The report of the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry by Justice Carmody in 2013 caused big changes to the child protection system in Queensland. This has included changes to the way Child Safety Services works with families.
One of the important changes within Child Safety Services is the introduction of the new ‘Strengthening Families Protecting Children Framework for Practice’. This is a strengths-based, safety oriented practice framework that will be used to help guide Child Safety Services to work with children and families.
Understanding a little about this framework will help you to work with Child Safety Services to get the best plan possible for your case. Using this to prepare for your meetings with Child Safety Services can help you to achieve a better meeting and a fairer case plan.
Common feedback from parents dealing with Child Safety Services is that:
- the workers constantly ‘shift the goal posts’, fail to define the ‘goals posts’ or everything changes when the workers changes
- they focus on the negatives not the positives
- they are too focussed on whether a parent has ‘insight’ into their past problems rather than whether they can develop the ability to protect their child from harm in the future.
The Framework for Practice is designed to address those concerns by:
- Making sure that the strengths of the family are recognised and built upon, rather than always focusing on the negatives.
- Making sure that the case planning goals are clear and focussed on protecting the child from the specific harm that Child Safety Services is concerned about, rather than general lifestyle interventions.
- Making sure that the actions to achieve the goals are clear, so that the case plan can progress.
- Having constructive, working relationships with families.
A key component of the Framework for Practice is understanding rigorous and balanced assessments to work out how to ensure the ongoing safety, belonging and wellbeing of children.
These following questions set out below guide how Child Safety Services develop their case plans with parents and this is the formula for most meetings.
It is important to be specific about what the harm or risk of harm is that Child Safety Services is concerned about, the impact of the harm on the child and exactly what actions or lack of action by the parents contributes to that harm.
While they can be confronting to hear, having these statements makes it clear what needs to be addressed in a case plan and what doesn’t, and prevents the goal posts from moving in the future.
This section is about other issues that make it more difficult for the parents to protect the children from harm. They should be separated from the issues that have previously caused the harm, so that it is clear what needs to be addressed in the plan for the future.
This section focusses on the things that are happening in the family or have happened in the past that are positive and contribute to the safety, wellbeing and belonging of the child.
These are the building blocks for protection in the future and recognising them creates hope and energy for the family to be able to address the child protection concerns.
Identifies specific times when the parents have taken action or made decisions to keep the child safe and well and protect them from the harm. These actions of protection and belonging are exceptions to the problems – times when the child may have been harmed but because of the actions or decisions by the parents, they were safe and well at these times.
The family’s strengths and resources considers things that have happened in the family, or resources that the family has, that make things better for the children.
This is about developing a good plan for the future. A common piece of feedback from parents working with Child Safety Services is that the workers constantly ‘shift the goal posts’ or fail to define the ‘goals posts’. Clear ‘Worry Statements’ ‘Goal Statements’ and ‘Action Steps’ are designed to prevent that.
The worry statements describe what Child Safety Services and others are worried the parents might do (or not do) in the future that could lead to the child being harmed. They should contain:
- who is worried?
- what is the behaviour of the parent that they are worried about and in what circumstances might this occur?
- what is the possible impact on the child?
These can at times seem accusatory and parents may not agree with them, but remember, it is not necessary that all parties agree on the worry statements. The purpose of these statements are to clearly state what the worries are, so it is clear what behaviour Child Safety Services is wanting to see change and actions to address this behaviour can be developed with the parents.
You may decide that, even if you do not agree with facts of what has occurred in the past or the reasons why Child Safety Services has a worry, you can agree with the goal that they propose that you achieve.
Goal statements are clear behavioural statements about what the parents will be doing differently in their care of their children in the future to address the worry statements. The goal statements provide a vision for future safety, belonging and wellbeing.
The action steps are what everyone needs to do next in working towards achieving the goal statements.
- Think about what is the smallest next step toward achieving the goal is.
- What support do you need from Child Safety Services or a Family Intervention Service?
- What do you expect Child Safety Services to say the next step is?
- What are the time frames needed to achieve this?
This is where the workers ask you questions like “On a scale from 0-10, where 0 means the situation is so bad that the children are not safe at home, and 10 is where there is sufficient safety, how would you rate the situation right now?”
The purpose of this type of questioning is to seek the views of different people in relation to how the family is going at this point in time. It also opens up discussions and encourages the parents and other significant people to think about what has changed to ensure the future safety, belonging and wellbeing of the children.
These identify networks that can be used to make safety plans. Think about who are the people that you can call to help to protect the child if something goes wrong.
Your inner circle are the people who know about the worries and that Child Safety Services is involved and are willing to help when needed.
People or organisations in the middle circle know a little bit about your situation and the outer circle don’t know about the concerns but all can be useful to create your safety plan.
Child Safety Services see your networks as very important, so it is important to think about who you can include in yours.
An Immediate Safety Plan contains detailed action steps that the family and their network will undertake immediately to protect the child from harm. They need to be developed collaboratively with the family and their network and respond directly to Child Safety Services’ worry statements. The family and network need to be clear about what actions they will undertake to protect the child and who to contact if the plan is not working.
Immediate Safety Plans are short-term plans that can last for up to seven days. They need to be regularly monitored to ensure that everyone is doing what they agreed to do.
You can discuss with your Child Safety Officer if it is possible to develop an Immediate Safety Plan.
This is a tool that provides a visual way of helping children and families to identify their strengths, hopes, dreams and worries. It is often used when interviewing children, to gather their views and wishes. They will usually ask the child to draw or put things in three houses.
- What is in the house of worries?
- What is in the house of good things?
- What is in the house of hopes and dreams?
This activity will usually happen without you being present. The law says that Child Safety Services must get the child’s views and wishes and this is an effective tool for doing so. You can ask your Child Safety Officer to use this tool to ensure that your child’s views are recorded.
If your child wishes to express their views to an independent person or participate further in meetings and in the court processes they can contact the Public Guardian, request a Separate Representative or contact Legal Aid Queensland to apply for a Direct Representative (lawyer for a children).
Young people living in out of home care may leave their placements to live independently, or to live with someone else without Child Safety approval. This is sometimes called ‘absconding’ or ‘self-placing’ by Child Safety Services. A young person may also be engaging in high-risk behaviour which causes concern that they are at significant risk of further emotional and physical harm.
If your child is in this situation, you can work with Child Safety Services to develop a plan for the young person to be as safe as possible. In this case:
- The young person should be encouraged to be involved in the decision-making process if they wish to.
- As far as possible the same workers should be maintained over time, to avoid the young person being ‘shunted’ between workers.
- ‘Unconditional commitment’ is required by workers, in that they will continue to try to build the relationship despite any aggressive or negative behaviour from the young person.
- Adults in a young person’s life should try to communicate the message: “I, we won’t give up on you, even if you give up on yourself.”
- Have plans in place to reduce risk as much as possible.
- Listen carefully to young people, and respond with honesty and respect.
Many of these principles are found in Child Safety’ practice paper ‘A framework for practice with ‘high risk’ young people’.