This advice provides information regarding voluntary placements and their use in child protection.
For tasks that must be completed see procedure Voluntary placements.
Document ID number 2115, version 2, 1 March 2016.
A voluntary placement may occur with or without the involvement of child protection and may be made with a kinship carer, disability provider or out-of-home care provider.
Voluntary placements are an option where there is no court order requiring the child or young person to live in a placement provided outside the family home.
These placements require the consent of the parent to place a child in an out-of-home care placement for a period of time due to factors including parental illness, family crisis or for emergency reasons.
Parents making voluntary placements retain their existing parental responsibilities. Any existing orders still apply such as those from the Federal Circuit Court, including any conditions. A family or parent may end a voluntary placement at any time.
Voluntary placements may be instigated during child protection involvement, where legal intervention has not occurred. This is only appropriate in circumstances where the child protection assessment is that a short-term placement would be in the child’s best interests and assist to address the level of risk such that the parents and child can overcome a crisis.
Parents need to acknowledge the risks to the child and be prepared to be involved fully in addressing them. For example, where there is substantial conflict between a parent and young person, but no previous history of abuse and it is assessed that a voluntary placement and engagement of a mediation service will alleviate the immediate risk and subsequently enable the young person to return home in the short term.
Parents or young people (16 years and older) may negotiate a voluntary placement at any time.
Factors for consideration for making a voluntary placement
There are a number of factors to consider when assessing the appropriateness of a voluntary placement for a child during child protection involvement:
- Do the parents acknowledge the identified concerns?
- Are they prepared to be fully involved in planning for their child?
- Do the parents (or young person) agree to the placement?
- What are the wishes of the child or young person?
- Can the risk be sufficiently managed by a voluntary placement?
- Are there indications that a parent may change their mind and collect the child from the placement, leaving the child at risk?
Considerations for assessing the suitability of a voluntary placement
A voluntary placement would not be appropriate where there are significant protective concerns related to the parent’s ability to provide adequate care and protection or the child requires legal protection. Voluntary placements can be ended at any time by the parent (and in some circumstances the young person) and do not offer sufficient protection where the child is at significant risk of harm from a parent’s actions..
Voluntary placements in kinship care
Where an out-of-home care placement is required and child protection is involved, kinship care has to be considered before any other placement option.
Kinship care arrangements are subject to a kinship care assessment including a police and CRIS check, see procedure Kinship care for tasks that must be undertaken.
Voluntary placements with an out-of-home care service
A voluntary placement can be negotiated by a parent or young person (16 years and older) directly with a community service organisation via a written care agreement. Child care agreements can be short or long term.
Short-term agreements: a specific period not exceeding six months. It is the responsibility of the community service organisation to notify the Secretary in writing of each agreement entered into, within 14 days.
Long term child care agreements: with the written approval of the Secretary for a maximum period of two years, only if the child has for at least two years or an aggregate of two of the past three years, been subject to a short-term child care agreement or in the care of an out-of-home care service or residential service within the meaning of the Disability Act 2006.
Long term child care agreements are intended to add to the range of stable placement options for children and young people who do not return to the care of their parents after two years, and where a statutory placement is not required and assessed as not in the best interests of the child.
Long-term agreements with a suitable person as a party: Long term child care agreements can be made with a suitable person as a party. The suitable person may have applied to a community service organisation to be assessed to provide care for a specific child, or alternatively may be an out-of-home carer assessed and approved to provide care for any child.
Community service organisations will assess the appropriateness of the placement and the capacity of the suitable person to provide care, and will make a recommendation to the Secretary or their delegate who will take into account:
- The criminal records and history of the person and other members of the person’s household.
- The suitability and fitness 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.
Review of voluntary placements
Both short and long term child care agreements require regular review.
If a short-term child care agreement is still required after six months (either a continuous period or an aggregate of six months in a nine month period), it is the responsibility of the Secretary to review the agreement. It is the role of the community service organisation that is party to the agreement to notify the Secretary that a review is required.
The Secretary is then required to review the agreement annually after this first review and must be consulted at each six month interval before the agreement is extended.
Child protection team managers are the Secretary’s delegate for child care agreement decision making-requirements under the CYFA.
Consultation and review may occur concurrently at the six and 18 month marks, in which case the review takes precedence and consultation is considered to have occurred as part of the review.
A meeting is recommended to facilitate the review of an agreement.
Voluntary placement of an older child without parental consent
From time to time voluntary placements occur in circumstances where there is no parental involvement or consent. These placements are not subject to the provisions outlined in the CYFA for child care agreements.
A community service organisation may enter into a voluntary agreement with a young person aged 16 years or over if it has assessed the placement is appropriate to meet the needs of that young person.
A community service organisation should only commence a voluntary placement for a child aged 16 years or older where parental consent is not given where child protection is actively involved and has assessed that the arrangement is appropriate.
It is the responsibility of child protection to determine whether a protection application is required or whether a voluntary placement should continue with or without further child protection involvement.
Any placement made in consultation with the After Hours Child Protection Emergency Service for a child under the age of 16 years should be transferred on the next working day to the appropriate division for further assessment.
Decision making principles for Aboriginal children placed in voluntary care
Voluntary placement of Aboriginal children where child protection is not involved
In circumstances where an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person approaches a non-Aboriginal service provider for the placement of their child in voluntary out-of-home care (without child protection involvement), before agreeing to provide a placement, the service provider should assist the parent to explore placement opportunities with an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation, taking into account self-identification as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and the expressed wishes of the child and parent.
Where the voluntary placement proceeds with a non-Aboriginal service provider or with a non-Aboriginal carer, the community service organisation will ensure the child has opportunity for continuing contact with their Aboriginal family, community and culture during placement.
Voluntary placement of Aboriginal children where child protection is involved
Where child protection is involved in the assessment and facilitation of a voluntary placement, the child protection practitioner is to promote culturally informed and effective practice throughout all phases of involvement, including consulting with and considering the views of the Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Service and other relevant sources of advice and information and, in the context of all available information, making a decision in the best interests of the child.
Review of decisions by child protection internal review
Any decision made by child protection as part of the decision-making process concerning a child subject to a child care agreement can be reviewed, including:
- recommendations arising from the review of an agreement
- non-approval to enter into a long-term agreement
- non-approval of a person as suitable to have the long-term care of a child.
Access to the internal review process should be available to all people directly affected by the decision, including home-based carers (s. 157, CYFA). See procedure Internal review of decision for tasks that must be undertaken.
Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) review
If the parent or child remains dissatisfied having exhausted the internal review process they are entitled to apply to the VCAT for a review of the child protection decision.