The majority of children in out-of-home care will have been placed by child protection and will be subject to one of the following Children's Court orders:
- an interim accommodation order
- a family reunification order
- a care by Secretary order
- a long-term care order
- a permanent care order (no ongoing child protection involvement once the order is made)
- a therapeutic treatment placement order.
In some instances, parents of a child reported to child protection may place their child voluntarily in out-of-home care under a child care agreement. Child care agreements may be used to alleviate immediate risks, where the parent acknowledges the risks and is willing to engage in a realistic and safe plan to address them quickly. See procedure Voluntary placements for tasks that must be undertaken.
In addition, a small number of children are voluntarily placed in care due to parental illness or a family crisis, where no other placement option within the family is available. The voluntary child care agreement is made between the parents or guardian and a CSO. These placements must not exceed six months without the CSO consulting with child protection.
Children who require out-of-home care come from a range of backgrounds and cultures and will have varying experiences of harm and trauma in their lives. Out-of-home care placements vary in duration from overnight to several years, depending upon the individual circumstances of the child.
In recognition of the differing needs of children a range of placement types have been developed:
- kinship care, where the placement is with the child's extended family, friends or from their existing social network
- home-based care, such as foster care, or other placement options which occur within a family environment
- residential care, which provides care for a small number of children by paid staff, usually in a home but sometimes in a purpose-built facility.
All out-of-home care placements are guided by the following principles. These principles apply to CSOs and ACCOs delivering out-of-home care placements, the carers (both home based and residential care) and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Children will reside in a safe environment, free from abuse or neglect.
Children will receive good quality care, which aims to meet their emotional, social, educational, physical, developmental, cognitive, cultural and spiritual needs and provides them with an opportunity to reach their full potential.
Children and their families will be provided with opportunities and assistance to participate in all decisions that affect them.
Children and their families will be treated respectfully and with dignity at all times and will not be spoken to or about in derogatory ways.
The individuality of each child will always be acknowledged. The ethnic origin, cultural identity, religion and language of each child and their family will be recognised and respected in the planning and provision of each placement.
Children in out-of-home care come from a range of cultures. Each child will reside in an environment that is culturally relevant and which highlights the importance of their cultural heritage.
For Aboriginal children, the Aboriginal child placement principle must be applied when making any decision regarding the placement of an Aboriginal child in out of home care. The principle aims to enhance and preserve Aboriginal children's sense of identity by ensuring they maintain strong connections with their family, community and culture and aims to ensure the rights of an Aboriginal child as an individual are always maintained, while acting in the best interests of the child.
Gender and sexuality
Consideration will be given to the needs of children who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and gender diverse and Intersex in the planning and delivery of services.
Consideration will be given to any disability a child may have in the planning and delivery of services.
Out-of-home care services will be delivered in a child centred, family focused manner, where the child and their family are respected. Many children who reside in out-of-home care will return to the care of their family and maintenance of family relationships is essential. Wherever possible, and in accordance with the child's case plan, the maintenance of enduring relationships with families will be nurtured and encouraged, particularly for children and their siblings who are not placed together. Parents will be offered opportunities to maintain a significant role in the life of their child consistent with the child’s legal status. A child's family:
- will be treated respectfully and with dignity at all times and their needs will be recognised and considered
- will be acknowledged as possessing unique knowledge about their child
- will participate in decisions affecting the life of their child and be offered opportunities to inform decision-making through processes such as case planning meetings
- will be assisted to resolve any issues relating to the care of their child
- will receive relevant information and access to timely grievance and review systems, which are fair, just and equitable
- will be protected from discrimination at all times.
Each child will be given the opportunity to maintain and form significant, consistent and enduring emotional connections with one or more primary individuals in their life. These relationships will be taken into account when decisions are made.
Stability in the lives of children is vital. Every effort will be made to maintain a child's placement; minimise the number of staff and carers involved in their lives; maintain connection to culture, and promote positive, caring and consistent relationships for a child with their family, peers, significant others, carers, schools.
Equipping a young person for life after care is vital. Staff and carers will work with a young person to develop skills that are essential for transition to a new placement, independent living or a successful return home.
Each young person who leaves an out-of-home care placement should do so in a planned and supported manner to enable a successful and sustainable transition. Young people should have:
- ongoing opportunities over time to develop independent living skills
- involvement in decision making
- a detailed post placement support or leaving care plan; and
- should leave care with relevant documentation, possessions and life records.
In accordance with s. 16(4) of the CYFA, the Secretary has responsibility to provide or arrange for the provision of services to assist in supporting a person under the age of 21 years to make the transition to independent living where the person:
- has been in the care of the Secretary and
- on leaving the care of the Secretary is of an age to, or intends to, live independently.
The kinds of services that may be provided to support a person to make the transition to independent living include:
- the provision of information about available resources and services
- depending on the Secretary's assessment of need –
- financial assistance
- assistance in obtaining accommodation or setting up a residence
- assistance with education and training
- assistance in finding employment
- assistance in obtaining legal advice
- assistance in gaining access to health and community services
- counselling and support.
Out-of-home care will be delivered through a partnership between children and their family, staff, carers, the department and all other services involved with the child, to combine experiences and skills and to share responsibilities. Each party will foster positive collaborative relationships with others, acknowledge each other's strengths and value each other's roles to maximise the quality of planning and service provision each child receives.
For Aboriginal children, child protection is required to consult and consider the views of the Aboriginal Child Specialist and Support Service (ACSASS) and other relevant sources of advice and information when considering placing the child in out of home care. The role of ACSASS includes:
- include an Aboriginal perspective in risk and safety assessments of Aboriginal children
- improve case planning and decision-making for Aboriginal children
- improve the engagement of Aboriginal families with relevant support services and;
- improve the involvement of family and community members in providing support for Aboriginal children.
Commitment to carers and their families
Carers and their families are central to the provision of out-of- home care. Carers and their family will:
- be treated respectfully and with dignity at all times and their needs will be recognised and considered
- be acknowledged as possessing unique knowledge regarding the child in their care
- receive adequate support to enable them to provide good quality care to each child in their care
- receive training to develop their skills and maximise the quality of care they provide to children
- be protected from dangerous behaviours from children or their families
- as far as possible, have their privacy protected
- participate in decisions affecting the lives of children placed in their care and be offered opportunities to inform decision making forums, such as case planning meetings
- be assisted to resolve any issues associated with service delivery
- receive relevant information and access to timely grievance and review systems, which are fair, just and equitable
- be protected from discrimination at all times.
When a child is placed in out-of-home care, there are a number of people who share the responsibilities for doing the things that parents generally do for their own children. These people comprise the child’s care team. See procedure Care teams for tasks that must be undertaken.
The Secretary must ensure that all members of the child's care team are involved in decision making processes in a fair and transparent manner that everyone can understand, taking each person's views into account in a collaborative manner. Parents should be encouraged to fully participate in decision making processes.
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.
See chapter 1 of the Victorian Handbook for Foster Carers, located on the department’s internet.
Child protection practitioner
At the time a child is placed in care, it is the role of the child protection practitioner to gather information from the parents about their child. For children in residential or foster care, this information must be recorded on the LAC essential information record (EIR). If the EIR information cannot be gathered in full at this time, it should be completed as soon as possible. This information is important and provides details of what a carer needs to know in order to have the child in their care.
It is the role of the child protection practitioner to review with the child and their family:
- the reason a placement is required
- where the child will be placed (unless a court order states the location of the placement is not to be disclosed, CYFA s. 265, s. 287(d), s.291(3)(f))
- information that parents and children should know about the placement, which could include:
- who the foster carers, residential staff and others are (unless, under a court order, the location of the placement is not to be disclosed, CYFA s. 265, or under a care by Secretary or long-term care order, the case planner has determined it is in the best interests of the child not to disclose the placement details to a parent
- the relevant rules
- initial contact arrangements between the child, and parents and other family members
- what decisions the carer will be authorised to make, once determined – see advice Authorising carers for additional information.
If the child remains in care, the child protection practitioner or contracted case manager has ongoing responsibilities including:
- leading the implementation of the case plan and where appropriate, the cultural plan
- ensuring carers and CSO and ACCO staff contribute to, and implement, the case plan and where appropriate, the cultural plan
- working with the child to ensure they understand their situation, and that their needs are being met in the placement
- providing relevant information as soon as it is available so carers, CSO and ACCO staff can meet their roles and responsibilities
- recording and responding to information concerning the child
- actively participating in care team processes (if a CSO or ACCO is providing the care, this is led by the CSO or ACCO based care manager) including contributing to the development of the child's care and placement plan and other LAC processes
- providing timely responses to requests for financial or other support.
The allocated child protection practitioner, whether the case is contracted or not, will be responsible for:
- investigating and assessing any reports of child abuse and neglect
- reviewing the case plan, including reviewing the operation of statutory order, and preparation of court reports.
When a child is being placed in kinship care, the child protection practitioner must undertake the assessment of the kinship carers before the placement is made. See procedure Kinship care for tasks that must be undertaken.
Where child protection determine that a new kinship placement is likely to last longer than 12 weeks, child protection may refer to an agency providing First Supports in the area where the kinship carer resides. The First Supports agency will complete the Part B comprehensive assessment and submit to child protection for endorsement. The agency can provide family services hours to the kinship carer household for up to 12 months. .
In some longer term cases, the case management of a kinship placement may be contracted to a CSO or ACCO. In these cases, the collaborative roles and responsibilities of the child protection practitioner and the CSO or ACCO are similar to those in foster care placements.
In those cases where there is no CSO or ACCO with contracted case management, the child protection practitioner will lead the care team and oversee the arrangements for day-to-day care as part of their case planning and case management processes. The child protection practitioner does not have to use the LAC records in these cases, except for the 15+ LAC care and transition plan, which must be completed and reviewed at least six monthly from the age of 15 years onwards until the young person exits care.
Kinship carers are a critical part of the care team and need to be included in meetings and decisions that affect the day-to-day care of a child.
Responsibilities of CSOs and ACCOs
CSOs and ACCOs providing care to children are separate entities that are funded and subject to service agreements negotiated with the department. The department has responsibility for setting and monitoring standards for the care of children by CSOs and ACCOs.
CSOs and ACCOs have six main areas of responsibility in the provision of home-based and residential care placements:
Assessment of referral for placement
Assess referrals from divisional DHHS placement coordination units, according to established eligibility criteria and target group.
CSOs and ACCOs are responsible for the recruitment, assessment, supervision, training and support of foster carers and the recruitment, training, support and supervision of residential care workers. Both these carer types have program requirements.
CSOs and ACCOs in conjunction with the child protection practitioner or case manager, ensure care and placement plans are developed and implemented for each child placed in out-of-home care.
Where statutory case management of children in out-of-home care and on a court order is contracted to the CSO or ACCO, the CSO or ACCO case manager is responsible for working with the child and family toward the permanency objective and implementing other decisions in the case plan consistent with goals and tasks set out in the action table. CSOs and ACCOs also have responsibility for the management of the care and placement planning process (incorporating LAC planning tools) for children in their care.
CSOs and ACCOs must provide appropriate levels of supervision and support to children in placement.
Post placement support
CSOs and ACCOs are responsible for developing and implementing a detailed leaving care plan for all young people transitioning from their care. Where a child is in kinship care and case management remains with child protection, child protection practitioners will be responsible for this planning. The leaving care plan, developed in conjunction with the care team including the young person, practitioner, case manager, young person's family and direct carer, must detail the post placement support services required to assist the transition from care.
To support the development of this plan the practitioner needs to be aware of their legal responsibilities to the young person see the Care and transition planning for leaving care in Victoria – a framework and guide.
CSO and ACCO staff and foster carers
CSOs and ACCOs employ a number of staff who are responsible for supervising and supporting foster carers. CSO and ACCO staff are the first point of contact for foster carers regarding issues and decisions concerning the care of children.
Regardless of whether CSO and ACCO staff have contracted case management responsibilities, they have care management responsibilities for children in care, including attending case planning meetings, transport to and from and supervision of contact, and coordination of the care and placement planning process. They have responsibility to support the foster carers and the placement of the child, including:
- leading the care team which develops, implements and reviews the LAC care and placement plan and ensuring that carers and child protection practitioners or contracted case managers contribute to this
- contributing to case planning, and the implementation of the case plan
- working with the child to ensure they understand their situation and that their needs are being met in the placement, including completing the LAC assessment and progress record at least annually
- providing support and advocating for children in placement
- listening to a carer’s views about the child and acting on this information appropriately ensuring it is passed onto the child protection practitioner or contracted case manager
- working with the child, their family and the caregivers
- providing support, supervision, information and training to carers so they can meet their responsibilities
- undertaking annual reviews of carers
- providing written reports and assessment as required
- arranging for appropriate financial reimbursements and supports to be provided to carers in liaison with the child protection practitioner or contracted case manager
- providing a timely response to requests for financial or other supports.
Foster carers with the support of the CSO or ACCO, provide care for children in their own home. Foster carers are a critical part of the care team and need to be included in meetings and decisions that affect the day-to-day care of a child.
The role of the foster carer is broad and challenging. Foster carers provide good quality care, support and supervision to children in order to promote their social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. In effect this means that foster carers address all aspects of the lives of the children for whom they provide care, not just issues related to risk of abuse.
The actions of the foster carer should be consistent with the care any responsible and caring parent would provide for their child. Their role includes the following functions:
- providing day-to-day care and engaging with children placed in care
- providing a safe, stable, caring and supportive environment which addresses all aspects of healthy development for children, including their physical, social, emotional, cognitive, cultural and spiritual needs
- promoting and maintaining the connectedness of children with their family and social networks
- engaging parents and families in a manner, which is accepting and respectful of their primary role, cultural identity and spiritual beliefs
- working with other members of the care team to ensure the safety, development and wellbeing of children
- ensuring the CSO or ACCO is informed about the child's progress and any concerns about the placement
- maintaining confidentiality and privacy and not disclosing personal and confidential information in an inappropriate manner.
Residential care workers
Residential care workers are employed by the CSO or ACCO or the Department of Health and Human Services to provide high quality care for children and young people, with an emphasis upon children over the age of 12 years, in accordance with the child or young person’s case plan and care and placement plan.
Their role includes the following functions:
- engaging with the child and young person placed in care
- providing a safe, stable, caring and supportive environment, which addresses all aspects of healthy development for children and young people, including their physical, social, emotional, cognitive, cultural and spiritual needs
- promoting and maintaining the connectedness of children and young people with their family and social networks
- engaging parents and families in a manner, which is accepting and respectful of their primary role, cultural identity and spiritual beliefs
- working with other members of the care team to meet the safety, wellbeing and developmental needs of children and young people.
Residential program manager or supervisor
CSOs or ACCOs that provide residential care employ senior managers or supervisors who have the responsibility for the management of a number of houses or residential units. These staff oversee the management of referrals and placements, supervise unit staff and manage all aspects of the home or unit's operation including staff and professional development, policy and budget.
The manager or supervisor is the first point of consultation for residential care staff regarding issues and decisions relating to the care and safety of children and young people.
Residential care facility house supervisor (or equivalent)
CSOs or ACCOs that provide residential care employ a house supervisor (or an equivalent titled staff member) for each residential care household who supports the overall functioning of that household and the good care of all the co-resident children and young people.
The house supervisor must be a member of each child’s or young person’s care team and therefore will ensure that relevant information about both positive developments and adverse events are shared with other members of the care teams for each child or young person affected.
The CSO or ACCO house supervisor has the key role in ensuring that relevant information about critical incidents and their impact is shared with other members of the care team of a child or young person indirectly affected by an incident in which a co-resident was directly involved, in order to inform the timely planning and necessary action for the good care of all the co-residents.
Placement agency staff
CSOs and ACCOs that conduct residential care programs also employ social welfare workers (child and family worker staff), who have responsibility for working with the child and family whilst the child is in placement in accordance with the child's or young person's case plan and LAC care and placement plan.
These workers also have responsibility for the provision of support for up to three months after the placement has concluded.
Role of the case manager
Child protection or the CSO or ACCO can undertake the role of case manager of children subject to statutory orders and resident in out-of-home care. The relevant departmental manager makes the decision whether the case management of a statutory child protection case should remain with the department or be contracted to a CSO or ACCO.
Where case management is contracted to a CSO or ACCO, responsibility rests with the CSO or ACCO case manager to coordinate care team members involved with the child to meet the goals of the case plan and the LAC care and placement plan.
In a child protection context, case management includes the following functions:
- engagement and direct casework with children and families
- initial and ongoing safety and needs assessments
- planning and addressing safety and needs
- information management
- identification of appropriate support or therapeutic services and coordination of these
- monitoring of service delivery
- referral and linkage of families with external services.
Out-of-home care is a key part of the child protection service system, providing care for children at risk of significant harm who are unable to remain at home.
The decision to remove a child and place them in out-of-home care is significant. Care team members have a vital role to play in providing care for children in out-of-home care. It is critical that everyone works collaboratively to:
- put the best interests of the child first
- apply the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle for Aboriginal children
- respect each other and acknowledge the skill and expertise of others care team members
- communicate with each other – keep others informed about what is happening
- ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to plans and decisions that are made about a child
- understand each other’s role and responsibilities.
The role of the carer is critical to the success of a placement. Carers are often called on to take a child into care at short notice without being given time to prepare for the placement. This can be a stressful time for carers and the child. It is vital that child protection practitioners provide as much information as possible at the commencement of the placement to enable carers to care for a child.
Carers are an important part of the care team and they must be involved in planning and decisions that are made about a child in their care.