Case planning - advice

This advice provides additional information about the case planning process.

Document ID number 2047, version 4, 27 September 2018.


See procedure 1800 Case planning for tasks that must be undertaken.

The Best interests case practice model (BICPM) provides the foundation for case practice in child protection, as well as for family services and placement services.

Analysis and planning are combined as one stage of practice in the model. For the purposes of ensuring a clear distinction between these elements, they are articulated separately for child protection. Planning that is overtly derived from a current assessment resulting from detailed analysis is essential to fulfilling child protection’s legislative obligations.

Planning and case planning in the child protection context

Planning is an essential component of the BICPM and is crucial for effective child protection intervention.

Planning is the process of making significant decisions in relation to a child during child protection involvement, from intake to closure. Planning stems from effective information gathering and analysis of the available information. It is directly informed by the current assessment of the child’s situation and lived experience, and directly informs any actions that need to be taken.

Case planning in child protection practice specifically relates to the processes of planning with children and their families following substantiation of child protection concerns. Case planning includes legislative and policy requirements relating to the preparation, provision and review of case plans and specific requirements and considerations for case planning for Aboriginal children.

For advice relating to planning in the context of case practice, see Child protection in best interests case practice.

Principles underpinning planning

All case planning processes must comply with the best interests principles in s.10 of the CYFA and decision making principles in s. 11 of the CYFA. These principles set out the considerations that Child Protection must make when determining whether a decision or action is in the child’s best interests and  requires Child Protection to actively and effectively engage families and children (in age appropriate ways) in the decision making process.

Permanency objective

Permanency refers to the achievement of an ongoing care arrangement for a child that promotes a child’s safety, development and sense of belonging. Permanency encompasses all decisions made about a child’s permanent living and care arrangement regardless of whether a child remains in, or returns to, parental care or needs an ongoing out-of-home care arrangement. This concept strengthens the platform to focus child protection’s attention on the actions required to achieve this in a more timely manner with greater emphasis on what is in the best interests of the child.

Section 167 of the CYFA states that a case plan must include one of the following permanency objectives, which are listed in order of preference:

  • family preservation – the objective of ensuring a child who is in the care of a parent of the child remains in the care of a parent
  • family reunification – the objective of ensuring that a child who has been removed from the care of a parent of the child is returned to the care of the parent
  • adoption – the objective of placing a child for adoption under the Adoption Act 1984
  • permanent care – the objective of arranging a permanent care placement of a child with a permanent carer or carers
  • long-term out of home care – the objective of placing the child in –
    • a stable, long-term care arrangement with a specified care or carers, or
    • if an above arrangement is not possible, another suitable long-term care arrangement.

For the majority of children involved with Child Protection, the most appropriate permanency objective will be to remain in the care of a parent.

For those children who come into out-of-home care, family reunification will almost always be the preferred permanency objective, subject to timelines.

For a small proportion of children with whom Child Protection intervenes, a permanent out of home care placement will be required to ensure their safety and wellbeing.  It is important the decision about whether this is the case, is made as soon as possible and within a timeframe that promotes the child’s developmental and emotional needs.

See procedures Identifying and achieving the permanency objective.

Permanency objective and case planning

The permanency objective and case planning are intrinsically connected. As well as the legislated requirement of having the permanency objective stated in the case plan, significant decisions made by child protection for the child are to reflect, support and work towards meeting the permanency objective.

Identifying and recording the permanency objective is intended to keep a child’s need for permanency at the fore front of child protection intervention, whether this is with a parent or others. If the focus and momentum of intervention is lost, cases can drift, resulting in uncertainty and delayed decision making. Such delays can be harmful to children. This can be prevented by driving towards a permanency objective through continued momentum in purposeful intervention.

Case planning and court orders

The alignment of the permanency objective and court orders is required by legislation. This ensures clarity for the child and family in relation to the purpose and direction of child protection intervention.

The Children’s Court may disagree with the permanency objective and make an order that is inconsistent with the case plan. In this instance the case planner, as delegate of the Secretary, will need to alter the case plan to be consistent with the order (unless there are grounds to appeal the Court’s decision). If the child’s circumstances subsequently change, the permanency objective may also need to change, in which case action needs to be taken to align the case plan and order again. The required action may be to apply to the Court for a different order.

Client contact

Following substantiation and for the duration of child protection involvement, a client contact statement (CCS) setting out the level of contact to occur between child protection and the child, must be recorded and maintained for each child about whom protective concerns have been substantiated. Generally, for an allocated case, fortnightly contact is a reasonable minimum. The client contact statement must be reviewed at least quarterly within supervision.

Where a case is not allocated or an allocated child protection practitioner is on leave it will be necessary to determine how (when and by whom) regular direct contact with the child will occur, and to ensure that the CCS is updated.

Processes that support case planning with children and families

Good practice requires that case planning is conducted in a collaborative manner inclusive of all members of the child and family’s network. Case planning processes should encourage the parents, extended family, community, carers and professionals involvement in generating and implementing solutions for the protection and care of the child.  

Through the case planning process there may be disagreement between the family and Child Protection as to the key issues of concern and the way forward. Where this is the case, engaging with families and mediating disputes can be effective ways of promoting consensus and collaboration. The practitioner should discuss approaches to engaging families and resolving conflict in supervision and with the case planner.

Case planning meetings

Whether preparing a first or later version, a case plan may be developed through informal meetings and discussions between the child protection practitioner and the family, carers and other professionals as appropriate. The case plan can then be submitted to the case planner for endorsement.

Where available, a family-led decision making process may be beneficial (see below), and is to be offered for all Aboriginal children at substantiation.

However, there may be circumstances where a formal case plan meeting chaired by the case planner is desirable, including when:

  • genuine agreement cannot be reached about how the family and department will work together to protect the child
  • there is a need to review the current case plan because genuine agreement cannot be reached
  • the child or family requests a meeting.

Such a meeting should involve parents, significant family members, and other professionals and where appropriate, the child and the child’s current carer.

The role of professionals and service providers at a case planning meeting is to provide information and advice about issues of concern and the needs of the child, and to consider ways to support and assist the child and family. As much as possible, the approach should assist and support the family’s involvement in decisions about the child.

Recording planning discussions and meetings

Meetings can be recorded through minutes which can then be circulated to relevant parties. These need not be extensive, but should include a record of those present and absent, key discussion points and differing views, noting areas of agreement or disagreement, and decisions and actions. It can be helpful to have someone taking notes at a formal meeting who does not otherwise have an integral role.

Where the meeting contributes to the preparation or review of a case plan, this should be recorded.

Family-led decision making

Where possible, family-led decision making (FLDM) should be the process used to develop a case plan.

Using an FLDM approach, work with parents ahead of the meeting to identify extended family and other community members who can attend and participate in identifying and implementing the actions that the family may decide upon, and prepare participants.

During the meeting, the practitioner provides information about the issues of concern and requirements to protect the child. The family is given the opportunity to take the lead in proposing actions to address these concerns in private family time.

Practice leaders, case planning may convene an FLDM meeting and are delegated to make case planning decisions. Proposed plans agreed through an Aboriginal Family-Led Decision-Making (AFLDM) meeting can be endorsed by the department’s AFLDM convenor. See AFLDM guidelines (doc, 259.5 KB) and FLDM model (doc, 129.5 KB)

Involving children, families and other support people

Encouraging the voice of the child

Giving children a voice in planning and decision making which affects them, in age appropriate ways, is at the heart of the decision making principles of the CYFA.

Some children do not want to be involved in meetings and may see the development of plans as the role of their child protection practitioner in consultation with their family and other relevant adults. However, if a child is of an age and able to understand, they should be encouraged to participate directly in case planning and assisted to understand the importance of their role in the process. If a child chooses not to attend a case planning meeting, the practitioner could explore creative ways for the child’s voice to be heard.

For example, the practitioner might:

  • make a tape recording of the child to be played at the meeting  
  • ask the child to draw a self portrait to put on the wall during the meeting  
  • organise for a teleconference so the child can listen to the meeting from a distant location and say something if they want to
  • read something that the child has written (it might be creative writing or a statement of wishes).

The case manager should engage the child in discussions about the development, progress and review of the case plan. Special care must be taken to ensure that the child understands the decisions made and what the case planning process means. The case manager should talk with the child about day-to-day care issues as well as the permanency objective and the goals and actions required to achieve the objective.

Children may need time to think about and reach a decision about their wishes. One of the difficult issues for the case manager to deal with in this process is finding the balance between what the child wants and what is in the child’s best interests.

If case management is contracted to a community service organisation (CSO), the CSO case manager has responsibility for consulting with the child about important decisions and planning processes about the child. Case contracting does not remove child protection’s responsibility to ensure that the decision making principles of the CYFA are met and to make decisions about the attendance of a child at a case planning meeting or involvement in any review of the case plan.

Extended family participation

Involving members of the child’s extended family and community Elders can have significant advantages. It musters support around the child and parents that can be both practical and emotional; it can also add a degree of authority to the decision making process. While children and their families are entitled to privacy, encouraging families to share their problems amongst extended family can be important in terms of breaking down the secrecy within the family that provides an environment in which abuse can continue. Running meetings using the FLDM model can be beneficial in this regard.

Use of advocates or support people

The CYFA promotes the use of advocates or support people for children and their families, and it follows that advocates can help children and families participate in the decision-making process. While the attendance of advocates might be seen to be contributing to the sense that case planning meetings involve a ‘cast of thousands’, particularly in cases where the family is not in agreement with the overall direction of the proposed plan, advocates can help the family to understand and participate in the process.

The case plan

A case plan is to be prepared for all children where protective concerns have been substantiated – that is, where a protective intervener is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the child is in need of protection (s.168, CYFA).

The case plan is a succinct, high level plan.  It includes the permanency objective and all significant decisions made by Child Protection in relation to the present and future care and wellbeing of the child, including placement of and contact with the child. Determining the protective concerns is a significant decision. These are set out in the case plan. It also covers significant decisions regarding: cultural support; education, employment or child care; health care; and developmental support.

The case plan is completed on the client information system and is available ready to be completed upon making the substantiation decision and recording the investigation and assessment phase outcome. When ready, it is submitted via CRIS to the case planner (CPP5.2 or more senior officer) for endorsement. There is only ever one endorsed version of the case plan for a child. The case plan is to be reviewed and updated as circumstances change. Where a new version is being prepared this is referred to as a draft until endorsed when it then becomes the new version. There can only be one draft version at a time, but there can be more than one draft version in succession between endorsed versions.

The case plan does not include details relating to goals and tasks required to address the protective concerns and implementation of the significant decisions. These are detailed in the actions table, which should be provided to the child and family with the case plan.

It is critical that, where possible, decision making is conducted in a transparent manner, involving the child and the parents (where appropriate) and other significant parties, and that the parties are informed of their rights in relation to the review of decisions. See procedure 1804 Internal review for tasks that must be undertaken.

A decision regarding the distribution of the plan to other people should be made in accordance with s. 192 of the CYFA which addresses disclosure and use of information. See Information sharing in child protection practice.

Wherever information or written plans are provided to third parties, practitioners should caution recipients that the information provided is confidential and should not be relayed to others except as necessary to implement the plan in the best interests of the child.

It is preferable that personal written information provided for meetings is retrieved from participants where it is not essential they retain it to accomplish actions required of them in the best interests of the child.

Case plan requirements and timelines depend on how child protection is working with the family, whether by agreement or under a court order.

See procedures Case plan and Case plan preparation and review for actions that must be undertaken in the development of a case plan.

The child’s plan

The CYFA defines a case plan as:

A plan prepared by the Secretary for a child (s 166 (1)).

Child protection does not the have authority to make plans or decisions for parents. The Court may include conditions to be observed by parents on an order. The case plan prepared by child protection needs to be consistent with any conditions on the order. In the absence of an order, parents need to make decisions about how they will respond to the protective concerns identified by child protection. Their response will influence the decisions child protection makes about the appropriate permanency objective, and other significant decisions concerning the child. The parents’ decisions and intended actions will be reflected in detail in the actions table, through the goals and tasks established to implement the case plan.

What is to be included in the case plan

Section 166(2) of the CYFA provides that a case plan must contain all decisions made by the Secretary concerning the child that:

  • the Secretary considers to be significant decisions, and
  • relate to the present and future care and wellbeing of the child, including the placement of, and contact with, the child.

It sets out that a case plan for a child includes:

  • a permanency objective, and
  • in the case of an Aboriginal child in court-ordered out of home care, planning for cultural support for the child (see below).

Consistent with legislation, the case plan in CRIS is child focussed. It includes the permanency objective and all significant decisions made by the department concerning the child about their present and future care and wellbeing. It includes the following sections:

Current legal status

This section includes a statement identifying if the child is subject to a court order and if so, the name of the order; or whether a protection application has been made, or child protection is working with the family by agreement – that is, where no application has been made to the Court in relation to the child and protective intervention is occurring with the cooperation of the parents and the child.

Permanency objective

This section states the permanency objective for the child, which should be consistent with the current legal status and, where relevant, the court order. If there is any change to the permanency objective, the case plan will need to be reviewed to ensure that the significant decisions in place for the child are aligned with the objective. If the decision is made to change the permanency objective to one that is inconsistent with an existing final order, an application to Court will be needed to seek an order consistent with the selected permanency objective.

Protective concerns

This section identifies the protective concerns for the child’s safety and development that led to the protective intervener being satisfied that the child is in need of protection. The case plan aims to address these concerns. There are three general statements that can be used to introduce the list of concerns, depending on the current permanency objective:

  • For <child’s name> to return to parental care, the following protective concerns need to be addressed:


  • For <child’s name> to remain in parental care, the following protective concerns need to be addressed:


  • Due to the following protective concerns <child’s name> needs to remain in out of home care for the long-term:

The appropriate statement is to be followed by a dot-point list briefly setting out the protective concerns. The protective concerns relate directly to the areas of concerns that have been confirmed or verified, and should be listed as such in the case plan.  For example:

  • physical development - failure to thrive due to parents having not provided adequate food or fluids.

This section should not include detailed information about the concerns or the practitioner’s analysis or assessment of the concerns.

The protective concerns section informs the goals and tasks in the actions table related to addressing them.

Where there are family violence concerns, consideration needs to be given to how the perpetrator’s patterns of coercive behaviour has impacted on the child, including its effect on the affected parent’s capacity to care for the child. See Planning for children’s safety where there is family violence – advice for further information.

For children with a permanency objective other than family preservation or family reunification, the protective concerns continue to be relevant to significant decisions such as contact where, among other things, protection from harm and promoting development will be issues. The focus of the case plan will shift to achieving the permanency objective that is suitable in the circumstances to provide for the ongoing care and wellbeing of the child.

Significant decisions for care and wellbeing

Significant decisions relating to the present and future care and wellbeing of the child reflect the LAC domains. Some sections are required for all children such as current care arrangements, while others need not be completed, depending on the child’s circumstances. Detailed considerations supporting each decision need not be included in the case plan. The case plan is to include the decision itself, at a high level.  Significant decisions include:

  • Current care arrangements – the carers and the nature of the care arrangement, whether with a parent or in out-of-home care.
  • Contact – who the child is able, and not able, to have contact with, whether or not the contact is to be supervised, and frequency of contact. It is important to include contact with siblings if they are living in separate care arrangements. Information relating to contact arrangements are detailed in the actions table.
  • Cultural support – when a child is in out-of home care. Required if the child is Aboriginal should be completed if the child is from a CALD community. Otherwise this is optional. If the child is Aboriginal and a cultural plan has been developed and provided to the child, this information will appear in this section.
  • Education, employment or child care – significant decisions about the child’s child care, schooling, training or employment
  • Health care – significant decisions beyond accessing usual universal services.
  • Development support – significant decisions about meeting the child’s developmental needs.  This may include naming other agencies or services that will be involved with the child. This decision relates to the LAC dimension ‘emotional and behavioural development’.
  • Other significant decisions – these may be added if required. Examples includes significant decisions regarding crisis management, or a significant financial decision made on behalf of the child as a person with parental responsibility, such as applying for compensation to VOCAT.

Cultural considerations

Whenever child protection is involved with an Aboriginal child their cultural connection needs to be considered and encouraged.

Section 176 of the CYFA sets out the requirements for cultural support where an Aboriginal child is in out of home care.

The child’s cultural support needs are to be addressed in the case plan and the case plan is to reflect and be consistent with these needs, having regard to the child’s circumstances, so as to maintain and develop their Aboriginal identity and encourage their connection to their Aboriginal community and culture (s. 176 of the CYFA).

The Act establishes that a child’s cultural support needs may vary, depending on:

  • the length of time they have spent, and are expected to remain, in out of home care
  • their age
  • the extent of their contact with their Aboriginal family members
    • whether they are placed within their own Aboriginal community, another Aboriginal community, or with non-Aboriginal carers.
  • For the purposes of this provision, the child’s Aboriginal community is:
  • the Aboriginal community to which the child has a sense of belonging, if this can be ascertained, or
  • if not, the Aboriginal community in which the child has primarily lived, or
  • if neither of the above apply, the Aboriginal community of the child’s parent or grandparent.

The child’s cultural support needs are recorded in this section, by including comments on how the significant decisions made concerning the child reflect the child’s cultural support needs.

A cultural plan is to be provided to each Aboriginal child in out-of-home care that aligns with the child’s case plan.

See advice  Cultural plans.

A review date

A case plan must include a date by which it will be reviewed. See Reviewing the case plan section of this advice for details. (s. 169 (1) of the CYFA)

Preparation of the plan

This section includes links to any meetings that have been held to prepare the case plan and who was involved in preparing the case plan. This information is not included in the case plan document, however practitioners are required to note any different perspectives on the plan, including noting if a parent does not agree with a decision, for example, the mother does not agree with contact being supervised by the child’s aunt.

Other relevant information

This section includes information that is to be provided with the endorsed case plan, as follows:

  • About child protection case planning - information sheet
  • Review of a case planning decision - information sheet
  • Court order details, if a court order is in place
  • Latest version of the actions table.

There may be other documents relevant to the child’s case plan, depending on the circumstances such as:

  • the Child and Family Cultural Details document, and the cultural plan, if the child is Aboriginal and in out-of–home care
  • a specific, detailed crisis management plan
  • and so on.

From time to time it may be helpful to go through the Child/Young Person’s Profile document with the family, to check that the information held in CRIS is accurate.

Preparing a case plan

Preparing a case plan involves: discussing the protective concerns and the child’s developmental and care needs with– the child (where age appropriate), their parents and other family,carers and relevant professionals; engaging them to develop the case plan and associated actions table; and having the case plan endorsed by a team manager (or an equivalent or more senior officer).

It is important that the case plan, no matter the circumstances or permanency objective, is prepared promptly, as this will enable focused protective intervention, and timely closure when appropriate. If a protection application is required, it will give a clear indication of the purpose of a protection application, and support identifying and reaching the appropriate permanency objective when working under a court order.

A case plan is to be prepared (endorsed) and given to the child and parents within 21 days of substantiation. While the timeframe is not legislated, this policy requirement reflects the intention to plan and intervene as early as possible, and is consistent with family-led decision making program guidelines and adjournments for the preparation of court reports.

A case plan to protect a child by agreement

Case planning by agreement focuses on the safety of the child where it is considered that the child has been or is likely to be at risk of significant harm, but there are sufficient protective factors within the family and extended family to ensure the child’s ongoing safety without having to seek a court order.

Give careful consideration to whether agreement is genuine. Look for insight about the harm the child is experiencing, and genuine acknowledgement of a need for change, when determining whether protective intervention in the absence of a court order will effectively address the protective concerns.

A parent being able to challenge authority figures, such as child protection, may be a positive indicator. The probability of safety for the child may be higher where a parent can express anger about child protection involvement directly to the authority figure. Conversely, those adults who feel themselves intimidated by authority figures may present as pleasant and cooperative, while suppressing rage that will later be expressed against the weakest members of the family when authority figures are not present. Whilst experiencing expressions of disagreement or frustration can be unpleasant for practitioner, it is important to recognise the very nature of statutory intervention and develop the skills needed to work in this context.

Where, at the conclusion of the first visit, a safety plan is developed with the family, the actions for the perpetrator to address their patterns of coercive control behaviour can be detailed and recorded in the actions table, along with actions to address the other protective concerns and needs of the child. It can then be utilised as case planning progresses. The need for a safety plan is an indicator that the practitioner has determined that at least some protective concern has been substantiated – that the child is at risk and a plan is required to secure their immediate safety.

For further information see Planning for children’s safety where there is family violence – advice and for detailed information on the purpose and content of a safety plan see Working with families where an adult is violent (pdf, 1.17 MB) .

The permanency objective will be family preservation, even if the child is in the temporary care of a relative agreed to by the parent, or on a voluntary placement through a Community Service Organisation. The focus of the plan will be ensuring that the child and family are supported by extended family or services so that the parents can provide adequate care and protection for the child without ongoing child protection involvement.

A case plan for protection in the community following closure

When there is no need for further protective intervention, the permanency objective will be family preservation and the case plan may make reference to services and supports to be engaged with the child and family. The case plan will become the closure plan.

A case plan where a protection application has been issued by notice or an IAO is in place

Where a protection application has been issued, and a final order has not been made, Child Protection is required to have a case plan for the child and will continue to engage with the family to the fullest extent possible, consistent with the endorsed case plan. There may be particular challenges in this situation as relationships may be strained due to disagreement about the protection application. However, planning to meet the child’s needs must continue.

Where the child remains at home, the permanency objective will be family preservation, but where the is placed in an out-of-home care subject to an interim accommodation order, the permanency objective will usually be reunification, although there may be rare situations where one of the permanency objectives consistent with ongoing alternative care is appropriate. 

When an order under which a child is in out-of-home care is first made, time in out-of-home care begins to accumulate.

Section 558 of the CYFA requires any case plan prepared for the child must be included in a disposition report. The permanency objective and other aspects of a case plan included in a disposition or addendum report need to be consistent with the recommended order. The child’s endorsed case plan is attached to the disposition report document. The actions table, setting out how the case plan is to be implemented  is not part of the case plan itself and is not provided with the court report.

A case plan under a protection order

A case plan is required under the following protection orders:

  • family preservation order
  • reunification order
  • care to Secretary order
  • long term care order
  • therapeutic treatment (placement) order

When a protection order is made, the practitioner recording the order details is to determine whether the order is consistent, in terms of permanency objective and other decisions, with the type of order and any conditions made by the Court. If not, in accordance with the CYFA, a new version of the case plan must be prepared and a copy provided to the child and the child’s parents within eight weeks of the order being made

The actions table will also need to be reviewed with those involved to reflect how the revised case plan is to be implemented.

Implementing the case plan

Actively working with the family, community and other professionals to implement the case plan will be essential to achieve the permanency objective for the child in the way that it will be sustained.  Maintaining momentum towards the permanency objective requires active monitoring of the case plan and actions table. Goals, tasks and timelines need to be understood by all those involved. Active monitoring of progress is required to guard against case drift.

See procedure Case plan implementation for tasks that must be undertaken

Actions to implement the case plan (goals, tasks and timelines)

Previously known as the goals and tasks table, the actions table sets out the goals and related tasks to be undertaken to implement the case plan. It identifies timelines, who is responsible for which tasks. It provides the basis for review of outcomes by describing what will demonstrate that a goal has been met.

As a separate table, young people, parents and practitioners can use it to keep track of appointments, significant dates and arrangements. It can be updated as required. Changes to the table do not constitute a change to the case plan for the child.

Child protection aims to create sufficient safety for children and young people. In each family that child protection works with, achieving sufficient safety requires acting on clear goals and specific tasks required to reach those goals. Those goals need to be expressed in terms that can be understood by the family so they know what is expected of them.

This may include the cessation of family violence as a goal. Actions may relate to:

  • the perpetrator being referred to a behaviour change program
  • perpetrator to undertake mental health evaluation and comply with any required mental health program, including medication
  • child protection to supervise contact between the child and the perpetrator.

It is important for practitioners to keep the areas of concern up to date on the client information system so that the actions table reflects the current situation for the child and family and remains focussed on addressing the current protective concerns that have been confirmed or verified.

Working where a protection application has been issued by notice or an IAO is in place

Where the Court is yet to decide the outcome of a protection application and the matter is adjourned, child protection’s case planning responsibilities continue.  The parent’s responses to the child’s case plan should be documented and included in an addendum court report where relevant. Changes to the case plan may be made where the child’s circumstances change during the adjournment period Where the Court is to be provided with the latest endorsed version with an addendum court report.

Working under a court order

For a child who has been placed in out-of-home care implementation of the case plan needs to be timely and regularly reviewed to identify any delays in progress towards the permanency objective.

Whether the permanency objective is reunification, or requires establishing ongoing alternative care, the objective will take time to achieve and in the mean time, the child will be experiencing uncertainty about their future care.

Practitioners need to be very clear and specific about what needs to change in order to address the protective concerns or before a child can return to parental care.  If referrals to services are required the purpose of the referral needs to be clear, who is making the referral, what assistance will be available to families to attend services and how this will be provided, and how outcomes will be assessed.

Where the permanency objective is reunification, strong emphasis in the actions table will be given to addressing contributors to safety concerns, and strengthening parenting capacity, to maximise opportunities for reunification.

Where reunification is no longer the objective, the focus will be on establishing and sustaining a permanent or long term out-of-home care arrangement for the child.

In focusing on promoting children’s permanency, attention must be given to preserving and promoting children’s relationships with primary carers, siblings, significant adults in their lives, and friends.

See advice  Looking After Children.

Reviewing the case plan

Under s. 169(1) of the CYFA a case plan must include a date for the review of the case plan not more than 12 months after the date that the case plan is made and, once reviewed, not more than 12 months after the date of the review.

Section 169(3) states that a review of a case plan must include a review of the progress being made to achieve the permanency objective in the case plan. There is also a requirement to review the cultural support needs of an Aboriginal in court-ordered out of home care.

The case plan is to be reviewed when the child’s circumstances change.

Often a meeting will not be required where a review is occurring in the context of the need for a change to a significant decision, however the case planner will need to be satisfied that the decision-making principles (ss. 11 and 12, CYFA) have been followed consistent with acting in the best interests of the child. The key here is that case planning is a process which involves inclusive discussions, meetings, telephone conversations, and home visits.

The case plan should be updated and with a new version provided to the child and parents when any change is made.

Working by agreement

Where there is no court order in place, the review date is to be consistent with policy regarding timeframes for protective intervention without court involvement , that is, a review of the case plan will be required at the 90, 120 and 150 day mark if the case is still open.

Working under a court order

Where an interim order is in place a case plan should be reviewed within 12 months, or earlier if the child’s circumstances change.

The case plan must be reviewed if the child has been living in out-of-home care for a cumulative period of 12 months, if:

  • the child is subject of an interim accommodation or protection order, and
  • the permanency objective is family reunification.

The case plan must be reviewed after the making of a protection order if the order is different to the protection order anticipated by the endorsed case plan.

The case plan must also be reviewed prior to the expiration of a protection order, and at least annually for orders greater than 12 months. The review focuses on progress towards the permanency objective. The updated case plan will need to reflect current significant decisions relating to the present and future care and wellbeing of the child.

If, as a result of the review, there is a change to the permanency objective that is inconsistent with the current order, action will be required. This may mean directing the parent to resume parental responsibility for the child to the exclusion of the Secretary, where family reunification has been achieved, or making arrangements to end an order or to apply for a different order.

Regular reviews will assist in maintaining momentum towards the permanency objective, and help  to  motivate  and keep families on track to address the protective concerns and any emerging concerns that issues that need to be included in the case plan and actions table.

Identifying delays in provision of services earlier rather than later will enable issues to be addressed promptly and alternate options including provision of flexible funding to be considered.

Considerations for good practice

Questions to elicit the family’s safety goals

  • Okay, we both see the need to make your child safe. What I’m really interested in are the ideas you have for doing this.
  • Things don’t seem to be going well in your family. How can we help you make things better and make your child safer?
  • What do you suppose you (…your partner, the child, other family members) can do to increase safety?
  • Let’s suppose we could do anything to make your child safer. What would that be? What would you find useful?
  • In your opinion, what would it take to make your child safer and for your family to move forward?
  • When we ask your son what would make him feel safer, what do you think he will say?
  • For our involvement with your family to be useful to you, what would need to happen? What would change in your family? What would change about your partner/your child?
  • How have you solved these sorts of problems before? How did you know to do that? How were you able to do that? Could you do that again?
  • On those times when you’ve been successful with this child/situation, what was happening?
  • As a parent/child, what would you really like to learn about this situation?
  • If you got exactly the sort of support you wanted to deal with these problems and resolve them, what would that support look like?
  • It’s really clear to me that you don’t want us continually in your life. What do you think we need to see to close the case?

(Turnell, A. and Edwards, S. 1999)

Build on common ground between the family’s safety goals and child protection’s safety goals

The safety goals that families come up with may not be sufficient to ensure safety. However, they are a good place to start and a full examination of what the family wants will not only enrich the current assessment, but may open avenues for a case plan. See if there is common ground between what the family wants and what you want, or if there is room to modify your goals in order to accommodate the family’s goals in a way that does not compromise the safety of the child.

Stay open and try to avoid getting locked into confrontation situations. This does not mean that you are collaborating with the abuse – it is simply a matter of looking for a partnership approach to setting goals that you and the family can agree to. ‘…Most people, not surprisingly, are responsive to the worker who shows a genuine interest in what they want to achieve…’ (Turnell, A. and Edwards, S. 1999)

Be positive

Remember, your current assessment should highlight factors that increase safety as well as factors that increase vulnerability or likelihood of harm. Determining what goals will best help provide sufficient safety is therefore not just about eliminating the negatives; it is also about accentuating the positives.

Often child protection practitioners can see what they want to have stopped and therefore focus on what people should not be doing. The problem with this approach is that ‘…it is hard to work towards not doing something without providing something else to fill the vacuum. On the other hand, a focus on what [you] expect to see happening instead is much more positive and gives everyone involved something to work toward…’ (Turnell, A. and Edwards, S. 1999)

When parents don’t meet expectations or agreements, try not to be too critical. It is worth considering that people in vulnerable circumstances often come to expect criticism from people in authority. Stay focused on the need for safety, on what you are working towards with the family, and fight against dehumanising parents for their failure to meet expectations.

Explore exceptions

Exceptions are occasions when the abuse or neglect could have happened, but didn’t. Exploring the exceptions allows the child protection practitioner to talk about a problem in a constructive manner and avoid the need for confrontation. Building upon the exceptions is a way child protection practitioners and families can create sufficient safety.

Questions to explore exceptions

  • You said earlier on that it’s not always like this. Can you tell me more about the other times?
  • When was the last time this problem happened? How have you managed to avoid it since then?
  • What was different about the times you felt like you handled the situation well?
  • Have you been in this situation before? What did you do that helped?
  • Can you tell me about times when this parent has responded appropriately in keeping the child safe? What did she do?
  • Clearly, there are many times when you do keep track of your son even when you are tired. Can you tell me how you do that?
  • When was the last time you felt you had the energy to care for your children well? How were you able to do that?

(Turnell, A. and Edwards, S. 1999)

SMART goal setting

Goals need to be:

  • Specific (clear and understandable)
  • Measurable (how can the changes be measured?)
  • Achievable (within the family’s ability to complete with support)
  • Related (to the assessed concerns)
  • Timely (incorporating regular review).

Sequencing goals and tasks

In the planning process it is completely legitimate and useful to sequence SMART goals in order to achieve the overall goal of the case plan.

Some of this sequencing may reasonably take place before any formal planning process and is linked directly to current assessment, key decisions and actions.

Planning to protect the child’s rights

Consideration needs to be given to the rights of the child, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory.

Planning to promote the child’s development

Along with the obligation to protect the child from harm and protect the child’s rights, sits the obligation to promote the child’s development. Promotion of the child’s development is a core focus of the case planning process and of any formal case plan that is developed.

In practice planning for the promotion of the child’s development should be informed directly by rigorous assessment. It is recognised that any developmental deficits identified though assessment may also constitute safety concerns for the child, which should be addressed through planning, targeted action and subsequent review.

Planning for permanency

The importance of continuity and stability in a child’s life, particularly in the early years of childhood, is well founded in scientific knowledge on the brain development of children.

A child’s connection to a primary carer, siblings, family, school, training or employment, friends, community and culture is vital. This applies throughout the life of the child and should be considered from the point of first contact and through all subsequent interventions.

Permanency planning is about informed, goal focused and timely decision-making to achieve enduring long-term care of children, either by their parents, or in out-of-home care, that aims to promote their safety and development, and provide for their future care and wellbeing.


Child protection must always maintain a watching brief for risk of harm, even when a child is within the care system.


A stable and secure placement is an essential element for any child.

Developmental needs

A child’s developmental needs must be assessed and monitored as part of being a good parent. Consideration should be given to all dimensions in the LAC framework.

Practitioners may consider programs that enrich development for young children. Such programs include a kindergarten program for 3 and 4 year olds and other formal or semi-formal programs such as playgroups and other organised programs for young children (such as mini maestros or gymbaroo). Marginalised and vulnerable families are those that could most benefit from access to a kindergarten program. Other programs may assist parents to teach children valuable skills such as group participation, learning to listen and follow instructions. These programs also provide contact with other parents in the local community.

Compensation and affirmative action

Children in child protection’s care are often very adversely affected by trauma and neglect and require restorative services to help them recover and live fulfilling lives. Affirmative action implies that access to services should be prioritised for these children in acknowledgement of their special circumstances.

Preparation for life after care

Preparation for life after care begins from whenever a child enters care. For children not in the child protection system, preparation for adulthood is a natural process over many years. It is up to the protective system to ensure that children in its care gain opportunities to develop life skills and make plans for their futures.


Turnell, A. and Edwards, S. (1999) Signs of Safety: a solution and safety oriented approach to child protection Norton and Company, New York.