Submission to the Out of Home Care Strategy Issues Paper

We believe in CHILDREN

Canberra Children's Family Centre
2 Atherton Street
Downer ACT 2602
(02) 6228 9500

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(02) 6241 4560

Family Support/ Adolescent Services
Fax (02) 6255 5233

PO Box 384
Dickson ACT 2602
Barnardos Australia A Company Limited by Guarantee
ABN 18 068 557 906
Registered Charity: CFN 13840
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Chair: Crispin Hull
CEO & Director Of Welfare: Louise Voigt

19 September 2013

Out of Home Care Strategy Care and Protection Services
Community Services Directorate GPO Box 158

Via email:

Comments on Issues Paper: Out of Home Care Strategy Issues Paper

Barnardos welcomes the opportunity to comment on the initial Issues Paper presented by the Community Services Directorate. We understand that further opportunities will be provided to have input, but would like to highlight the following:

The impact of placement prevention activities on Out of Home Care

Out of home care exists for children and young people who cannot safely live with their families. Many children who enter care remain for less than a year. It is reasonable to question whether many of these children and young people may have been supported in a safe and effective manner without entering out of home care. It is important that a review of cases of children and young people who enter out of home care for less than a year be conducted, with a view to determining whether changes to assessment approaches or placement prevention services could make a difference for this group. In saying that there are some children who benefit from short stays in out of home care.

Therapeutic, flexible and informed responses

In order for out of home care to be robust and flexible, the current funding model needs to be examined. Children and young people who are being referred for out of home care placements are presenting as increasingly complex. Access to specialist clinical services that can provide both access directly to therapeutic services as well as specialist clinical assessments to inform case planning and other interventions is critical. Barnardos considers that we need to move towards all out of home care services becoming therapeutic in intent and approach.

There are a number of approaches being adopted both in Australia and overseas which need to be considered and evaluations sought to determine if these would be successful in the ACT arena ..

Barnardos Out of Home Care is improving its training and knowledge of application through skilling up staff through training and researching other therapeutic services interstate. This training is to provide staff the skills to respond therapeutically and mentor and educate Carers of these approaches. Therapeutic Models have been adapted by multiple theories and approaches, a strong foundation that presently underpins our practice of Bruce Perry and Dan Hughes on the Neurobiology of Trauma and the impact of trauma on the brain and the impact of trauma of attachment.

Permanency Planning for all children

Barnardos believes that every child must have a permanency plan that is developed and implemented at the earliest opportunity. Barnardos definition of 'permanency planning' is in accord with that of Anthony Malucchio ie "a systematic process of carrying out, within a time-limited period, a set of goal-directed activities designed to help children live in families that offer continuity of relationships with nurturing parents or caretakers and the opportunity to establish lifetime relationships"(i)Permanency planning should aim to prevent family breakdown, using a strong restoration plan and focus; and, only if restoration is not possible, use good planning and evidence decision making to reach a permanent solution in out of home care. It is critical therefore that there should be careful assessment and extensive work to maintain children within their own families, or to make other permanent plans when it has been demonstrated that parents cannot care for their child.

Permanency planning is based on a belief that continuous, long-term living situations are significant for a child's healthy and optimum development. Underlying 'permanency' is the belief that children need:

  • A sense of identity
  • A sense of belonging
  • Stability
  • Attachment or bonding

The latest research stresses the fundamental impact on the growing brain of consistent attachment. For children in out of home care, one of the significant issues for children in out of home care, relate to a resolution of events within a child's time frame, particularly for children under five years of age and a respect for a child's current attachments.

The child's legal status is critical to a sense of belonging and is particularly important to children in long term care. Adoption has considerable advantages over long term foster care and is a significantly better option in that it provides a greater possibility for permanency and 'ownership' of a family. John Triseliotis concluded that "The main defining difference between these two forms of substitute parenting appears to be the higher levels of emotional security, sense of belonging and general well-being expressed by those growing up as adopted compared with those fostered long-term".(ii)

Judy Cashmore points out that children and young people's view is in favor of adoption. One aspect of this concerns a sense of permanence, a feeling of belonging and the 'status' of being adopted as opposed to the stigma of being in care. Another concerns the fact that an adoptive placement is not subject to appeal by the birth parent....adoption may remove some of the ambiguity and apprehension young people may feel about the status of the family after being discharged from care."(iii)

When considering permanency for children, workers must consider all available options along the continuum of care. Where adoption is the most appropriate plan, then resources need to be made available to achieve this outcome. Adoption promotes the child's sense of well-being, enhances life choices and increases future options. Adoption is the only option that offers a complete commitment to a child, one that lasts beyond adolescence and throughout adulthood. Adoption offers the child a full, equal membership of the adoptive family and transfers the legal rights and responsibilities of parenthood from the public 'care system' to the private parents, thus normalizing a child's life and preventing further systems abuse.

In NSW there is a clear preferred hierarchy of permanency being:

  1. family preservation/restoration
  2. long-term guardianship to relative or kin
  3. adoption
  4. parental responsibility to the Minister

In the ACT we have seen little planning and limited resources being directed to achieving this permanency. If the out of home care sector had a clear hierarchy of permanency as is evident in NSW and was adequately resourced this would achieve an increase in the numbers of children exiting out of home care through adoption.

Consideration of options other than foster care and residential care

For a cohort of young people who are aged sixteen to eighteen years, there needs to other options available outside the present foster care and residential care system. For some young people, lead tenant models could provide mentoring and support to achieve independence at considerably less cost and improved outcomes for the young person. Options to meet the needs of young people need to be explored with are cost effective and lead to improved outcomes.

The need for Accreditation of out of home care services

The Issues Paper correctly identifies that a number of the ACT out of home care agencies are accredited through the NSW accreditation system. We would support the ACT adopting the same accreditation system and even contracting with the Office of the Children's Guardian to undertake assessments of the ACT agencies where they have not received accreditation. The duplication that would result in having the ACT having another accreditation system would be expensive and increase the burden on the providers who have already undertaken the NSW system which is comprehensive.

Whatever Accreditation system is used, this should be implemented across all out of home care programs, including government if they retain the kinship and permanent care programs.

Support for kin carers

As the paper highlights the needs of kin carers are also significant. Barnardos believes that there needs to be clear considerations to ensure that poverty does not stop a child being care for by kin and that the adequate resources are available to support kincare. As has been undertaken in NSW, kin carers are now able to access support and training through the non-government sector, which we consider should be strongly considered in the ACT environment.

Hearing the voices of children and young people

Barnardos strongly supports the CREATE submission and also considers that the philosophy of participation should be embedded into policy and the practice of all organizations.

The Co-Design approach has been one approach used to obtain the feedback from young people who have exited the system, but we need to embed participation and individual decision making throughout policies, procedures and practice.

Further areas requiring consideration

To adequately plan for the future in Out of Home Care Service Delivery, we believe that further detailed analysis should be provided for consideration. This includes:

  • Examination of the cohort of children in out of home care, age upon entry and likely age of exit. How long are children remaining in care?
  • In the past 5 years, undertake an analysis of the cohort who have entered care.
  • Of those returned home, what is the proportion of those who have re-entered care and if adequate service support was provided to these families would this have been necessary.
  • What are the Educational outcomes of the children in care at the present time.
  • How do the NAPLAN results of these children compare to those in the general population? Are Individual Learning Plans being undertaken for these children and are support services being provided?
  • This also applies to Health needs of the children, including dental and therapy.
  • Anecdotally we here of many children on waiting lists for Therapy ACT services. Is there consideration to prioritization children in care for such services.
  • How is the ACT fairing in applying the Child Placement Principle? Considerations need to be explored in how we are able to recruit more Aboriginal families for children.

We are keenly interested to see, learn and contribute to the further discussion as the information is obtained and discussed to ensure that a vibrant, participative and outcomes based out of home care sector can be delivered.

 Annette Keely Egerton Signature

Senior Manager
Barnardos Australia
25 September 2013

  1. Malucchio, A., Fein, E., & Olmstea, M. Permanency Planning for Chidlren: Concepts and Methods London 1986 Tabistock
  2. Triseliotis, J. Long-term foster care or adoption? The evidence examined in Child and Family Social Work 2002, 7,pp23-33;2002
  3. Cashmore, J What the Research tells Us: Permanency Planning, Adoption and Foster Care in Children Australia Vol 25, No 4, 2,2000