As far as possible, children and young people in out-of-home care should participate in normal and acceptable, age appropriate activities, as would their peers.
The child’s carer is generally in the best position to make a decision about the suitability of an activity.
Sections 175A and 175B of the CYFA enable the Secretary to specify issues relating to a child in out-of-home care about which a carer may be authorised to make decisions. Authorising carers should be discussed at care team meetings and recommendations for authorisation made to the team manager. Foster carers may have been issued a standard authorisation from their agency.
Activities that may be authorised
Activities likely to be suitable to be authorised include:
- school activities, excursions and work experience
- school camps within Victoria
- activities – sports, cultural and social clubs within Victoria
- social events and overnight stays within Victoria.
Regarding overnight stays, see Overnight stays for tasks that must be undertaken.
This advice provides guidance to assist carers who have been authorised to make decisions to determine whether to consent to an activity.
In general, a decision to allow or not allow a child or young person in out-of-home care to participate in a school excursion or other activity should consider if:
- the people running the activity appear to be competent to run the activity, provide adequate supervision, and have strategies in place for responding to possible emergency situations and
- the level of risk for participation by the particular child is assessed as low by the carer.
It is reasonable for carers to assume that school excursions organised by a school have considered the risks. However, in each instance, the carer should make their own risk assessment of the activity, which may require obtaining more information from the school about the activity.
The carer must ensure the permission form is completed and they identify the capacity in which they are signing (e.g. foster carer, kinship carer or residential care worker). The carer should keep note of the excursions attended and advise the child’s case worker at the earliest time possible so that other members of the child’s care team are aware of their participation in these activities.
The carer should consider the risks in the same way any good parent would decide for their own children (that is whether or not the activity is suitable, safe and one the child or young person will enjoy) and complete any permission forms as required.
There may be some instances where the carer is unsure about the level of risk in a particular activity. In these instances, the carer should consult with the CSO case worker to assist in the decision-making process.
Some activities carry an inherent level of risk. For example, a young person may seek permission to go rock climbing, or engage in an activity like white water rafting. When an activity carries risks (even when well run by a qualified person) carers should always speak to the CSO case worker before giving permission for participation.
It should be noted that carers can always give permission for a child or young person in their care to attend activities such as a friend’s birthday party or to visit a friend’s house. Unless the party involves a significantly risky activity, or unless there are legal or other child-specific issues that preclude their participation (likely to be an uncommon situation), attendance at such events should be supported and approved by carers as they feel appropriate.
Where a decision is made to allow the activity to proceed, the carer should ensure that the necessary permission forms are completed for the activity.
For a non-school activity, the carer, without breaching the child or young person’s privacy, must consider what information the person supervising the child or young person during the activity needs to know, and provide that information to them. Consider:
- likes and dislikes
- routines (e.g. meals)
- cultural considerations (e.g. food, dress, customs)
- fears or phobias (e.g. frightened of the dark, water, animals)
- swimming proficiency (if relevant to activities)
- medical needs (e.g. medication, allergies)
- behaviours and the management of these behaviours
- details of how to contact the carer during the period of the activity and a back-up contact.
The carer must consider and discuss the following arrangements with the adult supervising the activity:
- arrangements and times for ‘drop off’ and ‘pick up’
- relevant information or resources needed by the child or young person during the activity (i.e. money, appropriate clothing, swimming costume)
- contact details for the adult supervising the activity
- the adult supervising the activity must have contact details for the carer
- relevant information about the child or young person’s needs should be given to the person supervising the child or young person during the activity
- how the child or young person can contact the carer in case the child or young person feels unhappy or unsafe during the activity.
It is reasonable to assume that the risks of a school camp have already been assessed as acceptable by the school.
In the event that the camp is one run by another organisation, the carer, if authorised to make decisions about school camps, needs to be satisfied that risks have been assessed.
In addition, for both school and non-school camps, the assessment considerations below, enable the carer to consider the child or young person’s particular circumstances and situation and therefore the appropriateness or otherwise of attendance at the camp. These conditions are the same as those for consideration in determining the appropriateness or otherwise of a child staying overnight at the home of a friend.
- What are the child or young person’s wishes? Do they wish to attend the camp?
- Are they sufficiently independent and settled to be separated from the carer to attend?
- Has the child or young person previously stayed away overnight prior to entering this placement and was it a positive experience?
- What is the age, level of understanding and the vulnerability of the child or young person concerned?
- Who will be supervising the child or young person during the camp?
- Is the child or young person familiar with the people that will be supervising them at the camp, and is that likely to present any difficulties?
- What are the sleeping arrangements and are they appropriate?
- Does the carer know the people who will be supervising the child or young person at the camp?
- Are there any reasonable grounds for concern that the child or young person may be at risk of harm in the location concerned, or from the activities proposed during the camp?
- Are there any reasonable grounds for concern that the child or young person may, through their own behaviour put themselves or others at risk of harm at the camp?
- Are there any cultural issues that need to be considered?
- Is the request reasonable at this stage of the placement?
- Are there any other reasons (such as an interrupted night’s sleep, illness) that would make the camp difficult for the child or young person?
The department needs to be aware of interstate movement of a child subject to a Children’s Court order (because it involves the child leaving the Court’s jurisdiction). Where the camp takes place outside of Victoria, the carer may be authorised by the case planner in advanced, to consent to the particular camp, or the case planner may give consent.
Where the child in under an IAO or family reunification is the permanency objective, the parents must be consulted, engaged to the fullest extent possible, however their agreement is not required unless the camp will occur after the child is expected to have returned to their care or would affect court-ordered contact. If the parents do not consent and court-ordered contact will be disrupted, but it is in the child’s best interests to participate, a variation of the order may be sought.
Forms including an indemnity or immunity clause
Consent forms for an activity sometimes include an indemnity or immunity clause intended to apply should the child be harmed while participating. Carers may sign such forms, however are advised to consult with the child’s case manager via their agency where appropriate.
See Authorising carers - advice for further information.
Once a decision is reached
If a carer has been authorised to make the relevant decision about an activity, in most cases, permission will be granted for the child or young person to attend school excursions, participate in other non-school activities and attend camps. However, if the carer assesses the activity is not appropriate for the child or young person, then permission should not be granted. The carer should explain to the child or young person the rationale for not giving permission.
When a carer permits a child to engage in an activity, they should ensure the CSO case worker or child protection practitioner knows about these events so they gain an accurate picture of the child or young person’s experiences whilst in care.
Considerations for good practice
Consideration and communication about a child or young person’s activities should be discussed as part of care team meetings.
Carers and others should always seek to support a child’s involvement in school excursions, other activities and camps.