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3.1.11 Supporting carers

Last Modified: 11-Nov-2019 Review Date: 04-Jan-2021

Purpose

To guide child protection workers and other staff in the practice and procedures for working together with foster, family and significant other carers (carers) as part of a care team to provide children in the CEO's care with safe, stable and nurturing care arrangements and improved life outcomes.

Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department for Communities.

Practice Requirements

 
  • Carers must be supported by staff to raise children in their care in a stable and secure environment where their social, emotional, psychological, cultural and developmental needs are met.
  • Staff must support carers to participate as care team members in assessment, planning and review of the child, and to participate in other child centred decision making that occur outside our formal planning and review processes.
  • Staff must provide carers with full information about the child in care and their family (where available) to enable them to protect the child, their own children, other children in their care and themselves. Child protection workers must manage purposeful contact visits between the child and their birth family in such a manner as to support the overall plan for the child (e.g. reunification connection).
  • Staff must provide carers with the support and resources they require to meet the needs of the child in their care (as outlined in the child's care plan).
  • Where a community services organisation (CSO) engages the carer, staff must work with both the CSO and the CSO caseworker, and the carer to provide consistent information and support.

 

Process Maps

Not applicable.

Procedures

  • The care team approach
  • Exemption from Centrelink activity test and work participation requirements
  • Supporting carers who have young people with mental health issues in their care
  • The care team approach

    Every child in the CEO's care will have a 'care team' comprising of a group of people important to a child and their carer. The care team maintains and supports a child's care arrangement and their continued connection to parents, siblings, their wider family, network, community and culture. The emphasis is to create stability and reduce the disruption to lifetime connections that a child has when they enter out-of-home care (OOHC), and maintain and increase the naturally occurring networks they belonged to before coming into care.

    Having other people in a child's care team does not diminish the role of carers in any way, but seeks to enhance support to a child and their carer by extending the partnership to include important people in a child's life. Carers provide the primary care to a child and, as such, will generally have a more stable relationship with a child than with child protection workers, who may change during the time a child is in OOHC. Carers are the cornerstone of the care team; they are the main 'agent of change' in a child's life.

    Care team members will vary depending on the child's needs, pre-existing family and community relationships and their individual circumstances, and will evolve over time, as the child's needs change. Refer to the Care Team Approach Practice Framework and Brud the Owl – who might be in a child's care team (in related resources).

    The care team approach highlights the importance of all members working together with the child in the centre of their thinking and interactions with each other.

    The role of the carer is intrinsically linked to where the child is in their permanency journey. If the child is in temporary care, the carer will play a central role in supporting the reunification process and provide day-to-day care and emotional support to the child.

    Where the child is in permanent care, the carer will continue to support the child to develop and maintain their connection with their family, friends, community and culture. Carers and parents will need to work together to enable the child to belong to both their birth family and their long term carer family. This task is especially sensitive when a child and their siblings are in a permanent care arrangement with a family carer.

    Communication between parents and carers is essential to help parents feel they continue to be an important part of their child's life and help the child develop a strong sense of identity and emotional safety. Effective relationships with parents are promoted when carers share information about the child including their progress.

    Working together with the carer and their family

    A range of  staff work with, and provide support to a carer and their family.

    A home visit must be undertaken within one week of the child being placed, with the child protection worker having familiarised themselves with the case file before the visit.

    Child protection workers and other staff must work with a carer and their family as a family unit. This includes acknowledging and interacting with other children in the home as appropriate, and ensuring gifts (including cards) to the child in the CEO's care are discussed with the carer before they are given so that children are not treated differently.

    When there is a change in child protection worker, the new worker must be introduced to the carer within one week.

    Carers and their family must be supported to participate as care team members in assessment, planning and review of the child's needs, and to participate in other child-centred decision making that occurs outside of the Department's formal planning and review processes.

    Provision of information

    As soon as practicable after a child is placed with a carer, child protection workers should again discuss the Care Team Approach Practice Framework (in related resources) The carer should have been provided a copy during the assessment process. Child protection workers will also provide carers with the 'Resources for Foster Carer File', which includes:

    • My Life Story Book - to assist the child in their care to keep information about themselves
    • Communication Book - used for communication between the carer and parents, and is passed to the parents at contact visits
    • Protective Behaviours Booklet  - designed for use by carers to help them teach children protective behaviours (this may have been given to the carers during trainingand may not need to be duplicated - check with the carer whether they have this resource)
    • Information specific to the local district - includes key contacts, local resources and supports, and
    • Information sheets on a variety of matters - such as health, safety, self-care and confidentiality. 

    Newly approved Communities carers are eligible to one year free membership to the Foster Care Association of Western Australia (FCAWA). Carers should be made of aware of this and be encouraged to complete the membership form available from the FCAWA's website https://www.fcawa.com.au/about-us/membership/ (membership form and FCAWA information flyer in related resources).

    Carers can also find other helpful information on the FCAWA ​website and our website (under the 'Fostering and Adoption' heading).

    Child protection workers, together with the senior child protection worker placement services (SCPWPS), will provide the carer with as much information as possible about the child and their family at the commencement of the care arrangement so they are able to provide good care. If full information is not be available, the carer must be told all that is known to equip them in their caring role and further information provided as it becomes available.

    The initial placement plan and Care Arrangement Referral (CAR) must be given to the carer at the time of placement. If a child is placed with a carer in an urgent situation, the CAR must be given to the carer as soon as practicable.

    The carer must be given clear information about our consent processes for the child to receive medical and dental treatment, and be provided with a Medicare card for the child once obtained.

    A Child Health Passport (Passport) must be provided for each child in the CEO's care, which is given to the carer to hold (except where a child is under 4 years old and has an 'all about me' book). If the child's care arrangement changes, the Passport moves with the child. The Passport provides the carer with information to assist in meeting the child's day-to-day health needs.  Information regarding the Passport and health care planning for children in care is available for carers in related resource Health Care Planning - Information Sheet. 

    The carer must also receive a copy of the child's Documented Education Plan (where he or she is attending school); this is updated during the care arrangement and moves with the child.

    Child protection workers and the SCPWPS should discuss with the carer their preferred means of receiving information and keeping in touch, such as face-to-face, by telephone or email.  Child protection workers must have at least monthly contact with each carer. If the child lives with a CSO carer, child protection workers will liaise with relevant CSO staff (or directly with the carer when negotiated and agreed with the CSO). 

    Diversity and equity

    A non-Aboriginal carer who is providing care to an Aboriginal child must be provided with the support, information and resources required to meet the child's cultural needs including linking the carer with an Aboriginal practice leader or another Aboriginal officer and a copy of the child's Cultural Plan. 

    If a child is from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) background, their carer must be provided with information on the services provided by the Telephone Information Service and linked with CaLD community groups and agencies. People from these community groups or agencies may be a member of the child's care team.

    The resource Culturally Sensitive Practice in Out of Home Care (in related resources) is a useful guide to support child protection workers in their work with CaLD families and children.

    Contact

    As outlined in the competencies listed in r.4 Children and Community Services Regulations 2006, carers must be able to work cooperatively with a child's family, workers and other members of the care team when providing care for a child. One of their essential roles is to support the child's family and interpersonal relationships. Carers are expected to have contact with the child's parents; only in rare circumstances would this not be the case. Developing positive connections between carers and parents will assist the child to settle in the care arrangement and reduce their feelings of divided loyalty to two families.

    Discussions should take place with the carer about the reasons for contact, why the child might be distressed by contact, and how to manage this in the child's best interests. The child protection worker and/or SCPWPS are available to support the carer in dealing with any contact issues that arise. 

    Child protection workers must negotiate any variations in contact visit arrangements with the carer (or CSO OOHC provider) at least 24 hours in advance.

    We appreciate the involvement of the carer in contact visits. When a carer requests that they undertake the contact visit/s, their capacity to do this must be assessed. Based on the outcomes of the assessment, support must be provided (as required) to the carer to undertake this role.

    Support to carers and their families at difficult times

    The role of the carer and their family can be demanding and challenging. Specific members of the care team can provide vital support to the carer and their family during these challenging times.

    Child protection workers, including the SCPWPS must facilitate access to any additional supports and services necessary so the carer and their family are able to provide a stable and nurturing care arrangement for the child. Supports may include:

    • debriefing and/or counselling with the child protection worker or other Department staff (for example, with the district psychologist or SCPWPS)
    • additional learning and development specific to the issues the carer is managing
    • utilising natural support networks to provide the carer with a short break from their caring role, and provide opportunity for the child to form closer relationships with other people who are significant in their life, and
    • providing advice about the Benestar (formerly Davidson Trahaire Corpsych) counselling service.  Carers and their families can access Benestar free of charge by self-referral.

    District support

    Each district must provide opportunities for carers to input into the district's systems and processes for children in the CEO's care and carer support.  Representative carers must be invited to attend each district's conference and/or other key planning forums when addressing issues regarding children in the CEO's care.

    Childcare

    Enrolment of a child in the CEO's care in approved childcare may support a carer and the care arrangement. For example, childcare can provide stimulation and development for the child, short break support for the carer, or to support a carer who has work commitments. Full details can be found in Chapter 3.4: Child care attendance.

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    Exemption from Centrelink activity test and work participation requirements

     

    A parent (the principal carer of a dependent child) who receives an income support payment from Centrelink, such as Parenting Payment or Newstart Allowance, is required to look for or engage in part-time work for at least 15 hours per week once their youngest child turns 6 years old.

    However, if a  carer receives an income support payment from Centrelink and is the principal carer for a child in the CEO's care, they may be eligible for exemption from the Activity Test and work participation requirements for up to 12 months at a time. This includes a family member or significant other person who provides an urgent placement for a child in the CEO's care (s.79(2)(b) of the Act).  

    Centrelink guidelines state that an approved emergency or respite carer, who is not the principal carer of a child, may be eligible to receive an exemption for the duration of any foster child care arrangement, and for up to 12 weeks after a child has left the care arrangement while awaiting the placement of another foster child. For further information refer to Centrelink - Mutual Obligation Requirements and Exemptions for Principal Cares (in related resources).

    In order to receive an exemption from Centrelink Activity Tests, child protection workers need to provide the carer with a letter, Form 543 - Exemption from the Centrelink Activity Test and Participation Requirements (in related resources)The letter states that the carer is currently a carer with us and is providing a care arrangement for a child who is in the CEO's care.

    Centrelink will exempt the carer from the Activity Tests and participation in work for up to 12 months.  At this time, if the carer is still providing care for a child in the CEO's care, the child protection worker must provide another letter (Form 543).

    Note: If a carer is on Newstart Allowance and intends to leave Australia temporarily, they should be advised to contact Centrelink before they travel as it may affect their payments.

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    Supporting carers who have young people with mental health issues in their care

    Flowcharts are available in related resources to assist child protection workers to support carers that have a young person with mental health issues in their care, and who may have an acute mental health episode that requires immediate intervention and/or assessment. Refer to:

    • The Acute Response Team – Referral Pathway (mental health information and triage), and  
    • PMH Emergency Department Contact Process for Children in Care (including mental health intervention).

    The Acute Response Team (ART) is a metropolitan service that operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The service conducts acute health and mental health assessments in emergency departments and community settings in the metropolitan area, from Clarkson to Peel. The ART can be contacted as a first response option – telephone 1800 048 636.

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