Security and stability of placement dominates requests for advocacy

picture of suitcase

The Guardian’s Office received a record 96 in-mandate[1] requests for advocacy in the first quarter of the new year, representing 127 children and young people.

This was an increase of 35 per cent in inquiries and a 24 percent increase in the number of children represented compared to the preceding quarter.

Last year the Office averaged 64 in-mandate requests per quarter.  This follows the trend of an increase in the number of requests for advocacy and in the complexity of the issues raised.

The top five people who initiated in-mandate requests in July-September 2018 were:

Adults in the child’s life                                  42

Children and young people themselves      33

Department for Child Protection staff          10

Health, education and youth justice              5

Non-government organisations                     3

The top five presenting issues (by inquiry)[2] were:

Stability and security of placement              29

Safety                                                                21

Participation in decision making                   18

Contact with significant others                      15

Appropriate care                                               24

These are also the top five issues identified in the Guardian’s 2017-18 Annual Report and substantially the same as those reported in previous years.

The 33 children and young people who requested advocacy directly were in the following care arrangements:

Residential care                                             16

Adelaide Youth Training Centre                     5

Relative care                                                    4

Foster care                                                       2

Commercial (emergency) care                       2

Unknown                                                          4

 

[1] The Guardian is mandated by legislation to promote the interests of children and young people below the age of 18 years who are living in out-of-home care.  Another 17 inquiries were determined to be not within the Guardian’s mandate and those callers were assisted to make contact with a more appropriate organisation.

[2] Young people often present with multiple, interrelated issues.  Presenting issues are counted as primary and secondary and these are added to achieve the numbers reported.

IPS has bags of goodies for children entering emergency care

The IPS team’s Bruno Rocca and Robert Griffin take delivery of the first batch of bags for children entering emergency care from Nicole Pilkington and Lisa Pham from the Guardian’s Office.

6 March, 2017

‘When Bruno Rocca approached the Guardian’s Office a few months ago the Intensive Placement Services team were already providing Oogs and some other of the Guardian’s materials to the children coming into emergency care,’ said Charter of Rights Coordinator Nicole Pilkington.

‘He was looking for a way to streamline the process to make sure that all children received materials that were suitable to their age and Aboriginality while keeping it simple and practical for the members of the busy IPS team.

‘We devised three seprate packs for teenagers, pre-teens and Aboriginal children and arranged with Bruno to have them assembled and delivered to the IPS team offices.

‘We hope this is only the start.  There are already ideas to replace the bags with something more durable and useful like backpacks and to supplement the contents with other useful items like writing and drawing materials and colouring-in books.

‘It has been great to work with the IPS.  Perhaps in the future, other groups may want to make up their own customised packs that add value and usefulness to the Guardian’s materials for the children in their care,’ she said.

Full details of the materials available to organisations that have endorsed the Charter of Rights for distribution to children in state care are available on the Requesting materials page of the Guardian’s website.

A place to call home for children in state care – emergency care

house and heart graaphic2 March, 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.

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

The first two parts, on home-based care and residential care have appeared previously on the Guardian’s website.

In her report Commissioner Nyland described a situation in emergency care in which children were housed in temporary accommodation (such as motels, caravan parks and short-term rentals) by rotating shifts of workers with minimal training and supervision who were supplied by commercial organisations.  Numbers have grown since Commissioner Nyland drafted her report and for around 200 children, some as young as a few months or a few years old, these are their defacto care arrangements.

She observed that these arrangements are very unsuitable for children for any but the shortest time, in a genuine emergency.  They do not support their psychological needs and place them at enhanced risk of abuse.

This is how the Government has pledged to respond.

  • The use of commercial carers will be phased out (R 128) and commercial providers will be placed under more strict regulation of their employment practices and reporting requirements (R129).
  • The Residential Care Directorate will take over responsibility for managing emergency care placements (R131) and government workers will be more fully informed to allow them to provide oversight of the workers placed from commercial agencies (130).
  • The Government has undertaken that single-handed shifts by commercial carers will cease (R132) but not immediately as Commissioner Nyland recommended due to the capacity to provide the additional staff needed or suitable alternative placements.
  • A community visitors’ scheme for emergency and residential care residents is promised (R 137) although work on the scheme awaits the passage of the Child and Young People (Safety) Bill 2016 which is in State Parliament at the time of writing.
  • Children in emergency care will be supported with an education program to understand their rights (R136) and have a direct line of complaint to the Chief Executive of the Department for child Protection (R134).
  • An annual report on those complaints will be provided to the Guardian for Children and Young People (pending the setup of the complaints system) rather than the quarterly reports recommended by Commissioner Nyland (R135).
  • There will be more stringent recruiting of care workers including psychological testing (R138) and strict probation and review requirements will be introduced (R139).
  • Improved processes and pathways for residential care staff to observe and report concerns about the behaviour of staff with respect to children will be introduced (R142).  A tracking system will bring together and respond to information collected about suspicious staff behaviour from various sources (R143).
  • The Government has accepted in principle the recommendation to abandon and plan to outsource residential care or emergency care (R151). It has  committed to decreasing the numbers of children in emergency care but this will necessitate, it states, the expansion of residential care by outsourcing .
  • The Government has accepted in principle the recommendation to articulate the standards against which deficiencies in care can be assessed (R179).
  • The Government has agreed to provide a report to the Minister and the Guardian for Children and Young People on performance against service criteria (R198) but the scope of this may be limited by the capabilities of the C3MS case management software allows.

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

Emergency care – numbers are not the whole story

picture of Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw Guardian

14 February, 2017

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love statistics.

‘Without data you are just another person with an opinion’ – W. E. Deming [1]

So it was with growing unease that we dutifully recorded each month over the last few years the steady growth in the numbers of children and young people being placed by the state into what is called ‘emergency care’.

In emergency care children are looked after in temporary accommodation by rotating shifts of workers with minimal training, provided mostly by commercial companies. In the popular shorthand they have become known as ‘kids in motels’ although their ages vary and the places in which they reside include bed and breakfasts, caravan parks and short-term rentals.

We have frequently reported, and Commissioner Nyland’s investigations reached the same conclusion, that emergency care is very unsuitable for children. It does not and cannot support their psychological needs and social development and potentially places them at greater risk of abuse.

There are now nearly 200 children and young people living under such arrangements so we need to get the numbers down – yes?

Well, yes – but with a very strong proviso.

Finding a suitable alternative placement is much more than just finding a bed. In a complex calculation, the child or young person’s age, gender, cultural identity, maturity, previous experiences, psychological state, personality and disabilities all form part of the planning. A placement in home-based or residential care must have the best chance to make them feel safe, secure, accepted and support them to reach their full potential. As well, a good placement has to consider not just the best for the child or young person being placed but, equally importantly, what is in the interests of those who already live in that placement.

Getting this right has consequences for the safety, happiness and wellbeing of the children and young people being placed, not just now but for the future and perhaps for the rest of their lives.

In the past we have seen efforts to ‘get the numbers down’ lead to children being placed into unsuitable home-based or residential care placements. They were often hastily planned and executed, poorly matched and ignored the views of the children.

We need to acknowledge the community and media pressure on the new Department to ‘get the numbers down’ but the safety, wellbeing and interests of children and young people must come first. A number of matters coming before the Office’s Advocates recently have raised my concern that an emphasis on ‘getting the numbers down’ is once again coming at the expense of good placement matching. Placement options are being discussed that appear very unsuitable, that children and young people do not want and that may place them at risk.

There is also some evidence that children and young people in settled circumstances are being shuffled among the residential care houses in order to create places. There is a dilemma in taking action for the greater good – making more placements within the same resources available – while not losing sight of the individual’s rights, wellbeing and, importantly, their voice.

South Australia already has the highest average number of placement changes per child in Australia and we have previously documented the negative effects of forced placements changes in reports and in young people’s own words.

There is no shortcut to creating suitable quality care placements in foster care, relative care and residential care. It will take time, resources and sustained effort but creating suitable alternatives is the only acceptable way to reduce the numbers in emergency accommodation.

In the end it will be the stories of the children and young people behind the statistics that will be the evidence of our success or failure.

1 William Edwards Deming was a notable American management innovator and champion of evidence-based decision making. Wikipedia

This article also appears in the February 2017 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

Therapeutic care – everywhere

10 October, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #6

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 five in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. [3] 

Commissioner Nyland’s description of the need for a therapeutic approach to child protection rests on three understandings.

  1. Most, if not all, children taken into care will be experiencing trauma. It will have been  caused, if not by prior abuse and neglect, by the dislocation of their lives caused by the experience of coming into care.
  2. Treatment of developmental trauma is not rapid and cannot be delivered by professional intervention alone. Therapy requires consistent long-term work, with consideration of the child’s care environments, home and school, specialist therapy and support from others in the child’s life.
  3. Supporting a child affected by trauma, especially one with high and complex needs, requires adults to collaborate closely and share an understanding of what causes behaviours and how to respond appropriately.

In residential care and emergency care, all staff need to be trained in the effects of developmental trauma, how to support a trauma–affected child and how to respond appropriately to challenging behaviour.  Commissioner Nyland recommends a ‘streamed’ model of residential care where the specific needs of each child can be met in an appropriate setting.[4] 

Home-based care, which will continue to provide the bulk of out-of-home-care, presents some particular issues.

Home-based carers are not experts in trauma. They rely on the professionals to support them by identifying and addressing issues which emerge as the child grows. Two principal barriers to therapeutic support for placements were identified: one, that foster parents fail to communicate with support workers about the nature and severity of the problems with which they are grappling; and two, that professionals charged with supporting the placement do not refer the foster parents to appropriate support at an early stage. 

There also remain serious barriers for children requiring specialist therapeutic services.

… the therapeutic needs of many children in care are still being neglected. While there are some examples of very good service from the Agency, not all children with a demonstrated need are receiving assessment and support.

… [therapeutic] services for children in care are scattered across a number of agencies, each of which apply their own criteria for eligibility.

… greater investment in therapeutic services is needed for children entering and living in care. The assessment of their needs, and the processes for referring them to the appropriate service, should be better coordinated. 

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • The application of a therapeutic framework across all residential care environments giving a theoretical basis for care decisions.
  • Training, ongoing professional development and support for residential care workers in working with children affected by developmental trauma.
  • The initial and ongoing training for all foster carers to include the effects of and suitable responses to developmental trauma and the availability of therapeutic assistance.
  • Improved systems for the timely assessment and provision of therapeutic services to children who need them, especially in rural and remote areas.
  • The provision of therapeutic support to home-based placements that are identified as being at risk of breakdown.
  • The inclusion of Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma (SMART) training in the professional development of all educators who work with children in care. 

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 previous ‘Themes from Nyland’ posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care, Residential care and Home-based 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 Commissioner Nyland also recommended the establishment of secure therapeutic care facilities where young people in care can be detained for a period of time during which they will receive therapy.  Although the Commissioner sets out a number of safeguards and conditions, the Guardian believes that this model will not produce significant long-term benefit for the young people so detained and that the detention of young people who have committed no offence raises important human rights concerns.