Working together for children in care

photo of Penny Wright

Penny Wright Guardian for Children and Young People in Care

When the state takes over the parenting of a child, that parent has many faces, many hands and, hopefully, many hearts.

Pointing the way to a new and better child protection system, Commissioner Margaret Nyland wrote in her preface to The Life They Deserve

The new agency cannot operate in isolation. It should coordinate and collaborate with all other relevant departments and organisations, both government and non-government, to give children better outcomes.  It must also be proactive and engage the community to play its part in developing programs and systems…

Many of the good things we see happening for children in state care, and we do see many good things happening in our work, happen when the hearts and the hands of adults come together to recognise and understand a child’s needs and stay together to work through to a good outcome.  The joy for the child, but also for the adults, is palpable.  It is one of the reasons we do the work we do.

Sadly, some of the worst results we see for children are when people and organisations fail to work together closely and respectfully in the child’s interests.

Our recent survey of the state of cooperation and collaboration in child protection asked respondents to rate levels of cooperation and collaboration.   We chose 19 different relationships drawn from those identified in the work of Commissioner Nyland as being crucial to an effective child protection system.  In analysing the results, we applied the standard that cooperation and collaboration should occur either ‘frequently’ or ‘always’.  By that standard only one of those critical relationships was scored as achieving a pass mark by 30 percent of the respondents.  Most of the others were scored much lower and many were in single figures.   There were two areas that had improved since an identical survey conducted in June 2017 but it’s fair to say the improvements were small and were from a very low base.  Allowing for the limitations of the survey, it is clear that respondents thought that we are still far short of Commissioner Nyland’s ideal.

Just as useful for me, were many of the comments.  There were a few heartening stories of good and effective cooperation but there were many more of key stakeholders being omitted from case planning and decision making and important information remaining unshared.  Many attributed the failures to workload issues but others referred to organisational culture, policy and training.

My office observed a sample of the Annual Reviews of young people in state care over a period of ten years to 2017.  Annual reviews have been long mandated in the Department for Child Protection, and its earlier incarnations, in order to review the situation of each child and young person in state care.  It is a time to reflect and review and plan for the child’s future outside of the day to day pressures. It is a time to place a child at the very centre of thinking and caring. Annual Reviews occurred for up to 80 per cent of children in care in most years but attendance at the planning sessions by other than social workers and supervisors was rare.  In our report Office of the Guardian Audits of Annual Reviews 2007- 2017 we summarised:

Most offices have, over the 10 years of these audits, conducted annual reviews with only Department staff present with carers represented occasionally and birth parents and other professionals very much the exception.

If, as Margaret Nyland concluded, cooperation and collaboration are essential to an effective child protection system then major cultural and practice change is essential.  I look forward to supporting and contributing to such relationships, as my office grows into its new roles.

Cooperation and collaboration survey January 2018 – some gains and some way still to go

‘My experience is that when workers across the systems work collaboratively and cooperatively with each other the outcomes for the child and carers can be positive in numerous ways and is heart-warming.’ – survey respondent

Compared to 2017

Compared to the June 2017 results, the January 2018 respondents award modest improvements in some areas. Cooperation between the Department for Child Protection (DCP) workers and foster and kinship carers occurs frequently or always according to 23% and 28% of respondents respectively, both significant improvements.  It is up by 15% to a survey-best of 31% among organisations when there is an investigation of child sexual abuse.

The poorest performers

Cooperative relationships that occurred least frequently were between

  • DCP staff and the National Disability Insurance Agency
  • disability services and DCP workers
  • heads of government on child protection matters
  • organisations, NGOs, universities and other training organisations on workforce planning

Overall

Even for the best performing relationships, the survey revealed how far we are from a situation in which cooperation and collaboration occurs frequently or always with only six of the nineteen relationships surveyed exceeding 20% and none exceeding 31%.

Strategic relationships were among the worst rated.  Cooperation between heads of government departments, workforce planning and service planning were given ‘never’ or ‘not normal’ ratings by 49%, 60% and 47% of respondents respectively.

Comments

Our special thanks to the many respondents who made extensive comments and they mostly agree with the general direction of the statistics.  They also illuminate specific issues and, apart from a few excisions, we reproduce them in full in the report.

Download the January 2018 Cooperation and collaboration survey report.

Collaboration survey results – The views of Government and NGOs

This week we look at how perceptions of collaboration and cooperation in child protection differ between government organisations and NGOs.

Given that collaboration should occur ‘frequently’ or ‘always’  in no areas did more than half of Government or non-Government respondents report that this was the case.

Differences

Government respondents almost always perceived much higher levels of collaboration and cooperation than NGO respondents.  Averaging all areas, 23 percent of Government versus 7 percent of NGO respondents rated collaboration and cooperation as occurring ‘frequently’ or ‘always’ .

NGO respondents rated collaboration and cooperation much lower that Government respondents most significantly:

  • between organisations working with children in the courts on child protection matters
  • between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations on matters related to individual Aboriginal children
  • between organisations supporting children after sexual abuse

Areas of agreement

Government and NGO respondents agreed on a number of areas where levels of cooperation and collaboration never occurred or were not normal.  These included:

  • between government organisations, NGOs and universities and other training organisations on workforce planning
  • between heads of government departments on child protection matters
  • between government and Aboriginal organisations on policy about Aboriginal children in care
  • between DCP staff and the National Disability Insurance Agency

Comments from Government respondents

Communication between stakeholders is paramount in finding workable support and solutions… we just need to drop the walls and get on with the job holisicly!

We have excellent support from CAMHS staff and Residential care, also fabulous support from My Youth Health Nurse who visits regularly to assist young people. There has been an improved interaction between agencies and DCP to assist Aboriginal young people in care.

There is extreme variation of quality and quantity of collaboration and coordination between individuals and agencies involved in the care and protection of children and young people. In my area, it is of particular concern that there is such poor communication between DCP and other government agencies (principally DECD), as well as the NGO sector with regard to the training and development of DCP staff, workforce planning and aligning practice between DCP and non DCP workers who are charged with similar roles in the child protection system. Not only in this poor management and support of the workforce, it contributes to inconsistencies in knowledge, skills and practice and thus poorer outcomes for children and young people.

I work in child and adolescent mental health and part of my role is to work across the system for the purpose of creating or strengthening scaffolding for the child or adolescent and their carers. My experience is that when workers across the systems work collaboratively and cooperatively with each other the outcomes for the child ?? and carers can be positive in numerous ways and is heartwarming. Obviously this doesn’t always happen for many reasons, much of which I believe is work overload and insufficient supports for many workers leading to a stressed system and a lack of education and deep understanding of the effects of trauma and abuse on young people. However the system also has a band of many experienced and dedicated workers in all areas who support the strengthening of the system in the course of doing their jobs. Thanks for the work and role your organisation plays ??

Comments from non-Government respondents

This to me is still a huge area for practice development. It is too often the case that the systems around the child are the ongoing contributor to the complexities and anxiety placed on the child in care. It is clear through the many commissions that change is critical in collaboration and coordination, however I fear that the changes occurring are a result of a tick-boxing exercise and are not occurring in the spirit of collaboration and coordination across the sector.

Government departments frequently consult with stakeholders but it’s often shallow and doesn’t appear to have impact on decisions and policy. At the most basic level, care team planning for children in OOHC doesn’t have happen. Carers and NGOs are not respected and asked for input once decisions are made.  DCP have no idea of, or commitment to, real co-design or partnership.

**Comments have had minor proofing changes. Some comments have been edited for brevity and to minimise repetition.

Collaboration survey results – staff of Government schools and the DCP

 

 

 

 

 

The results from the survey completed in January 2018 show little change from the June 2017 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the Department for Child Protection (DCP).  However, DCP and DECD workers see things quite differently with DCP workers consistently rating levels of collaboration and cooperation as higher than their education colleagues.

Collaboration between between staff of Government schools and DCP workers
nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn*
June 2017 – all responses71855201246
Jan. 2018 – all responses52058152105
Jan. 2018 – DCP employees0176711618
Jan. 2018 – DECD employees15224122027

*n is the number of respondents who felt competent to comment on this aspect of collaboration and cooperation. Where the numbers are small, one should be careful of drawing more than general conclusions.

Comments by DCP workers**

January is not a normal month as a lot of agencies slow down during the Christmas break and school holidays. Otherwise there is a lot of dialogue with schools and DCP.

There is extreme variation of quality and quantity of collaboration and coordination between individuals and agencies involved in the care and protection of children and young people. In my area, it is of particular concern that there is such poor communication between DCP and other government agencies (principally DECD), as well as the NGO sector with regard to the training and development of DCP staff, workforce planning and aligning practice between DCP and non DCP workers who are charged with similar roles in the child protection system. Not only is this poor management and support of the workforce, it contributes to inconsistencies in knowledge, skills and practice and thus poorer outcomes for children and young people.

Comments by DECD workers**

I feel that DCP needs to open up the lines of communication with DECD/schools. Education needs to be given a greater importance then DCP often give it. Connection to education is linked to future outcomes for students.

Lack of communication from DCP with schools and DECD Student Support services; difficult to get DCP workers to attend case meetings; difficult to get a DCP worker to talk to on the phone about one of their clients (e.g. a guardianship child). DCP don’t always put the required consideration in to what school to enrol a guardianship child. (Please note these are general statements, there can be DCP workers who communicate and interact well).

There are times when there is good information sharing and planning between agencies, but other times not so. Seems somewhat dependent on staff involved.

I am as social worker in a Children’s Centre and we work very well with the Department of Child Protection and other government and non-government agencies in relation to supporting children at risk. I believe the only reason why collaboration is not always available is due to lack of resources in relation to the Department of Child Protection given on the ground workers are always operating at full capacity.

DECD Support Services often makes contact with DCP caseworkers regarding children already in care – often without return contact or reply… I make lots of recommendations in my reports and I rarely hear if any of these have been followed up by DCP. Personally have found DCP staff very difficult to contact. Staffing vacancies in the country most likely contribute to this.

Comment by an NGO worker**

In my limited experience of working with young people in care in the public school system, there is very limited communication between DCP and schools. Incidents such as missing person reports, lack of attendance, mental health and physical health, suicide and self harm risks and many other factors that impact upon a young person’s ability to attend and engage in education have not been clearly communicated with the school. This means that we as educators and school support staff are unable to provide the required support to ensure that the young person’s right to an education is upheld.

**Comments have had minor proofing changes. Some comments have been edited for brevity and to minimise repetition.

Analysis and commentary

Although the number of respondents was fewer than in the 2017 survey, there is little change from the June 2018 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the the Department for Child Protection (DCP). The comments left identify similar issues to those identified in the June 2017 survey.

It is reasonable to expect that cooperation and collaboration should occur ‘always’ or ‘frequently’. By this criterion, DCP respondents, DECD respondents and respondents as a whole give the Government schools-DCP collaboration a substantial ‘fail’.

The  respondents’ comments generally suggest that, as the most significant decision makers and holders of information, DCP should be taking the initiative in promoting this collaboration.

Coordination and collaboration survey, January 2018

16 January 2018

.

In June 2017, nearly 400 government and non-government workers, carers and other stakeholders responded to a survey on how well coordination and collaboration were being managed between the various agencies of the child protection system.

In July we published the survey data and a deeper analysis of how people saw DCP and DECD working together.

During January, we will repeat the survey of people from all aspects of the child protection system about their perceptions and analyse the responses for the current state of cooperation and trends.

If you have knowledge and an interest in child protection, and you are able to dedicate five minutes to taking this confidential survey, please click the link below.

And please consider passing it on to colleagues and friends who may also have knowledge and information.


Yes, please take me to the survey.


Coordination and collaboration survey June 2017 – results

4 July 2017

Our thanks to the 384 people from all corners of the child protection system who responded to the Coordination and Collaboration Survey June 2017.

Respondents were asked to record their perceptions of a range of important relationships as they experienced them in June 2017 and the extent of change they had noticed since December 2016.  Nearly 150 respondents also left comments.

The unfiltered results can be downloaded from the link at the foot of this page.

We look here at six of the main areas identified by the Nyland Report in which close and frequent coordination and collaboration should be engaged in frequently or always. Results are in percentages of those who felt able to comment.

Respondents reported that coordination and collaboration occurred…

1. Between heads of relevant government departments

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
122745170130

2. In information sharing on child protection matters

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
62543224303

3. Between government, NGOs and training organisations on workforce planning

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
20373742178

4. Between organisations supporting children after sexual abuse

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
72645174205

5. Between DCP management and field staff

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
42248224161

6. Between foster carers and DCP workers

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn
21557214235

Filtering the results by respondent produces additional insight into the way different parties have experienced the frequency of coordination and collaboration as in the relationship between foster carers and DCP workers .

More analysis

As indicated in the example above, there is more insight into the relationships we surveyed waiting to be revealed by filtering the responses by by respondent.  Watch out over the next few weeks as we progressively do that and start analysing the content of the 147 comments, many of them quite detailed.

Download the Coordination and Collaboration Survey June 2017 – unfiltered results

1 The survey was open from 13 June to 27 June, 2017 and received 384 responses and 147 comments. It is part of an ongoing series in which the Guardian’s Office observes and comments on progress in areas identified in Commissioner Nyland’s report.  It should be borne in mind that the survey sample was relatively small and respondents self-selected. The results are broadly indicative and should not be relied on for more fine-grained analysis.

 

Coordination and collaboration survey, 2017

13 June 2017

.

Very many organisations have a hand in the well-being of children in the child protection system. Commissioner Nyland in her report on SA’s child protection system, The Life They Deserve, implored those organisations to coordinate and collaborate strongly to achieve the very best outcomes for children.

So, how well is that going?

Over the next two weeks we will survey people from all aspects of the child protection system about their perceptions and publish the results.  If that includes you and you are able to dedicate five minutes to taking this confidential survey, please click the link below – and consider passing it on to relevant colleagues and friends.


Yes, please take me to the survey.


Season’s Greetings!

.

.

19 December, 2016

.

Whenever I am confronted with another of the disasters that flood our screens, I am reminded of what a friend told me, ‘watch the helpers’. Take note of those who run towards the chaos, drag people from beneath the rubble, rush them to hospital, tend to their wounds, lift children and wrap them in blankets.

Seeing that reinforces for me the goodness of people, instinctively drawn to run towards the chaos and to lend a hand in whatever way they can.  It also reminds me that we are, as people, at our best when we are working together.

It has been a difficult year for many of the children who find themselves in care of the state.  It has also been a difficult year for the many adults – carers, relatives, social workers, teachers and others –  who struggle to make things better for them in the midst of our faltering child protection system.

A sincere thank you from me and my team for all of your work and dedication in 2016.

We look forward to re-joining you in 2017 when my hope is that we will continue to reinvigorate the essential goodness in our colleagues, the buoyant energy of the children and young people we serve and a greater realisation that the only way we can make change, lasting change, is by finding new and better ways of working together.

A happy and relaxing holiday season to you and your loved ones.


The Guardian’s Office will be closed and the telephones unattended from 5pm Friday December 23, 2016 to 9am Tuesday January 3, 2017.


Getting together to do the best for children

Amanda - May 2014

Senior Advocate Amanda Shaw

Our child protection system is set up to protect children from harm or further harm. We may have different views about what the further harm is and how to protect them but I’m okay with that. I truly believe that we all benefit from seeking, sharing and listening to different perspectives and that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The best decisions are made from the inclusion of different perspectives.

But there are many challenges.

It is a challenge when two or more children have competing or opposing wishes and interests. Each child’s circumstances must be considered. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the collective needs of a group of children, like a biological or foster sibling group. One of the key messages from our 2010-2011 inquiry into sibling contact was that children can develop meaningful and satisfying sibling relationships with non-biological family members. The inquiry highlighted the importance of seeking the child or young person’s views, wherever possible, about who their family is and how they would like to maintain relationships with family members. We need to take the child’s views into account when making the best decisions.

It is a challenge when children are very young or don’t have the developmental capacity to contribute their views. I have seen, first-hand children who are younger than five years make active contributions but that’s not always possible or thought of or facilitated. Their ‘voice’ often has to be sought by other means; from those who know the child and from assessments that have been conducted by independent professionals.

Of course, those who know the child will have their own views and interests. There is nothing wrong with the adults in a child’s life presenting their views and interests, but at times it may be difficult to differentiate between what is the child’s voice and what is filtered through the adult’s interests.

What we ask on behalf of the child is that adults who have different opinions about what decisions should be made or what actions should be taken, acknowledge their different views and agree to work collaboratively and cooperatively to achieve the positive outcomes that the child deserves. It is not easy to leave self-interest, fixed positions, personal rivalries and ambition at the door but that, and a good dose of bravery, is what is needed.

It is a challenge when there are blocks to collaborative and cooperative work and some blocks are entrenched and need significant work to remove. Although change can take time, I have the good fortune to see first-hand great work to heal children and rebuild their lives and to improve the child protection system.

We need to be consistent, persistent and cooperative, and keep the children’s needs – and their views – central to our thinking and actions.

 link to GCYP twitter