Addressing the emergency in emergency care

12 September, 2017

Nyland care environment graphic

In emergency care (sometimes referred to as commercial care or, previously in the media, ‘kids in motels’) children are housed in temporary accommodation (such as houses and units) by rotating shifts of workers with minimal specialist training employed by commercial providers.

These arrangements are very unsuitable for children in out of home care.  They do not support the psychological needs and social development of young, vulnerable and often traumatised children. The circumstances also place them at greater risk of abuse.  The Office has observed, and received reports from other sources, of ongoing problems in the quality of care provided for children in emergency care placements.

When the Guardian’s Office started monitoring the circumstances of these children in 2005 they numbered 10 and this grew to a peak of 217 in October 2016.

In 2016-17, based on weekly reports received by the Guardian’s Office:

  • the average number of children per night in emergency care was 190
  • the average length of stay was 178 days
  • about one third of children were 9 years old or younger.

Reviewing emergency care, Commissioner Nyland said ‘Reliance on emergency care by commercial carers should cease in all but genuine emergency circumstances’.

The Government accepted that recommendation and subsequently worked to cease commercial care as a priority.  It has attempted to do this by rapidly expanding the number of residential care placements and transferring some existing commercial care environments into Government management.  At the same time, the number of children coming into care has increased as the prevention and early intervention strategies designed to support families and children to safely stay together have not yet started to have effect.

Numbers of children and length of stay in emergency care in 2017

graph showing trens in emergency care in 2017

A focus on reducing the number of children alone can be problematic.  As this graph shows, while numbers of children in emergency care have been reduced, the average length of stay of those remaining has become longer.  Further, as the Guardian has commented,

… finding a suitable alternative placement involves much more than just finding a bed. A good placement has to consider not just what is best for the child or young person but what is in the interests of residents who already live in that placement… [The Office has seen] a number of placement changes  that were hastily planned and executed, poorly matched and did not involve the input of the children.

For detail about the full range of Government responses to the problems in emergency care see our March 2017 post  A place to call home for children in state care – emergency care


3 Responses

  1. Yes I agree that those emergency agencies are definitely unsuitable as they are cared for by people that haven’t undergone any education around the needs of the children. I have concerns about a worker that works for [a major commercial care provider] that allows her grandson to be neglected. this worker lives in the same home as her daughter and grandson and turns a blind eye to the drugs and neglect but yet still continues to work for [the provider]. Stricter policy and background checks should be put in place for these carers cause they clearly employ anyone so the position can be filled.

  2. While emergency care is an issue as it does not provide to the care needs of the children it houses, it would be better than moving young people from house to house due to placement breakdown. It is important that those involved do not rush the placement process as moving young people constantly would be more harmful than children being in emergency care for a few months in order to find suitable long-term placements.

    Having previously worked in the emergency care environment, the issues of unsuitable care surrounds HSOs, who provide emergency and residential accommodation services having too much control over, not only the child’s living situation, but the child in general, often leaving DCP workers, being guardians, powerless. The approach is also very top-down with HSOs not taking into account the experiences of the carers actually working with the children.

    Furthermore, my experience also included not being allowed to contact the children’s DCP workers directly. This meant we had to go through a very lengthy process of going through the HSO’s hierarchy of management, who were often non-contactable, to get an answer form the DCP worker, which then had to be filtered back down the line. This process of communication lead to misinterpretation of information, filtered information and the most concerning – when DCP workers are not informed about serious incident reports (including self-harm) within 24 hours. This is a process that needs to be addressed, as DCP workers expressed their concerns about this process, yet the HSO overruled.

    I hope this helps.

  3. Additional support for SA’s foster and kinship carers will also help reduce the number of children and young people coming in and out of commercial and residential care arrangements.
    Additional support will also lead to better retention of current Carers and the recruitment of new Carers via word-of-mouth.
    It will reduce the escalating expenses of residential care.
    And most importantly, the stability and security of family-based care will offer children and young people the best possible opportunities to achieve and reach their full potential.

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