A Step Up for Our Kids - One Step Can Make a Lifetime of Difference
2: A therapeutic trauma-informed care system
3: Strengthening high-risk families domain
4: Creating a continuum of care domain
5: Strengthening accountability and ensuring a high-functioning care system domain
6: The way forward
1.1: What isA Step Up for Our Kids?
A Step Up for Our Kids, formerly the Out of Home Care Strategy 2015-2020, is a plan to guide the delivery of services over a five-year period commencing 1 July 2015 for children and young people who cannot safely live with their birth parents.
Development of the strategy was initiated in response to the need to ensure the quality and supply of out of home care placements for children and young people in the care of the territory. A secondary aim was to strengthen supporting arrangements to ensure the best possible outcomes are achieved for children and young people, including enhancing cross-portfolio collaboration to meet the educational and health needs of children and young people in care. The strategy also responds to a number of deficiencies in the purchasing and delivery of out of home care services identified through three external reviews conducted in recent years. The reports of these reviews are:
- Public Advocate: Emergency Response Strategy for Children in Crisis in the ACT 2011
- Public Advocate: Review of the Emergency Response Strategy for Children in Crisis in the ACT 2012
- Auditor-General: Performance Audit Report of the Care and Protection System 2013.
1.2: What are the challenges facing out of home care in the ACT?
Research and modelling undertaken to support the development of the strategy suggests that unless action is taken, the ACT faces a crisis in out of home care within five years due to growth in the numbers of children and young people in care, carer shortages and increasing costs.
All jurisdictions in Australia are experiencing growth in numbers of children and young people entering care. In the ACT, the number of children and young people in care has grown on average by around five per cent per annum over the last decade and there are no grounds to believe that this pattern will cease without intervention. The introduction of the Children and Young People Act 2008, which commenced in 2009 has contributed to the growth in demand. It broke the ‘rotating door’ pattern of children entering and leaving care repeatedly by providing for restoration within two years or alternatively long-term orders, thus increasing demand for care places.
Of particular concern is the growth in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in care. Around one-quarter of children and young people in care in the ACT identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons. This equates in 2012-13 to about 140 children and young people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are significantly over-represented in the ACT child protection system as they are in other Australian jurisdictions. The ACT has the third highest rate nationally of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care compared to their presence in the general population, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people over represented by a factor of 13.
All jurisdictions are also struggling to gain and retain adequate numbers of suitable carers, partly due to demographic and lifestyle changes. Recruiting carers in the ACT is particularly difficult because of the very high rates of workforce participation by both women and men.
The shortage of placements means that there are limited opportunities to match a home to a child or young person’s needs, creating increased rates of placement breakdown and additional psychosocial damage to the child as children and young people cycle through a hierarchy of carer arrangements.
The bottom line is that currently there are difficulties in matching children and young people with the right care and increasing difficulty in attracting carers. In addition, a significant number of kinship carers and some foster carers will age out of the system over the next decade. In 2013, nearly 60 per cent of kinship carers were aged 50 and over. Forty children are being cared for by kinship carers aged between 66 and 87.
The growth in demand for care places in all Australian jurisdictions has been mirrored by disproportionate growth in the costs of out of home care as child protection services have struggled to meet the increasingly complex needs of children in care; the response to the adverse findings of 18 inquiries into out of home care that have taken place in Australia over the past decade; and provide care places as the availability of foster carers declines.
Residential care is often used for young people whose homes with foster carers or kinship carers have broken down. Children and young people are cared for in a group of between two and six young people by shift workers. This tends to produce poor outcomes for children and young people. In the ACT 32 per cent of the out of home care budget is expended on just 7 per cent of children and young people who reside in residential care. This is not financially sustainable.
Finally, the current ACT care system is not delivering the desired quality outcomes for children and young people. Research, both nationally and internationally, indicates care leavers experience worse life outcomes than the general population. The experience of being in care can impact a child or young person long after they have left care in terms of their ability to gain an education, succeed in employment, build meaningful relationships and parent their own children satisfactorily, connect with their community and lead productive lives.
1.3: What does the current out of home care system look like?
The current care system in the ACT developed from outsourcing foster care and residential care in 2000. At the time, foster care and residential care were the two largest forms of care. A new Out of Home Care Framework was introduced in 2010 at which time changes were made to the quantum and format of allowances and contingencies, and services were re-tendered. Purchased services took the form of general and intensive foster care and general and intensive residential care on the basis of specified unit prices.
ACT Out of Home Care Standards were piloted in 2009. National Out of Home Care Standards were agreed by all jurisdictions in 2011 and are expected to form the basis of an accreditation scheme for ACT out of home care services. As part of this strategy the ACT will adopt the national standards as its own. The standards are child-focused, are written to be accessible to a wide audience, were subject to significant consultation and will reduce reporting burden for out of home care agencies who operate across jurisdictions. The standards will be incorporated into any future contractual arrangements for out of home care services.
In another significant development, new child welfare legislation commenced in 2009, the Children and Young People Act 2008. The Act reinforced the development of kinship care as a preferred option and strengthened the focus on either early reunification or permanency i.e. within two years. The effect of the Act was to reduce the common and damaging experience for children and young people in care of multiple entries to and exits from care interspersed with attempts at reunification.
The most significant development in recent times has been the steady growth in kinship care, which has resulted in Care and Protection Services again becoming the provider of the largest number of care places with 291 children managed by Care and Protection Services in kinship care at 30 June 2013. In 2011, CSD received funding to establish a kinship carer support team in recognition that kinship carers required more support than busy caseworkers could offer. This has been a successful initiative.
The engagement of external care providers in 2000 added value to the system through sharing responsibility for the care of these vulnerable children. However, these outsourcing arrangements also brought greater complexity to the operation of the system and the relationships between children, young people, carers, birth families, providers and Care and Protection Services by adding another agent into the mix. During consultations about the strategy, the single issue most consistently raised by all of these groups was the difficulties created by the three-way relationship between carers, Care and Protection Services and the foster care agencies. It results in duplication of effort, communication difficulties, delays in decision making and unnecessary conflict.
The electronic child protection record system, the Child and Young Person System (CHYPS), dates back to 1999 and has been the subject of criticism in every review of child protection conducted over the last decade. The lack of a shared information system linking Care and Protection Services and out of home care providers is inefficient. A project to scope the possibility of purchasing a new system or significantly upgrading the functionality of CHYPS was funded in the ACT Budget of 2013. The outcome of this project will be announced in mid-2015.
New legislation, the Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act 2011, commenced in the ACT on 8 November 2012 which aims to reduce the risk of harm or neglect to vulnerable people in the ACT. All persons who work with children, whether in a volunteer or paid capacity, have been required to obtain a Working with Vulnerable People check, including foster, kinship and residential carers and the frontline staff of non-government providers and of Care and Protection Services.
The ACT’s child protection and out of home services are subject to external scrutiny by a number of oversight bodies, notably the Public Advocate of the ACT and the ACT’s Children and Young People Commissioner.
During 2013, CSD announced an intention to integrate its two statutory services programs - Care and Protection Services and Youth (Justice) Services - and a Senior Director, Statutory Services has been appointed. Planning and consultations to give effect to this decision are underway. The final structure of statutory services will be influenced by the strategy.
The Public Advocate of the ACT serves a number of important functions within the child protection system and has quite broad ranging powers.
The Public Advocate:
- is empowered to provide individual advocacy for a child or young person who is, or who should be, subject to some form of state intervention, including through the mental health, juvenile justice or care and protection systems
- under provisions of the Children and Young People Act 2008, routinely receives key documents prepared by the CSD including Care and Protection Applications to the Children’s Court, Annual Review Reports for children and young people in care and reports alleging abuse or neglect of a child for whom the Director-General has daily care responsibility and who is alleged to have been abused by an approved carer or during approved or Court ordered contact
- can also request information in relation to children and young people whilst performing a statutory function. In addition, under the Court Procedures Act 2004, the Public Advocate is entitled to appear, to be heard and to call witnesses in proceedings against a child or young person or a matter under the Children and Young People Act 2008 or in relation to which this Act applies
- manages through an Executive Officer the Management Assessment Panel (MAP) process to facilitate the coordination of case planning and service provision for members of the community, including children and young people, whose complex service needs are poorly coordinated or not adequately met. MAP meetings are convened by an independent Chair appointed by the Minister
- ACT has a range of functions and responsibilities in relation to people who have a condition that impairs their decision making ability. The Public Advocate’s guardianship function may commence for young people transitioning from care following the making of an ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal order and upon the young person reaching adulthood.
The roles and functions of the ACT Children and Young People Commissioner (CYPC) are established under Sections 6, 14 and 19B of the Human Rights Commission Act 2005 (ACT), and include:
- investigate complaints and concerns about the provision of services for children and young people
- consult with and listen to children and young people, and encourage government and nongovernment agencies to do the same
- make recommendations to government and non-government organisations on legislation, policies, practices and services that affect children and young people
- promote the rights of children and young people
- encourage and assist providers of services for children and young people to contribute to reviews and improve service delivery
- promote community discussion about the CYPC and services for children and young people
- conduct enquiries and reviews.
1.4: What does the strategy propose?
The new strategy represents a major departure from current practice and aims to reduce demand for out of home care places thus averting significant long-term costs to government and the community. It places a strong emphasis on preventing children and young people from entering care, reunifying them with their birth parents as quickly as possible and, where children and young people cannot go home safely, moving them into permanent alternative family settings as quickly as possible.
The strategy also aims to improve outcomes for children and young people by providing more flexible, child-focused services. It seeks to strengthen relationships around the child or young person and allow decision making to happen as close to the child or young person’s lived experience as possible. The strategy recasts the out of home care system as a therapeutically-oriented, trauma-informed system of care. It also aims to make the system safer, more effective, efficient, equitable and accountable and to improve its financial sustainability over the longer term.
The strategy organises reform activity into three domains, all of which are underpinned by the commitment to a therapeutic, trauma-informed care system:
- strengthening high-risk families
- creating a continuum of care
- strengthening accountability and ensuring a high-functioning care system.
Further details about the initiatives that address these themes are provided in subsequent sections.
1.5: What is the strategy’s vision?
The Out of Home Care Strategy’s vision for out of home care services is:
Children and young people in care - growing up strong, safe and connected.
The vision statement expresses the government’s commitment to maximising the physical and mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in care and their connection to family, community, culture and education and employment.
The government is seeking a generational change which will mean that the next generation of care leavers will enjoy a sound basis for a successful adult life including enjoying a secure attachment to a family. The government wants children and young people in care to reach their full potential and to have hope and aspirations for their futures.
1.6: Will legislative change be required to implement the strategy?
Many of the new policy directions espoused by the strategy can be actioned within the framework of the current Children and Young People Act 2008. There are a few areas where the strategy’s implementation would be assisted by legislative change.
Some potential amendments to the Act have been flagged at relevant points within this document. Further detailed consideration of possible legislative amendments will occur during the implementation period.
1.7: Does the strategy reflect the findings of the Royal Commission?
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established in January 2013 to investigate the abuse of children and young people in institutional settings including out of home care and to recommend systemic improvements to better protect children and young people in future.
The work of the Royal Commission has underlined the importance of safeguarding children and young people in out of home care from sexual abuse and exploitation and from abuses of power more generally by the adults charged with their care. The interim report of the Royal Commission, released on 30 June 2014, does not advance any recommendations; subsequent reports will. These recommendations will be carefully considered by the ACT Government once available.
In the meantime, this strategy strengthens safeguards for children and young people in care in a variety of ways including providing for formal adoption of the National Out of Home Care Standards, accreditation and monitoring of service providers and regular renewal of carer approvals. It is impossible to eradicate all risk in out of home care service provision, human nature being what it is. Ultimately, the best protection for children and young people in care is that they have a voice, that is, that they are empowered to participate in decisions about their own lives, and that they are engaged in a community which accepts responsibility for the safety and protection of all children and young people.
1.8: What needs to happen to ensure the strategy is successful?
The strategy will be rolled out over a five-year period and the government and non-government sector will develop detailed transition plans to guide the reform. In order to implement the strategy effectively significant cultural change is required across all parts of the sector. Relationships between Care and Protection Services, agencies, other support services and carers must be refreshed and strengthened.
CSD acknowledges that in the past relationships between different participants have been strained at times and there is a view from some stakeholders that the system is more adversarial in nature than it needs to be. Through the development of this strategy we have sought to understand the main issues and concerns for all parties and to address them as far as is possible within available resources. The Out of Home Care Strategy will seek to refresh and strengthen all relationships that contribute to the operation of the system and, in particular, relationships between carers and other participants, in order to acknowledge the key role and valuable contribution made by carers. Carers must be recognised as the child’s primary healer in a trauma-informed, therapeutic care system.
1.9: How does the strategy align with other ACT Government frameworks?
Human Services Blueprint
The ACT Government has recently released a Human Services Blueprint which is a whole-of-government reform agenda designed to better utilise government investment in social outcomes. The blueprint is about:
- creating a better service experience
- improving economic and social participation, especially amongst disadvantaged Canberrans
- making services sustainable.
- Key focus areas for the blueprint include:
- ensuring services are person-centred and better matched to a person’s actual needs
- connecting government and non-government services so clients receive a joined up service response
- responding early to reduce future demand for higher cost services.
The Out of Home Care Strategy gives effective expression to the principles underpinning the blueprint with its strong focus on diverting children and young people from statutory care and, where children cannot live at home with their birth family, moving them into a permanent alternative family as quickly as possible. The strategy frees up funding to purchase flexible child-focused services which follow the child and provides a bigger share of the business to the non-government sector, confident that government and non-government services can work together to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and young people.
The Out of Home Care Strategy straddles the intensive services and statutory services domains of the service continuum.
Youth Justice Blueprint
The Blueprint for Youth Justice in the ACT 2012-22 noted that children and young people in out of home care are over represented in the youth justice system. The blueprint identified the need to prevent child abuse and neglect and improve outcomes for children and young people who have been abused or neglected as part of a long-term strategy to reduce offending by young people and reduce their involvement with the youth justice system. The strategy will support integrated statutory services in the ACT and offer a service response both for children and young people on care orders and young people who are on youth justice orders and who cannot live at home with their birth families.
Whole-of-Government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement
CSD is currently leading the development of a whole-of-government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement with a focus on employment, health and housing, inclusive access to mainstream services, and targeted service offers to prevent entry into statutory services.
Achieving a reduction in numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in care is one of the key success measures for the Out of Home Care Strategy, however for the achievement to be meaningful, it must be the outcome of genuine improved safety and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people at risk.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community representatives have welcomed the strategy’s focus on diverting children and young people from care through strengthening high-risk families. Implementing effective placement prevention and reunification services that deliver results for our vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families is a key concern of the strategy. CSD will engage with the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body as the strategy implementation progresses to ensure it remains culturally appropriate.
Territory as Parent
While the Children and Young People Act 2008 empowers the Director-General of CSD to exercise parental responsibility for children and young people in care, an important concept which underpins this strategy is that of ‘Territory as Parent’ enunciated by Cheryl Vardon, Commissioner for Public Administration in her 2004 report The Territory’s Children: Ensuring Safety and Quality Care for Children and Young People.
In order to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people in care, it is important to harness resources across government, but particularly, the assistance of ACT Health and the ETD. The strategy requires all areas of the ACT Government to come together to support children and young people in care to ensure that they have the best possible chance to grow up to lead happy, healthy and productive lives.
An inter-directorate committee has been established to support the development and implementation of the Out of Home Care Strategy. It will meet at regular intervals over the next two years as the strategy is rolled out. Several specific initiatives have already been agreed between CSD and other agencies, including ACT Health’s participation on the Strengthening High-Risk Families Panel to facilitate access to health services needed by vulnerable children and their families who are clients of statutory services and an Education and Training Pathways initiative which will bring the ETD and CSD together on an ongoing basis to plan for and monitor the achievement of improved education and training outcomes for children and young people in care.
National Disability Insurance Scheme
The development of the Out of Home Care Strategy has coincided with preparations for the ACT’s trial of the NDIS. Disability is a significant issue for the Out of Home Care Strategy. It is generally accepted that children and young people with a disability are over represented within child protection services although little research has been conducted to identify their prevalence. Historically, some children with a disability came into care as a last resort in order to obtain services needed as a result of their disability. The Out of Home Care Strategy reflects the view that parents of a child or young person with a disability should not have to relinquish parental responsibility for their child in order to receive a service related to the child’s disability. The NDIS should help to relieve pressure on parents of a child with a disability by providing reasonable and necessary supports, including early intervention supports, to children and young people with a disability.
The children of parents with a disability may also be over represented as clients of out of home care services. The parents with a disability who are at most risk of a child entering care are those with an intellectual disability. National and ACT child protection statistical collections do not currently identify the size of the population of parents with intellectual disabilities.
The Out of Home Care Strategy will seek to ensure those parents, children and young people with an entitlement access services through the NDIS. In particular, the introduction of comprehensive developmental and therapeutic assessments for all children and young people entering placement prevention services or care will help to ensure that eligible children and young people are identified.
Every child and young person in placement services or care will participate in regular therapeutic assessments that identify their therapeutic and support needs. This will ensure that children and young people receive the supports and services they need. Children and young people will be encouraged to have a voice in the assessment process and to choose services that they feel they will be able to engage with. These supports will follow the child or young person either back to their birth family or through care.
Through Strengthening High-Risk Families Services, birth parents with a disability will be encouraged and supported to access NDIS services and the parents and their support workers, with consent, will be invited to attend case planning meetings for the family to ensure all services are working together to keep the child or young person with their birth family.