Audits of Annual Reviews 2007 to 2017 – children, systems and practice

19 September 2017

The Guardian’s Office has been auditing the Annual Reviews of children in care for 10 years now.  We do this to advocate for the children, to see how well the Reviews work and to identify broader systemic issues.

Annual reviews are an important means of monitoring the quality of services provided and the outcomes being achieved for children in care. They are intended to be more than an administrative process.  A good annual review focuses on the quality of the child’s care arrangements as a whole

Although required in legislation, only 63 percent were conducted in 2015-16. The number of Annual Reviews for 2016-17 will be available shortly. Based on 10 years of observations and data we can say:

  • Where Annual Reviews are conducted, the quality is very variable. Deficits in the representation of children’s views, the preparation by social workers and the presence of non-Departmental staff lead to inadequate consideration of the child’s circumstances and planning for their needs.
  • Up to 80 percent of children were assessed to be in a long-term, stable and appropriate placement.
  • Numbers of children are not allocated a social worker and, where a worker is allocated, other circumstances prevent the provision of a quality service to children.
  • The cultural needs of many Aboriginal children are not being adequately supported.
  • Significant numbers of children remain in unsuitable placements.
  • Contact between siblings separated in placement is not always facilitated.
  • Life Story Books are implemented for about half of the children.
  • The proportion of children with IEPs has not progressed beyond 80 percent and may be declining.
  • Of the children who are able to comprehend it, many do not receive information about their rights and the proportion who do appears to be declining.

For the background to this summary, you can download the report Audits of Annual Reviews 2007- 2017- children, systems and practice.

What We Know About Young People In Care From Their 2015-16 Annual Reviews

8 December, 2016

During 2015-16, the Senior Advocate of the Office attended 152 annual reviews to sample how children in care are faring overall, to learn how effectively the reviews are being done, and, in some cases, to advocate for children.

Although the sample is not random and comprised only 6% of the children and young people in care, the information the Senior Advocate collected this year gives a general indication of the situation of children and young people in long-term care as a whole.

We found:

  • 72% of children and young people whose cases were reviewed were in stable, long-term placements
  • 88% had at least one significant adult in their lives
  • 88% were confidently considered safe and reported to feel safe.
  • 80% were receiving standard health services and, where necessary, specific health and disability services to meet their needs
  • 24% did not have regular contact with the same worker
  • 15% of those who were allocated a social worker received less than the recommended monthly face-to-face contact
  • 43% of children had a Life Story Book
  • 78% of the 123 children and young people who were of school age and attending a state pre-school, primary or secondary school had a current Individual, or Negotiated Education Plan
  • 43% of the 90 children and young people who had the capacity to understand had been provided with the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care
  • 61% of Aboriginal children were placed with their extended family or with Aboriginal carers
  • 38% of Aboriginal children had a culturally appropriate Life Story Book

A summary of the 2015-15 Audits of Annual Reviews is available.for download.

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The full report of the 2015-15 Audits of Annual Reviews is available.for download,.

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What we know about young people in care from their 2014-15 Annual Reviews

Each year the circumstances of each child and young person in long-term state care are required to be reviewed at a meeting called for that purpose.

The Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People attends some of the Annual Reviews as part of its monitoring function and to advocate for improved outcomes. This external audit process provides feedback to the child protection agency on the circumstances of children and the quality of the casework service.

In 2014-15 the Office audited 203 reviews which was 9 per cent of the reviews which were due to be held in that year.

Find out what the Office learned from the Audit of Annual Reviews Report 2014-15 which is available for download.

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What we know about young people in care from their 2013-14 Annual Reviews

graphic device with no contentEach year the circumstances of each child and young person in long-term state care are required to be reviewed at a meeting called for that purpose. It is a time when the adults in the child’s life come together to consider the child’s stability, sense of belonging, connectedness to carer and birth families, cultural identity, physical safety, emotional security, development opportunities, academic achievement and wishes now and for the future.

The Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People attends some of the Annual Reviews as part of its monitoring function and to advocate for improved outcomes. It is an external audit process that provides feedback to the child protection agency on the circumstances for children and the quality of the casework service.

In 2013-14 the Office audited 208 reviews which was 16.5 per cent of the reviews which were held in that year.

Find out what the Office learned from the Audit of Annual Reviews Report 2013-14.download button

Or get it at a glance in the summary infographic.

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Annual Reviews – the most important thing we do?

 

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Pam Simmons Guardian

I write this letter fresh from the celebration of a new year which, for many of us, is a short holiday and time to take stock.  The brave among us make resolutions. Some people are good far-sighted life planners, others are good at setting bite-sized goals with or without a life plan.
Planning for children is usually in the hope of giving them the best start for a secure and fulfilled life.  It is usually wrapped up in planning for the family and is done as and when big (and small) decisions crop up.

Planning for children under guardianship of the Minister is complicated by the number of adults involved and the procedures required of public administration.  In many ways though, it is the same.  The decisions range from the day-to-day care to the critical ones about moving house or changing school.  Less frequent is the time to dream, aspire, and hope for what we want for the child.

The Children’s Protection Act requires an annual review of a child’s circumstances when the child is under the long-term guardianship of the Minister. Administration of an annual review checks off on the ‘life domains’ for a child, such as physical and mental health, education, family contact, and placement. More significantly though, it is a ‘pause’ in the day to day business of parenting a child who is in care. It is a time for reflecting on the goals and ambitions, achievements and challenges for each child or young person. It is sometimes the one time in a year when the many adults in a child’s life can confer on whether they can ‘parent’ better.

A high standard of annual review is one where the focus is on the quality of the child or young person’s care arrangements with consideration given to their stability, sense of belonging, connectedness to carer and birth families, cultural identity, physical safety, emotional security, development opportunities, academic achievement and the child’s wishes now and for the future. It is not an administrative process. The child, their carers, relevant agencies, and where appropriate, the birth family, should be included.

In the very busy and demanding work of child protection agencies, the reasonable response to a non-urgent task that requires a heap of coordination, is to defer or ration it by doing the minimum.

But if we shift our way of thinking about this, it is possible that an annual review could become the most important thing to do, and the most enjoyable.

Just for a moment, if I stop being ‘the worker’ and become ‘the parent’ I want to know how she (the child) is, what she thinks, what brings meaning to her life and what she finds funny or misses or hopes for.  I look forward to asking about her and to sharing what I hear with others who want the best by her too. I listen closely to what others say about her because they see parts of her life I don’t. I want to prevent the hurts and disappointments, and if I can’t do that I want to be sure that she has someone to help her through.

Workers aren’t parents of the children in care. However, to a greater or lesser extent, they have parenting responsibilities, together with a bunch of others and especially the carers. There lies the joy. In our new way of thinking, this is the one chance in a hectic year to acknowledge the parenting achievements and challenges, and those of the child.

Senior Advocate Amanda Shaw joins annual review panels for the purpose of auditing.  She tells me of reviews that are joyous or wretched, and sometimes both. The reviews done well are heavily influenced by the Manager’s attention, the panel chair’s skill, the social worker’s knowledge of the child, the information from others such as the school teacher, the carers’ input and the child’s presence, in person or ‘voice’. A good review takes an hour and balances heavy topics with light, and has both detail and open discussion. Everyone leaves the review knowing what is to be done by whom and by when, and with a good sense of this child and how they are faring.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the annual review is mandatory because it must feel imposed. If instead it was triggered by an anniversary or a celebration, like the start of a new year, then everyone would approach it with enthusiasm and anticipation. In the real world of too much to be done and too little time, if not approached with enthusiasm, at least with knowledge of the significance of the discussion to this child’s future.

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What we know about the circumstances of young people in care from their 2012-13 Annual Reviews

picture of AR inforgraphicAn annual review of a child’s circumstances is required by law when a child is under the long-term guardianship of the Minister for Education and Child Development. It is a ‘pause’ in the day to day business of parenting a child who is in care. It is a time for reflecting on the goals and ambitions, achievements and challenges for each child or young person. It is sometimes the one time in a year when the many adults in a child’s life can confer on whether they can ‘parent’ better.

The Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People attends some of the reviews as part of its monitoring function and to advocate for improved outcomes. It is an external audit process that provides feedback to the child protection agency on the circumstances for children and the quality of the casework service.

In 2012-13 the Office audited 174 reviews at 16 Families SA offices, or 8.4 per cent[1] of the reviews which were to be conducted in that year.

Read the Audit of Annual Reviews Report 2012-13

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or the summary infographic.

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1As of June 2012 there were 2 072 children and young people under long-term guardianship orders, (data provided by Families SA).

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Report on the audit of the annual reviews of young people in care 2011-12

An annual review of a child’s circumstances is required by law when a child is under the long-term guardianship of the Minister.  It is a pause in the day to day business of parenting to reflect on the goals and ambitions, achievements and challenges for each child or young person.  It is a time when the many adults in a child’s life can confer on whether they can ‘parent’ better.

The Office of the Guardian attends some of the reviews as part of its monitoring function and to advocate for improved outcomes.  It is an external audit process that provides feedback to the child protection agency on the circumstances for children and the quality of the casework service.

In 2011-12 the Office audited 194 of the reviews at 15 Families SA offices.

Read our Audit of Annual Reviews Report 2011-12 for the full version

download button or an Audit of Annual Reviews 2011-12 infographic summary.

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What’s been done – September 2011 to February 2012

Youth Advisory Committee

The Youth Advisors now meet as the Youth Advisory Committee and in the past months they have advised on topics such as contact with siblings, Life Story Books, Other Person Guardianship, the ending of relationships with social workers and their experience of using complaints mechanisms.

Advocate visits to residential care

In the three months October to December, there were eight visits made by the Office’s advocates to children and young people in residential care and the youth training centres to listen to their views about their residence and circumstances.

Rights materials for young people with disabilities

In December, we released six sets of flash cards and a user guide to assist young people with disabilities to understand their rights and what they can fairly expect.  Thanks to the 35 young people, their families, the advisory committee and the Office staff who brought is ten month project to fruition. The card sets will be distributed to children in care through Disability Services and other disability agencies.

Sibling contact report

In December we released the report of our inquiry into what children say about contact with their siblings and the impact contact has on their wellbeing.  The full report and a summary are available on our website.

picture of book coverWhat children say about their world

We worked with our colleagues in children’s commissioners and guardians around Australia to produce a second book on what children say about their world. It focussed on children’s rights and children’s experience and views.  Our thanks to Leonie Wanklyn and her 2011 class at Port Lincoln Junior Primary for their contribution.
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ISG progress

Implementation of the Information Sharing Guidelines for Promoting the Safety and Wellbeing of Children, Young People and their Families (ISG) continues apace with many more non-government organisations adopting them, following development of their own procedures for safe and secure exchange of personal information. Improved information sharing is a focus of the National Women’s Safety Strategy and the contribution the ISG can make to this important work is being explored. Planning for the 2012 review of ISG implementation is underway. We are partnering with the Australian Centre for Child Protection as a component of evaluating ISG implementation.

Mental health services for young people in care

The Office reviewed 60 case files to better understand how the mental health needs of children in care are being met.  We will publish a summary of the findings of that review within the next few months.

Audits of annual reviews

In the last quarter of 2011 the Office audited 73 annual reviews of the circumstances of children in care.  A summary of the audit report for 2010-11 was released in September.
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The Year in Review and 2010-11 Annual Report

On 24 November the Guardian’s Annual Report was tabled in Parliament and its observations on the situation of young people in care were re-presented in The Year in Review published in December.
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Audit of Annual Reviews 2010-11 – report summary

In 2010-11 the Office of the Guardian audited 246 annual reviews in total, conducted in 16 Families SA offices.  This was 12 per cent of the reviews that should have been conducted in the year.

A full report of the audit is provided to the Minister for Families and Communities, following opportunity for comment from Families SA.

The following are main points from the Audit of Annual Reviews 2010-11- Summary Report which can be downloaded in PDF.

  • Six offices facilitated children and young people to attend the review meeting.
  • The direct participation of children and young people increased from 16 per cent in 2009-10 to 25 per cent. Additionally, in 39 per cent of cases reviewed the social worker spoke in detail about the child or young person’s involvement in case decisions and demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the child’s views.
  • Thirteen per cent of children and young people did not have a voice in case planning or annual reviews.
  • Nineteen per cent of children and young people did not have regular contact with the same case worker.
  • Sixty-eight per cent of children and young people whose cases were reviewed were in stable, long-term placements.
  • Eighty-nine per cent of children and young people whose cases were reviewed were receiving services to meet their needs.
  • Nineteen children and young people, including ten adolescents approaching independence, did not have any significant connections beyond Families SA.
  • For the most part, good efforts, and in some cases exceptional efforts were made to ensure family contact was maintained.
  • Sixty-two per cent of the Aboriginal children whose cases were reviewed were placed with their extended family or with Aboriginal carers. In most cases there was evidence that the children had been provided with information about their cultural heritage and identity.
  • Thirty-three per cent of the children and young people had a Life Story Book.
  • There was evidence of strong inter-agency collaboration in 101 cases (41 per cent of all cases, and 61 per cent of cases requiring interagency collaboration). In 81 cases, Families SA reported that no other agency was involved in the child or young person’s life and that inter-agency collaboration was not needed.

 

Audit of Annual Reviews 2009-10 – Report Summary

It is required by law in South Australia that there will be a review at least once in each year of the circumstances of each child under the guardianship of the Minister until the child attains 18 years of age.

The Office of the Guardian attends  and audits annual reviews to:

  • provide further external accountability on review panels
  • provide some external scrutiny of case management practice and interagency collaboration
  • advocate for quality outcomes for children and young people

We aim to attend ten per cent of reviews.  In 2009-10 we attended 201 reviews in total, conducted in 19 Families SA offices. This  represents 10.8 per cent of the reviews that should have been conducted in the year.

A full report of the audit is provided to the Minister for Families and Communities, following opportunity for comment from Families SA and a summary is published.

Download the Summary

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