See the procedure Kinship care for tasks that must be undertaken.
Where an out-of-home care placement is required, s. 167(2), CYFA indicates that kinship care is the explicitly preferred option before any other placement option is pursued.
Kinship care involves relatives or members of a child's social network being approved to provide accommodation and care. Kinship care is targeted at children aged 0-18 years subject to intervention by child protection and assessed as requiring out-of-home care. The placement is supervised and supported according to the child's level of assessed need either by child protection practitioners or a community service organisation (CSO) or an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCO)
The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle requires that preference be given to Aboriginal extended family or relatives, where this is not possible other extended family or relatives are the next preferred care option for an Aboriginal child. Consulting with ACSASS will assist in identifying Aboriginal extended family or relatives. See Assessing kinship care for Aboriginal children - advice.
The kinship connection more easily enables the maintenance of the child’s family and community ties and cultural identity.
Kinship care has many advantages in that the pre-existing relationship usually allows for a less traumatic experience of child protection involvement for the child and their family. There may also be situations where the potential carer has an unrealised connection to the child. For example, the carer may not have met the child but shares a family history, culture and identity.
Kinship care also has potential disadvantages in that there may be tensions and hostilities within the family network that pose ongoing or new risks for the child. This may provide a challenge for kinship carers to negotiate, and they may not have experience in coping with the particular needs of the child being placed with them. Despite carers' best intentions, kinship placements sometimes break down because carers do not have the necessary skills and supports.
To the fullest extent possible, parents and the child (if age appropriate) should be actively involved in identifying and selecting an appropriate kinship carer unless the choice would place the child at further risk. If there has been significant substantiated harm, the wishes of the parents regarding placement of the child with an extended family member should not take precedence over what is considered to be in the best interests of the child. It is important to consider whether an undisclosed placement is required.
A new model of kinship care was introduced in Victoria in March 2018. The new model aims to provide better support for statutory kinship placements by identifying kinship networks early, strengthening reunification where appropriate, and promoting placement quality and stability.
First Supports is a program delivered by Community Service Organisations and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to support new kinship placements. First Supports includes the completion of the Part B comprehensive assessment where the placement is likely to last three months or longer, the provision of up to 110 hours of family services support, and flexible brokerage to purchase items or services to maintain and promote the stability of the placement.
Kinship engagement teams
Kinship engagement teams have been established across divisional areas, consisting of Kinship Engagement Coordinators and Kinship Engagement Workers. Following a referral from child protection, the kinship engagement team can undertake ‘kinship finding’ which involves early identification of kinship networks by searching and connecting with a child or young person’s networks to identify potential kinship carers, respite carers or mentoring options.
The kinship engagement team provide short term flexible ‘kinship support’ by providing dedicated support for kinship carers by responding to placement stability and support needs and acting as a contact point for kinship carers. Kinship support may include providing general emotional support, assistance with kinship assessments, special negotiated adjustment requests, obtaining documentation for the child such as birth certificates and Medicare numbers, or referring the carer to other support services.
Child protection can make a referral in CRIS to the kinship engagement team for kinship support or kinship finding.
Each division has a dedicated telephone help line and email address where kinship carers can contact the kinship engagement team directly during business hours. Contact details are available at https://providers.dhhs.vic.gov.au/kinship-care
Support for Aboriginal children
The kinship model also includes an Aboriginal kinship finding program for Aboriginal children and young people aged between 0-18 years who are in out-of-home care or at risk of entering out-of-home care. The Aboriginal kinship finding program is run by the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA).
Assessment of kinship carers is undertaken by the child protection practitioner or kinship engagement worker, and is different to foster care assessment in that it takes account of distinctive issues:
- the pre-existing relationship between the child, family and the carer
- the carer is being assessed to care for a specific child
- the carers are usually identified by the child or their family
- the expectations of carers and standards accepted may be different from those for carers who are unknown to the child.
Objectives of assessment
The objectives of a kinship caregiver assessment are:
- to gather relevant information to approve or reject the caregivers
- to identify any risk factors within the household
- to make an informed decision about the potential strengths and weaknesses of the placement
- to identify who the primary carer will be
- to identify any necessary supports to ensure the success of the placement.
Kinship care placements may be either planned or emergency. Regardless of the reason for the placement an assessment of the carers must be undertaken. If the placement is an emergency a preliminary assessment must be undertaken. A preliminary assessment, otherwise known as a Part A assessment, is the first step to establishing that a placement for a child is appropriate for them. It should ascertain the placement is safe and suitable, and that the kinship carer(s) with support can meet the immediate needs of the child or young person. The information gathered in the preliminary assessment is recorded in the Kinship assessment Part A in CRIS.
Preliminary assessment (Part A assessment)
Prior to any kinship care placement being made the carer must be assessed and approved by child protection.
At the minimum this requires satisfactory completion of:
- national police history checks on the potential carers and all other household members aged 18 years or older who reside in the house or sleep there overnight. See procedure Undertaking national police history checks for tasks that must be undertaken.
- International police history checks on the potential carers and all other household members aged 18 years or above who have lived overseas for six months or longer. See Undertaking international police history check for tasks that must be undertaken.
- a check of CRIS in order to ascertain information relating to the prospective carer and household members as carers of a child
- checks on the suitability and fitness of the proposed carer to care for the child
- discussion with the carer, facilitated by an ACSASS worker in the case of an Aboriginal child, about whether the child will be safe living with them, and whether they are willing to cooperate with the department to help the child and their parents
- where child is under two years of age, discussion of SIDS factors. See procedure SIDS safe sleeping assessment for tasks that must be undertaken.
Where a child is to be placed with a suitable person subject to an interim accommodation order, the prescribed criteria that the Secretary must have regard to in preparing a report (whether oral or written) for the Children's Court on the person's suitability are:
- the criminal records and history of the person
- the previous history of the person as a carer of children
- the capacity of the person to promote a child's safety, wellbeing and development
- any criminal records and criminal history of the usual members of the person's household.
For planned placements, the department’s kinship engagement workers may have identified potential kinship placements through kinship finding for children and young people already subject to child protection intervention or subject to a protection order. In these instances, either the kinship engagement worker or the child protection practitioner may complete the Part A assessment. However, child protection remain responsible for endorsement of the assessment outcome. When completing or reviewing the assessment, the child protection practitioner should consult with the kinship engagement worker(s) involved with the kinship finding for any relevant or useful information about the prospective kinship carer.
A practitioner guide, kinship care assessment guidance, has been developed to assist practitioners complete the kinship carer comprehensive Part B assessment (Part B). A Part B assessment is required to be completed for all placements expected to exceed six weeks and should be completed within those first six weeks. The comprehensive assessment focuses on the kinship carer(s) ability to meet the ongoing needs of the child and to engage in planning for this child while in their care. It should involve more than one visit and include the key members of the carer family and household - all adults and older children.
Who completes the Part B assessment?
If it is assessed while completing the Part A or during a child protection investigation the placement will be less than 12 weeks, the case is not eligible for a referral to First Supports and child protection remains responsible for completing the Part B assessment in CRIS. In these circumstances, the Part B is required to be completed within the first six weeks of the placement commencing to ensure adequate support is in place for the child for the duration of the placement.
If it is assessed while completing the Part A or during a child protection investigation the placement is likely to be more than 12 weeks, a referral to First Supports may be appropriate to complete the Part B assessment and establish the appropriate supports for the child and placement. In these circumstances, First Supports are still required to complete the Part B in CRISSP within the first six weeks of the placement commencing, and therefore referrals should be made at the earliest opportunity. The assessment is to be submitted to the relevant team manager, Child Protection for endorsement in CRIS.
The kinship carers must be advised that unless the Children’s Court decides a placement is undisclosed following an application by children protection, or under a care by Secretary order or long-term care order, the case planner assesses it is in the best interests of the child to withhold the address information from parents, a parent will be advised of the whereabouts of the child.
In addition to this assessment by the child protection practitioner, it is useful in some cases to undertake a reference check. The potential carers would be asked to nominate two personal referees who are then contacted by telephone by the child protection practitioner or First Supports provider. Any issues raised or identified should be followed up with the carer.
Kinship care assessment form Part C (12 month placement review)
A formal 12-month review of long term kinship care arrangements for a child in a kinship placement is undertaken by child protection, the contracted CSO or ACCO or a kinship engagement worker, and should be linked to the child’s care plan. The aim of the Part C assessment (completed in CRIS) is to assess the needs of the child’s progress, wellbeing, development and whether or not the placement offers stability and enables the child to thrive. If the permanency objective in the case plan is permanent care the assessment of a kinship care placement for transition to permanent care will involve child protection working collaboratively with a CSO or ACCO or adoption and permanent care team to determine who is best equipped to carry out the preparation, assessment and transition for permanent care. This is a separate assessment to the Part C 12-month review.
Kinship placements not instigated by child protection
A family may instigate an informal kinship placement for a child for a range of reasons. A child or young person may also identify their own kinship placement through their family or peer networks. When a report is made where a pre-existing kinship placement has already been arranged, the child protection practitioner must check CRIS to ascertain any previous history of the carer or other household members (this must also include residents who may be residing on the property for example in a caravan). If a case involving a pre-existing kinship placement proceeds to investigation and assessment the kinship carer must be assessed using the kinship carer assessment report, including police history checks, with a view to being approved as carer for that child.
Kinship carers and financial and other supports required for the placement are approved by a Child Protection team manager (as case planner). The assessment should be fully recorded and indicate who completed the assessment, who was involved and whether the assessment is preliminary or comprehensive.
The approval should indicate who has been approved, for which type of placement and what the procedure will be if circumstances change, for example if the placement becomes long-term.
The approved caregiver will be required to sign a caregiver agreement which will advise them what they have been approved for, their role and responsibilities as a caregiver, in relation to implementing the case plan and the extent of authority they have to make decisions in relation to the child.
In the circumstance a child returns home from an approved kinship placement or changes placement as per the child’s case plan, and due to unforeseen circumstances needs to return to the prior approved placement within six months, the team manager may approve the previously completed Part A, B or C remains valid if it is the same carer and there have been no changes to the placement.
For kinship care placements the case management responsibility remains with the child protection practitioner within the existing case management structure, unless contracted to a CSO or ACCO. This includes ensuring the placement is adequately monitored and supported.
Where the case has been contracted to a CSO or ACCO, it is their role to undertake case management responsibilities. Case management tasks are as follows:
Preparing the child for placement
In emergency placements and placements determined by the Court, it is important that the child is prepared to the extent that time allows. See Preparing a child for placement.
Supervision and support
Supervision and support in kinship care placements is different to that in other home-based care where caseworkers are allocated. See Support of kinship carers - advice.
The case manager holds responsibility to ensure that long-term kinship care arrangements for a child or young person are reviewed within 12 months along with the case plan for as long as the child or young person remains a client of child protection.
Kinship care placements arise through case planning decisions or court decisions. Once initiated these placements follow case planning process and reviews to which specific procedures apply. A case plan review is required every 12 months or when a significant change occurs. A significant change includes a change of permanency objective, placement or other significant decisions concerning the child. It also includes the identification of additional protective concerns.
Termination or transfer of placement
Where there is a planned termination or transfer of placement, or planned reunification, there should be adequate preparation for the change in the child's life. See Placement changes - advice.
When a decision is made to close a case, the child in kinship care may have already returned home, moved to another placement or independent living, or may be remaining in the kinship placement.
There should be due regard to the permanency objective and where a child cannot return home, arrangements should be made to formalise the kinship placement, where appropriate through the Children’s Court or Family Law orders.