Care teams - advice
This advice provides additional information regarding the establishment and ongoing participation in care teams for children in care.
Document ID number 2110, version 5, 4 May 2022.
See Care teams procedure for tasks that must be undertaken.
When a child is placed in care there are a number of people who share responsibility for doing the things parents generally do for their own children. The purpose of a care team is to manage the day-to-day care and best interests of the child in accordance with the overall case plan.
These caring tasks encompass a number of practical details and activities involving day-to-day coordination of schedules. A specific care management focus is required to ensure these practical tasks are much more detailed than case planning processes which focus on the high-level decisions that need to be made concerning the child.
Definition of care team
A care team is the group of people who jointly look after a child while the child is in care. Each care team has a convenor (care team lead).
A care team is required for every child in care, except for permanent care and adoption placements.
Role of the care team
The care team focuses specifically on the day-to-day care issues, and as such is a sub-group of all those providing for the protection, care and wellbeing of the child.
A CSO or ACCO providing the placement or kinship care contracted case management is responsible for establishing, convening and leading the care team.
Child Protection is responsible for establishing and leading the care team, with the convenor usually being the allocated child protection practitioner, if:
- the placement is provided by the department
- a kinship placement is not receiving contracted case management from a CSO or ACCO.
Membership of the care team
The members of a care team are the people who need to work together to jointly determine and do the things that parents ordinarily do to provide good care for a specific child in care. Sometimes a member of the care team may have more than one role.
A care team should always include:
- the child’s child protection, CSO or ACCO based care manager who convenes and leads the care team
- the child’s primary carer(s)
- the child’s parents (unless there is a very good reason, and the case planner has approved them not being included)
- the child protection, CSO or ACCO worker supporting the carer/s or placement
- any other adults who play a significant role in caring for the child, including disability support staff where appropriate.
The child’s CSO or ACCO worker supporting the carer/s or placement is identified by the CSO or ACCO and may be a placement agency case worker, team leader, residential care house supervisor, or, if the case has been contracted to the CSO or ACCO.
In relation to residential care, the house supervisor (or equivalent) must be a member of each child or young person’s care team, in addition to the CSO or ACCO worker supporting the placement, if that is a different person.
The child’s case practitioner will be the allocated child protection practitioner or ACAC staff or if the case is contracted, the CSO or ACCO based contracted case manager (who may also be the CSO or ACCO worker supporting the carer/s or placement).
The child’s primary carer/s will be the child’s kinship carer/s, foster carer/s, key residential worker/s, or lead tenant/s.
Other adults who play a significant role in caring for the child may be an Aboriginal community member, grandparent, aunt, respite carer, Take Two practitioner, or disability support worker.
It is important that the care team for an Aboriginal child includes at least one person from their Aboriginal community, wherever possible.
Other people may become members of a care team depending on the specific issues and needs of the child, remembering the care team should only include the people who are determining and doing things a parent would generally do. The care team should be kept as small as possible to be effective.
The care team members must consult and work closely with mainstream and specialist services including schools, teachers, educational psychologists and tutors, health professionals, mental health professionals, disability professionals, drug and alcohol professionals, therapeutic specialists, sexual health professionals, police, youth justice workers and any other people involved in the child’s life in the same way as good parents caring for a vulnerable child with complex needs would.
A child is not a member of their own care team because a care team comprises the people who are responsible for the child’s good care. However, children in care must always have a say and be listened to about the things which affect them. Therefore, care teams (like good parents) must involve the child or young person age appropriately in the processes they use for making decisions about their care.
Care team processes
Care management must be undertaken in accordance with the overall case plan using Looking After Children processes. Looking After Children records comprise:
- Essential Information Record
- Care and Placement Plan
- 0-14 years or
- 15+ Care and Transition Plan
- Assessment and Progress Records
- under 12 months
- 1-2 years
- 3-4 years
- 5-9 years
- 10-14 years
- 15 years and older
- Review of the Care and Placement Plan.
The Looking After Children framework considers the child's needs and outcomes in seven life areas which cover the critical areas identified from outcomes research, namely the child's:
- emotional and behavioural development
- family and social relationships
- identity (including cultural identity)
- social presentation
- self-care skills
Care teams do not need to have formal meetings – instead they must have regular discussions and conversations, and these must occur as frequently as is needed to ensure good day-to-day care. They may meet in person or virtually, using video or telephone conferencing applications. Care team members must have enough face-to-face contact with each other to enable all members to work together effectively, especially at the beginning of the placement. However, some discussions and conversations can be quite effectively carried out over the telephone or via email, especially when care team members have developed good working relationships with each other.
Although care teams do not keep minutes, they must use the Looking After Children records, which should be seen as live documents which are regularly updated.
The CSO or ACCO based worker supporting the carer/s or placement records actions, responsibilities and timelines required to collaboratively provide good day-to-day care of the child or young person and prepare the child for adulthood in the Looking After Children Care and Placement Plan (for children up to the age of 14 years) or the 15+ Care and Transition Plan. The care plan must be kept up-to-date and reviewed at least every six months. The care team convenor should ensure the responsibilities and actions of the care team are allocated to specific members of the care team, including themselves where appropriate, and this is to be reflected in the recorded actions.
All care team members must have a copy of the current case plan, actions table and care plan so members are clear about actions, responsibilities and timelines. A copy of the care plan should always be given to Child Protection so it can be attached to the planning component of the child’s case record in CRIS.
Dispute resolution in care teams
Care team members are expected to work together using a problem-solving approach. The care team convenor’s role in leading the care team includes working to resolve disputes as they arise. If care team members are unable to resolve disputes despite the best efforts of the care team convenor, the matter should be referred to the case planner for resolution.
Considerations for good practice
Care team members have a vital role to play in providing good care for children who cannot live with their own parents. It is critical that everyone works collaboratively to:
- put the best interests of the child first
- get to know the child well enough to know how best to involve them in decision-making processes and ensure their wishes and views are taken into account
- develop the skills for providing trauma informed practical care
- establish or maintain the child’s connections to their Aboriginal community and culture, where applicable
- ensure children from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds have their cultural and religious needs met
- respect each other and acknowledge the skill and expertise of other care team members
- keep each other informed about what is happening
- ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute to plans and decisions made about a child
- understand each other's and their own role and responsibilities.
Victorian Foster Carer Charter
The charter has been developed to support foster carers to understand their responsibilities and rights, including the expectation to be supported and included as valued members of the care team. It highlights the significant role and unique position of foster carers to share views and insights into the needs of the child or young person in their care.
The charter sets out the importance of collaborative working relationships between foster carers, foster care agencies, and the department to achieve the best possible outcome for children and young people in out-of-home care.
Child protection practitioners are encouraged to refer regularly to the charter to understand their responsibilities in supporting foster carers where appropriate.
Involving the child
Children in care must always have a say and be listened to about all the things that affect them. Care teams (like good parents) are expected to involve the child age appropriately in the processes they use for making decisions about their care. Each member of the care team should try to get to know the child they are caring for well enough to understand how best to engage them in these processes at any particular time.
The child should attend care team discussions about particular issues if that is the best way of making sure that their views and wishes are ascertained and considered by the whole care team. However, participation in care team discussions will not usually be appropriate for younger children. Some children will not want to meet with the whole care team at once or may not want to be involved in another meeting process. In these circumstances, always arrange for one or two of the members of the care team to discuss the issues being considered with the child individually to ensure that the child’s views about the issues are considered. Remember to then follow up with the child to advise them of the result.
Make sure that each child or young person is given progressively greater responsibility for making more of their own decisions as they become older to help them prepare for successful transition to adulthood and leaving care.
At the same time, be aware that there will be times when the care team (like good parents) will have to make a decision in the child's best interests that the child may not like – and be prepared to help the child accept that decision.
There will also be times when the care team has to discuss how to act in the child’s best interests without the child being present for that particular discussion. Some matters may be too painful for the child to have to hear or go through again. Some matters may relate to system problems or resourcing difficulties which the child should not have to worry about. However, any direct impacts or consequences that the child may experience as a result of such discussions should subsequently be explained and discussed in an age appropriate way with the child in accordance with their best interests.
Involving parents and extended family members
When a child is in care their parents and extended family members still have a key role in their life. Maintaining or establishing as positive a connection as possible with parents and extended family is clearly important for successful family reunification, which is the goal of most case plans. An ongoing positive connection to family is also vitally important for a child’s identity, social and emotional development in long-term care after it has been determined that they cannot be reunified.
When family reunification is the permanency objective, it is important to encourage parents and other significant family members (such as a grandparent, uncle and aunt) who are closely involved in the child’s life, to actively participate in the child’s care team. In particular, any parent with whom the child is intended to be reunified needs to be engaged to the fullest extent possible. Expect and encourage them to be part of their child’s care team unless the permanency objective changes. If this seems unsafe or impractical, consult with the child’s case planner.
Although parents will generally still be expected to have some ongoing contact with a child in long-term care, it is not generally considered appropriate for them to be involved in the child’s day-to-day care as a member of their care team. However, parents who have voluntarily but permanently relinquished the care of a child with a disability via a Child Care Agreement process have ongoing parental responsibility and are expected to have an active ongoing role in their child’s care.
When parents are part of a care team, they should be seen as an important member of the team – not as the care team’s clients. The care team’s focus is how the child’s needs can best be met while they are in care, and not whether the child should be in care. Whether and when the child goes home are case planning decisions – which should also be discussed with parents and extended family members in other contexts, possibly by using family group conferencing and family mediation processes – but not at the same time or in the same way as the day-to-day practical care arrangements for the child need to be discussed and managed.
Ensure there are a number of opportunities for parents and key family members who are care team members to have a say in the practical decisions being made about how the child’s needs will be met while the child is living away from their family. This should include them sharing the care team’s collaborative responsibility for arranging contact visits in accordance with any court conditions, being part of school-based student support groups, and being consulted about medical treatments.
Some parents may not be able to participate in face-to-face care team discussion because of geographic separation, mental illness or being in prison. Assist them to participate by mail, email, telephone or video conferencing or by passing on information individually through one member of the care team. Encourage and value the contribution they can make to their child’s care when they share family stories, key information about childhood illnesses or other personal information. Arrange to give parents and key family members copies of school reports, photos and other relevant information about their child’s progress.
For children in kinship care, engaging parents and extended family members from all sides of the family in care team processes may be particularly challenging. Consider drawing on practice approaches such as family-led decision-making and family mediation to support care team processes in these circumstances.