3 

Commissioner Nyland noted that families from cultural and linguistic backgrounds that are different to the mainstream are prone to be in circumstances that can give rise to child protection issues. These include trauma, social and cultural isolation, discrimination, language barriers and poverty associated with poor employment opportunities. 

She noted:

It appears that the Agency currently knows very little about the population of culturally and linguistically diverse families who might need a child protection response. Data about the origin of children reported to the system has been inconsistently recorded and retained, and is not likely to be reliable. 

She recommended that information about the cultural background of children coming into contact with the child protection system be recorded in the electronic case management system and that this data be aggregated to inform a system-wide response.

She recommended a qualitative review of the capacity of the current Multicultural Community Engagement Team to provide the necessary state-wide response and that this review should include input from all stakeholders with special emphasis on the views of children.

She observed that, although current practice guides emphasised the importance of respecting and nurturing children’s cultural and linguistic heritage, there existed very little information and support for staff to work in that way.  The Commissioner made recommendations that organisations support and develop the cultural competence of all staff and carers by setting cultural competency targets for the organisation and by developing training and practice guides.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • comprehensive recording of cultural and linguistic information about children coming into contact with the child protection system
  • analysis of emerging trends from that data to inform planning and resourcing
  • a review of the current Multicultural Community Engagement Team service’s capacity and suitability for the task with an emphasis on hearing the views of children
  • development of the DCP’s cultural competency by setting cultural competency targets and the developing training programs  and practice guides
  • every child in care with a diverse cultural heritage having a comprehensive cultural connection plan

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below.

1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal childrenEducationResponding to abused or neglected children and Children with disabilities. ***

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

Young people in state care overrepresented in the youth justice system

15 November, 2016

Young people in care are much more likely than their age peers to be involved with the youth justice system and a recent analysis by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)[1] has demonstrated exactly to what extent.

Of the 30,402 young people involved in the child protection system or under youth justice supervision at some time during 2014–15 in participating  jurisdictions[2], 1,499 (4.9%) were in both child protection and under youth justice supervision in that year.

For the purpose of the following, please note that youth justice supervision refers to both community based supervision and youth detention:

  • young people (aged 10 to 17 years) in the child protection system were 14 times as likely as their peer population to be under youth justice supervision
  • Aboriginal young people in the child protection system were more than twice as likely as non-Aboriginal to be under youth justice supervision (10.4% compared with 4.3%)
  • 40.8% of those in detention were involved in the child protection system which is 19 times the rate for the general population
  • 32.1% of those under community-based supervision also were in the child protection system
  • the younger someone was at their first youth justice supervision, the more likely they were also to be in child protection
  • in South Australia in the same period, of the 827 admissions to youth justice detention, 22.6% were under guardianship of the Minister at the time of admission.3 

The policy and program environment in our state right now is fortunately placed to address the needs of the children and young people who are caught in this ‘cross over’ situation:

  • the creation of a new statutory position – the Training Centre Visitor – under the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016
  • [ddownload id=”7824″ style=”link” text=”research on the program needs of youth justice clients in South Australia”] and
  • the recommended introduction of a Community Visitor Scheme for children and young people in residential care. 

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below. 

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Young people in child protection and under youth justice supervision 2014–15. Data linkage series no. 22. Cat. no. CSI 24. Canberra: AIHW http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129557321

2 New South Wales and the Northern Territory did not contribute data.

3 SA figures are from data supplied the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion – Youth Justice Division.

Children in care with disabilities

15 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #11

The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1.  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first 10 in the series are available.2 We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3 

Children with disabilities are a higher proportion of the in-care population than in the population at large.  Some children enter care with disabilities caused by the abuse or neglect that brought them into care. Some children who already have disabilities are relinquished into state care by parents who lack the resources to manage the parenting challenges they present.

Commissioner Nyland is particularly concerned that children in state care do not miss out on the services and opportunities on offer from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Children in out-of-home care rely on attentive case managers to recognise their potential eligibility [for NSID funding] and negotiate on their behalf. 

To do this entails a more rigorous identification of children’s disabilities and their recording on the child’s electronic case management file so that every child potentially eligible can have an application made prior to the March 2017 deadline.  The respective role of foster and kinship carers and the Department for Child Protection (DCP) in relationship to NDIS will need to be clarified to avoid confusion and dislocation.  Commissioner Nyland recommended the ’employment of disability specialists and additional training…to develop expertise in the Agency’ about the NDIS.

The ‘child and family assessment  and referral networks’ recommended by Commissioner Nyland (see our post Responding to abused and neglected children) will also need to have the skills and knowledge to support families who are caring for children with disabilities. 

Foster families caring for children with disabilities sometimes face the simultaneous challenge of catering for a disability and dealing with trauma-related behavioural issues.  Commissioner Nyland stresses the maintenance of the existing Alternative Care Therapeutics Team (ACTT) program though its integration with the NDIS.   She also recommends determining the need for specialist disability foster care placements and funding those placements accordingly as well as funding the support and respite services needed to ensure those placements remain viable for foster parents and children. 

Commissioner Nyland discusses the situation of children with disabilities whose care is voluntarily relinquished to the state by their birth parents.  She forms the opinion that this group of children might not be best served by placing them in the care of the DCP but has insufficient information to make a formal recommendation.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • every child who is potentially eligible has applied to the NDIS by the 31 March 2017 deadline.
  • the electronic case management system modified to require a child’s eligibility for NDIS entered and caseworkers trained accordingly.
  • analysis of the unmet need for specialist disability foster placements and provision of it expanded to meet that need.
  • DCP caseworkers trained to meet the needs of children with disabilities and in the workings of NDIS and the employment of specialist disability workers to support them.
  • maintenance of the ACTT program and its expansion through and beyond the introduction of the NDIS.
  • the recommended ‘child and family assessment and referral networks’ given the skills and responsibility to help families engage with the NDIS.

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below.

 

1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal children, Education , Stability and certainty in care and Responding to abused or neglected children.

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

Responding to abused or neglected children

8 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #10

The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1.  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first nine in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3 

Commissioner Nyland proposed no change in the current responsibilities of mandated notifiers but recommended that there be two quite different pathways through which those duties can be fulfilled by notifiers.  The Child Abuse Report Line (CARL), would be maintained and improved and another, non-statutory option, added.

She acknowledged the shortcomings of CARL, particularly the extended wait times for callers and the closing of cases due to workload issues which sees ‘children left in unacceptable circumstances in which they needed help’.  She recommended the addition of extra call centre staff, making the call-back system widely available and promptly advising notifiers of the intended response so that they can take other action if required.  The setting of service delivery standards for call answering times and call-back times are other measures aimed at restoring confidence in the system.

Once notifications were received by CARL, more problems were evident.

…consistently poor quality assessments undermined by excessive optimism, lack of focus on the child’s experience, too little reliance on the expertise of other practitioners and unrealistic reliance on informal agreements in which parents promise to reduce their dangerous behaviour. 

She recommended substantial increases in and upskilling of the workforce, development of more rigorous and standardised assessment tools and giving greater powers to acquire information from government and non-government sources.  Targets should be set for the reduction of backlogs and progress publicly reported.

For matters that proceed to court, she proposed a greater reliance on independent expert opinion to inform court decision-making and the granting of orders.

To take the load off CARL and to provide a way to divert appropriate families away from the statutory system, Commissioner Nyland recommended legislative change to allow mandated notifiers to discharge their obligations by referring concerns to one of a set of ‘child and family assessment networks’ to be established in metropolitan and larger regional locations.  Specially trained staff in government agencies could assist and guide colleagues to understand their obligations to notify and the best options for troubled families.

The Commissioner recommended ways of reducing the numbers of children coming into care while still protecting those who need to be protected.  This will require a substantial investment in preventative and early intervention services and a solid strategy to guide funding and service design and delivery.  A cross-department Early Intervention Research Directorate would identify innovative and evidence-based services.  They would be to be provided by non-government organisations and be of the type and in the locations identified by an analysis of needs.

A particular priority she identified was the need to provide services that were culturally appropriate for Aboriginal families and communities.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • Improvements to the CARL service including system and staff changes to meet published service standards for call-answering and call-backs.
  • Upskilling of investigation staff to ensure that the voices of children are sought and heard in the investigation process.
  • Setting of service standards for the commencement and completion of investigations as set out by Commissioner Nyland4
  • Establishment of a set of ‘child and family assessment networks’ in metropolitan and major regional locations and legislative changes to allow mandated notifiers to discharge their obligations by referring to them.
  • Setting out a five-year strategy for the provision of prevention and early intervention services that is evidence-based and suited to local needs and conditions.
  • Development of prevention and early intervention services that are culturally appropriate for Aboriginal families and communities.
  • Regular training and the development of training tools to improve the knowledge of mandated notifiers about their responsibilities.

Please join the discussion via the reply box at the foot of the page.

1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal childrenEducation and Stability and certainty in care.

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

4 Recommendation 177: Ensure that all care concern notifications are investigated in a timely manner:

  1. investigations should commence within 48 hours of the receipt of a notification; and
  2. in the absence of ongoing criminal proceedings or special reasons, investigations should be completed within six weeks from receipt of the notification.

Stability and certainty in care

3 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #9

The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report[1].  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first eight in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. [3]

We would hope for all children that they are safe and settled in a care situation that fulfils all of their needs.  Commissioner Nyland describes how this is not always the case for South Australia’s children even from the point at which they enter care.

Once removed, the child’s need for stability and certainty is given insufficient weight. Attempts to reunify children with their parents drag on for far too long, causing instability as well as denying young children the certainty of the attachment relationships crucial for their development…many children taken into care are subsequently reunified with their parents when the issues that undermined their safety in the first place have not been sustainably addressed.

She recommends that formal permanency planning should start with the imposition of the court order that places the child into care and that time limits be set for reunification efforts after which long-term orders should be sought.

The current system fails to assign to every child in care a social worker who regularly visits and this failure raises stability and safety issues for children.  Annual reviews of the circumstances of each child in care, also required by legislation, are sometimes not done or done poorly,  which removes another level of safety and continuity that should be in place.

South Australia has an extraordinarily high rate of placement instability compared to other Australian jurisdictions…Placements that appear to be in danger of breaking down should be promptly identified. Early therapeutic support would help carers who may be having difficulty in coping with the challenges of caring for children with high or complex needs.

Each time a child changes placement it can inhibit the formation of attachments to people, place and community, undermine formation of healthy identity and disrupt schooling.  Children can be further distressed by having little or no say in the decision making, timing and destination of new placements.

A young person’s need for stability and support does not cease when they turn 18. In a later post we will consider how they can be assisted to make a smooth transition to independence and the support they need to continue through further education, entry into the workforce and beyond.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • Permanency planning for children that commences at the time of an order bringing a child into care.
  • Concurrent  planning being given greater emphasis in case planning, especially for children while they are forming attachments.
  • Annual reviews being universal, independently chaired and subject to revised and more rigorously enforced standards.
  • A review of the reasons for the low level of Other Person Guardianship in South Australia.
  • All children currently receiving a differential response be assessed for eligibility for Other Person Guardianship.
  • Every child in care being allocated a social worker who visits them at regular intervals determined by an assessment of the circumstances and the child’s preference.
  • Involvement of the child in discussion about the need for placement change and how and when it will occur.
  • The inclusion of the voice of the child in all discussions at which decisions are made about significant matters that affect them.

Please join the discussion via the reply box leaving a name and an email address in the spaces provided.  We will remove them from the published post if you request in your reply.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,
[2] See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care, Home-based care, Therapeutic care – everywhere. Aboriginal children and Education.
[3] This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.