In a life threatening emergency dial Triple Zero (000)

In a life threatening emergency dial Triple Zero (000)
ACT Public Hospitals

Canberra Hospital

5124 0000


Calvary Hospital

6201 6111

Mental Health

Call Mental Health Triage on

1800 629 354

(free call except from mobiles or public phones) or

6205 1065

Poisons Hotline

For a poison emergency in Australia call

131126

Drug and Alcohol Help Line

The Drug and Alcohol Help Line is available 24-hours, 7 days a week on

5124 9977

Health Protection Service

For after hours urgent public health matters including environmental health, radiation safety, food poisoning and communicable disease management phone:

(02) 6205 1700

healthdirect

24 hour health advice

1800 022 222

ACT State Emergency Service

Emergency help
during flood or storms

132 500


In this section:  Learn about the ACT out of home care system, including our commitment to supporting carers and what has likely happened in a child’s life to have them enter your care.

Also discover the key things you should know and do in the first few days of caring for the child.

Out of home care in the ACT

CYPS is the government agency responsible for child protection in the ACT. It is given its powers by the Children and Young People Act 2008 (the Act).

Where children are unable to live with their birth parents, CYPS places highest priority on children being cared for by relatives or kin community members – prioritising care within family networks over all other forms of care.

CYPS works with community and government partners to support children, their families and carers. Specifically in regards to care, CYPS works with ACT Together, a key group of care agencies in the ACT that specialise in child and family support services.

Together, CYPS and ACT Together aim to:

  • keep children with their birth families as long as it is safe for them to remain there
  • prioritise children to remain in the care of their kinship network – especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • reunite children who do come into care with their birth families as quickly as possible
  • ensure children who are unable to return to the care of their birth families are able to grow up in secure, loving and permanent homes.

When a child cannot return home, the Act requires children to have access to stable and settled care arrangements as soon as it is possible. It also requires all decision-making about children be based on the concept of ‘best interests of the child’ to ensure their needs are prioritised above all other considerations – including the needs of any involved adults. In making such decisions, the Act also requires case managers seek the views and wishes of the child involved, and acknowledge them in recording key decisions.

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Commitment to carers

At CYPS and ACT Together, we acknowledge the out of home care system is reliant upon the goodwill and commitment of carers in the community – both kinship and foster – and their generous decision to provide a home for a child who cannot live with their birth parents.

In conducting our work, we are committed to providing support to all carers over the duration of their caring relationship with a child through the provision of services, advice, training and a partnership approach to case management. We are committed to working collaboratively with children, carers, parents, extended family, schools, services and all relevant parties to deliver a child-centred out of home care system.

As a kinship or foster carer, you have undertaken an incredibly important role in our community by providing a safe and nurturing environment for a child. You may have actively chosen and planned to undertake this role, or this role may have been asked of you, perhaps at short notice.

Caring for a child is rewarding, but it can also be hard work and tiring. Being a carer brings with it periods of uncertainty and pressure. Wherever possible, our goal is for children to be reunited with their birth parents and we recognise the difficult role carers have especially when strong attachments in care have been formed. CYPS and ACT Together recognise the caring role is not always easy and we thank you for your commitment to making a difference in a child’s life.

You can learn more about our commitment to carers and children, and the principles that guide the way we work in ‘Guiding legislation and policies’.

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Before a child comes into your care

The focus of the ACT out home care system is to ensure children have a safe and stable home to live in.

Decisions about the need to remove a child from their birth parents must be finalised by the ACT Childrens Court on the basis the child is ‘in need of care and protection’. This means, before a child comes into care, they are likely to have experienced an environment or circumstance that placed them at significant risk of abuse and/or neglect. It also means one or both of their parents were not willing and able to protect them from this abuse or neglect. It is also possible a child has come into care because they have committed a crime and are unable to remain in their family home.

Each child and family situation is different and there will be specific circumstances that led the child to come into your care that are unique to them. Your case manager will discuss the specifics of the child’s past situation with you in as much detail as they are allowed by law. The impact of the life experiences on a child, or trauma, may not be known when the child first comes into your care.

It is important for you to understand, when a child has experienced past trauma, this trauma is compounded by their experience of being removed from their home environment by CYPS and their separation from things familiar to them. A ‘settling in’ period is therefore very normal and the child now in your care will likely need time to adjust to your home and routines. It is also important to understand trauma has a range of social, emotional and developmental impacts on a child. These are discussed throughout this handbook.

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Types of lengths of care

The child placed in your care has come to you because CYPS has determined it is currently unsafe for them to live with their birth parents – this determination was based on the provisions of the Children and Young People Act 2008.

How long the child will stay with you will depend on their individual circumstances, the capacity of their birth parents and any court order in place. It is important to realise the Act preserves the right of all children to return to their birth parents’ care wherever it is possible and safe to do so.

The following descriptions will help give you an idea about the different care arrangements and how long they can be in place.

  • Kinship care – Family members or people in a child’s extended family network or community given parental responsibility for a child unable to live with their birth parents. Kinship care is recognised as having advantages for the preservation of family, promotion of cultural identity and reduced separation trauma for the child.
  • Foster care – People generally unknown to a child provide care when the child is unable to live with their birth family, and care by a suitable family member or kinship carer is not an option.
  • Emergency/crisis care – Usually provided when immediate care is needed. It is normally for a short time (a few weeks) until more investigation and planning for longer-term care can be organised.
  • Short-term care – Usually provided with the aim of working with a family to restore the child to their birth parents, or to allow additional information gathering including assessments to determine ongoing planning for the child’s care.
  • Concurrent care – Care provided to a child during court proceedings while a decision is made about whether they will return to their birth parents, or kinship options are explored. If the ACT Childrens Court determines a child cannot return to their birth family, and there are no viable kinship options, the child remains with their current carer with the aim of permanent care. How long a child remains in your care depends on the specific circumstances.
  • Long-term care – Occurs when restoration to a child’s birth family is no longer considered viable and the ACT Childrens Court has made a Care and Protection Order until the child turns 18 years old. The focus is on the child’s ongoing care and stability.
  • Permanent care – Full parental responsibility is permanently transferred to a carer, usually either through Enduring Parental Responsibility or adoption.
  • Respite care – Provides short periods of alternative care for a child from their existing care arrangement, either through regular ongoing planned occasions or in response to an emergency involving their existing carer.

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Early days checklist

When you first start caring for a child there is a lot of new information to take in. With so much information, you may find it overwhelming to work out what you need to know straight away, and what can wait a little while before you need to understand it in more detail.

This checklist gives you the information you need to know in your first week of caring for a child, and directs you to the relevant sections in this handbook to learn more. Take a look at it and don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Important things to do

  • Take care of yourself. The first week of caring can feel overwhelming and confusing. See ‘Taking care of yourself’.
  • Settle the child into your home. Take a look at the hands-on and practical list of things to do to help you and the child get off to a good start. See ‘Settling a child into your home’.
  • Check to find out if the child has any allergies or requires any medications. See ‘Medications’.
  • Work with the child to decide what you will call each other, and develop a ‘cover story’ the child feels comfortable with. See ‘Develop a ‘cover story’’.
  • Ensure the child has what they need – clothes, toiletries, shoes, school supplies. Talk to your case manager about where these will come from and who pays for particular items? See ‘Finance matters’.
  • Establish routines and spend time getting to know the child. See ‘Building a relationship’.
  • Ask your case manager about the child’s contact arrangements – When are they? Who are they with? Are there any restrictions? See ‘Contact’.
  • Talk to your case manager about arranging your Carer Subsidy payment, and learn about other concessions you or the child may be entitled to. See ‘Foster and Kinship Care Subsidy’.
  • Plan to meet the child’s teacher/childcare leader. See ‘Education and childcare’.
  • Ask your case manager if there are any upcoming meetings you are required to attend.
  • Write all appointment dates and times in a calendar.
  • Write a list of the things you are unsure about to ask your case manager.
  • Talk to your case manager to ensure you receive the following information about the child:
    • known illnesses
    • Medicare number
    • immunisation status
    • personal health record and Health Passport, see ‘Recording health information
    • legal name
    • birth date
    • copy of court order
    • copy of Care Plan
  • Record key contact details in your phone or somewhere handy, such as for your case manager and after hours service. See ‘Contacts’.

Important things to know

Something else to be aware of...

The early stages of care is also an extra busy time for your case manager. They will be working to get to know the child and more about their needs, developing plans like the child’s Case Plan, and in circumstances where the child is in foster care, they will be continuing to search for family to provide kinship care to the child. Searching for family is ongoing for children in foster care as kinship care is the preferred form of care for all children.

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This handbook has lots of information and will be your go-to reference throughout your time as a carer. You are not expected to know it inside-out from the get-go, just remember it is here to help whenever you need. Take a look at the topics covered and keep your handbook in mind whenever you have a question or want to clarify something in the future.

Good luck and all the best!

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