4 October, 2016
Themes from Nyland #5
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. 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 four in the series are available. We will post the rest of the series over the next few weeks. 3
Commissioner Nyland placed developing home-based care at the centre of reforming out-of-home-care. Emergency care, she said, should be short term and reserved for genuine emergencies only and residential care should be only for those children for whom home-based care was not viable.
Developing the number of home-based care placements is a key aim for a reformed child protection system. When children are removed from abusive or neglectful families they need quality, nurturing, consistent environments to help them heal.
About 80 percent of children under the guardianship of the Minister are currently cared for in home-based care arrangements, divided roughly equally between those cared for by foster carers and those cared for by family or kin.
Commissioner Nyland found to be credible foster carers’ reports about problems which included:
- feeling that they were were not valued by Families SA staff
- feeling that their role and contribution was not acknowledged
- the persistent threat of arbitrary removal of children, especially if they raised issues
- insufficient remuneration.
She identified other problems which included:
- carers receiving insufficient information about the history and issues that a child might be facing prior to placement
- a lack of support, including respite, in time of difficulty in a placement which could, in many cases, prevent placement breakdown.
She also noted that there seemed to be a lack of clarity about the respective roles and responsibilities of carers and Families SA in the parenting of children.
The Commission is satisfied that if recruitment and retention of home-based carers is to improve, a shift in the way they are treated is essential.
Commissioner Nyland noted that the recent growth in home-based care had been mainly in the area of kinship care. She noted that Families SA favoured placing children with kin but that this had not been matched by the development of an assessment, training and review process for kinship carers and appropriate regulatory arrangements.
The likelihood that kinship carers enter the caring arrangement at greater social disadvantage, with less training, and potentially more complicated family relationships to negotiate, highlights the need to provide a more, rather than less, rigorous assessment and support program.
In many cases, assessment of the suitability of provisional kinship carers had not been conducted within the required three months leaving children vulnerable. She recommended
…amending the Family and Community Services Act 1972 (SA) to ensure that the registration and monitoring requirements apply to both foster parents and kinship carers for a child who is under the guardianship, or in the custody of, the Minister.
Kinship care regulation should be reformed and the assessment processes for kinship care should be brought into line with foster care.
Commissioner Nyland suggested that the difficulties in recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of safe and appropriate foster care placements would not be easily resolved. Some possibilities involved developing a model in which potential foster carers could be offered a variety of roles, levels of skill development and remuneration to meet the needs of different children. She was not convinced of the need to move to a full professionalisation of the current voluntary foster care model but advised keeping alert for workable solutions from other jurisdictions.
As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:
A thorough review and changes to the way foster carers and the new Department cooperate to provide the best care to children including:
- legislation to improve access for foster carers to information related to caring for the children in their care
- formal clarification and promotion of the respective roles of foster carers and government social workers
- formalisation and resourcing of support, advocacy and complaint services for foster carers
- a formal expert panel-based decision making process to consider the termination of long-term home-based care placements
- enhancement of the initial orientation training for foster carers to include the effects and suitable responses to developmental trauma and the availability of therapeutic assistance.
An overhaul of the conduct of kinship care including:
- an urgent program to assess and register currently unassessed kinship carers
- alignment of the standards, processes and responsibilities for the assessment and registration for kinship carers with those applied to foster carers
- the development of a culturally appropriate tool that captures the strengths and needs of Aboriginal families and engages potential carers to deliver better quality care.
- a more rigorous process for the screening of kinship care placements.
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,
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, our analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.