Children in care with disabilities

15 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #11

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 Report1.  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 10 in the series are available.2 We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3 

Children with disabilities are a higher proportion of the in-care population than in the population at large.  Some children enter care with disabilities caused by the abuse or neglect that brought them into care. Some children who already have disabilities are relinquished into state care by parents who lack the resources to manage the parenting challenges they present.

Commissioner Nyland is particularly concerned that children in state care do not miss out on the services and opportunities on offer from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Children in out-of-home care rely on attentive case managers to recognise their potential eligibility [for NSID funding] and negotiate on their behalf. 

To do this entails a more rigorous identification of children’s disabilities and their recording on the child’s electronic case management file so that every child potentially eligible can have an application made prior to the March 2017 deadline.  The respective role of foster and kinship carers and the Department for Child Protection (DCP) in relationship to NDIS will need to be clarified to avoid confusion and dislocation.  Commissioner Nyland recommended the ’employment of disability specialists and additional training…to develop expertise in the Agency’ about the NDIS.

The ‘child and family assessment  and referral networks’ recommended by Commissioner Nyland (see our post Responding to abused and neglected children) will also need to have the skills and knowledge to support families who are caring for children with disabilities. 

Foster families caring for children with disabilities sometimes face the simultaneous challenge of catering for a disability and dealing with trauma-related behavioural issues.  Commissioner Nyland stresses the maintenance of the existing Alternative Care Therapeutics Team (ACTT) program though its integration with the NDIS.   She also recommends determining the need for specialist disability foster care placements and funding those placements accordingly as well as funding the support and respite services needed to ensure those placements remain viable for foster parents and children. 

Commissioner Nyland discusses the situation of children with disabilities whose care is voluntarily relinquished to the state by their birth parents.  She forms the opinion that this group of children might not be best served by placing them in the care of the DCP but has insufficient information to make a formal recommendation.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • every child who is potentially eligible has applied to the NDIS by the 31 March 2017 deadline.
  • the electronic case management system modified to require a child’s eligibility for NDIS entered and caseworkers trained accordingly.
  • analysis of the unmet need for specialist disability foster placements and provision of it expanded to meet that need.
  • DCP caseworkers trained to meet the needs of children with disabilities and in the workings of NDIS and the employment of specialist disability workers to support them.
  • maintenance of the ACTT program and its expansion through and beyond the introduction of the NDIS.
  • the recommended ‘child and family assessment and referral networks’ given the skills and responsibility to help families engage with the NDIS.

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below.


1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal children, Education , Stability and certainty in care and Responding to abused or neglected children.

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.

5 Responses

  1. There is significant complexity when your child has trauma related behaviour and a disability. Case workers do not have sufficient skills to recognize this fact and to provide appropriate support, or referral to support agencies. It also needs to be reflected in the loading to acknowledge the added day to day stress of caring for a complex child.
    It has been my experience that disability and trauma are issues beyond main stream education to manage. Child protection needs to do more systemic work to rectify this problem so that these kids can reach their full potential.

    1. I agree with what you say. This child has great support from his carer who works exceptionally with a very large care team. He is coming along in leaps and bounds. My difficulty is in getting a face-to-face review with NDIS – in the last conversation I was informed there are none occurring at the moment. I struggled to get a copy of his plan until they just re-dated an old pre-care plan and sent that to me. I am meeting with someone tomorrow experienced with working with NDIS, before potentially discussing with Supr about managing up in NDIS

    1. Hi I noticed a recent info session by RSB for vision impaired people in nthern subs. It might be worth contacting your current support agency in case they are planning something. I am happy to share what little knowledge I have. There is also a face book page called something like ndis south Australia. Another one called ndis kids and teens.

  2. We have a number of young people with significant disabilities in care living with their foster families who will require ongoing care when they turn 18 years. These arrangements are very stable and prior to NDIS would continue to be supported through Disability SA funding. Many of these young people would need specialist disability accommodation if they cannot remain with their foster families. Under NDIS the foster families will not be eligible for ongoing funding and if they were to provide ongoing support to the young person they will need to become providers under NDIS. To become a provider under NDIS in SA you must meet the current Disability SA Provider Panel criteria which is basically targeted at agencies not carers – it is complex and beyond most carer families. We are concerned a number of these arrangements will not be sustainable under NDIS and these young people will lose their placements as carers will not be able to afford to continue to provide the necessary in- home care. The broader societal issue is these young people were placed through the child protection system with foster families on a long term basis with the hope they would be families for life. The Commonwealth and State governments seem to not have thought through the implications for both young people and carers nor does it seme anyone is advocating for them. The notion of a higher duty of care has been lost in the broader reforms.

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