A place to call home for children in state care – residential care

house and heart graaphic
7 February, 2017

One of the greatest issues facing us when we remove children from their birth families is finding safe, stable and nurturing homes in which they can live.

In the second part of this three-part article we look at the problems in residential care identified in Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report and the Government’s response in December.

The first part of the series, on home-based care appeared on the Guardian’s website on 24 January, 2017.


Residential care historically fulfilled two functions.  It was the placement of choice for young people where home-based care was assessed as not being suitable and a time of assessment or a temporary  alternative for the few children who could not be found a home-based placement. The growth in the number of children in state care and the dearth of home-based care placements in recent years has meant that it has become a staple of the system, currently accommodation over 10 per cent of the children in state care.

In her report Commissioner Nyland described a system in which many children were unhappy in unsuitable environments in which children as young as nine years were housed.  Some children lived in fear and were allegedly subject to abuse from other children and workers.  She recommended an extensive program of reform which emphasised improved recruitment, training and supervision of staff, clearly articulated and enforced standards of care and a strengthening of the voice of the young residents.  Most of her recommendations have been accepted by the Government.  These are the major changes.

  • There will be more stringent recruiting of residential care workers including psychological testing (R138) and strict probation and review requirements will be introduced (R139).  The Government has also accepted in principle the recommendation that supervisory staff in residential care should be better trained and qualified (R147).
  • It will be required that residential care youth workers will be properly supervised and, where necessary, performance managed (R148).
  • There will be ongoing training for residential care workers with an emphasis on the risks and dynamics of abuse in institutions (R140).
  • Single person shifts will not cease but the Government has accepted in principle that the use of commercial carers in residential care should cease (R150).
  • Outsourcing of residential and emergency care will continue and expand as residential care is expanded, contrary to Commissioner Nyland’s recommendation although the Government has promised increased scrutiny on the quality of outsourced care (R151).
  • Improved processes and pathways for residential care staff to observe and report concerns about the behaviour of staff with respect to children will be introduced (R142).  A tracking system will bring together and respond to information collected about suspicious staff behaviour from various sources (R143).
  • Residential care will be streamed to better meet the needs of different young people with provision for short-term assessment placements and therapeutic placements for children with high needs and will incorporate measures by which the system’s performance can be evaluated (R146).
  • Residential care houses will be developed where there is need in regional areas (R217).
  • The Government has accepted in principle that no child under 10 will be housed in residential care (except as part of a sibling group) and that no house will accommodate more than four children but will only commit to considering the closure of large units (R149).
  • The Government has accepted the idea of a whole-of-sector model of therapeutic care to be rolled out across child protection, including residential care (R146).
  • There will be proper recording and tracking of physical restraint used against children in residential care (R133) and (R141).
  • A community visitors scheme in residential care and emergency care houses will be introduced (R137).
  • Children in residential care will be supported with an education program to understand their rights (R136) and have a direct line of complaint to the Chief Executive of the Department for child Protection (R134) and a quarterly report on those complaints will be provided to the Guardian for Children and Young People (R135).

The full paper A place to call home for children in state care is available for download.

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