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3.1.5 Foster care application and assessment

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

Purpose

To guide child protection workers (CPWs) in the roles and processes involved in the application and assessment of a person who is interested in becoming a foster carer with the Department of Communities (the Department).

Practice Requirements
  • A child must not be placed with a foster carer until the foster carer has been approved under Regulation 4 of the Children and Community Services Regulations 2006 (the Regulations).
  • Given the importance of stability and continuity of care for children in the care of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Department, only Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia are eligible to apply to be a foster carer. If the applicant is in the process of or planning to apply for permanent residency or citizenship, they can contact the Department once permanent residency or citizenship has been granted.  New Zealand citizen holders of a Special Category Visa - subclass 444 may apply to be foster carers.  
  • Temporary visa holders must not be considered for foster care. 
  • A person who applies to become a foster carer is assessed against five criteria, known as competencies under r.4 of the Regulations. The CEO must be satisfied that the individual:
    • is able to provide care for a child in a way that promotes the wellbeing of the child, promotes the child's family and interpersonal relationships, and protects the child from harm
    • is able to provide a safe living environment for a child
    • is able to work cooperatively with officers, a child's family and other people when providing care for a child
    • is able to take responsibility for the development of his or her competency and skills as a carer, and 
    • is a person of good character and repute.
  • Applicants will also be assessed against the criteria 'Cultural Responsiveness'.
  • The assessor must also identify:
    • the age range of children they will care for
    • carer type – permanent and/or temporary (including emergency or short break)
    • for a specific child
    • maximum capacity of children to be cared for,
    • and whether they can care for children with physical and/or intellectual disabilities.
  • During the assessment process and once a foster carer has been approved, the CPW must discuss the Care Team Approach Practice Framework (in related resources) with the foster carer before a child being placed.
  • If a member of staff becomes aware that a person has been charged with, or convicted of, a Class 1 or Class 2 offence under the Working with Children (Criminal Record Checking) Act 2004, or any other offence that is assessed as making them inappropriate for carrying out child-related work, including any charges or convictions relating to abuse in care, the officer must notify the Screening Unit. The Screening Unit must then notify the Working with Children (WWC) Screening Unit. While this is a general provision, it must also be observed in practice with foster carers and Department employees. 
  • Where the case management for a child in the CEO's care is transferred to another district, the foster carer (and associated files) must also be transferred to the receiving district
Process Maps

Foster Care Application and Assessment Process Flowchart.

Procedures

  • Overview
  • Enquiry and Information Booklet
  • Information Sessions
  • Expression of Interest
  • Pre-screening applicants
  • Application
  • Assessor allocation
  • Health assessment
  • Screening
  • Preparation Training
  • Applicant withdraws during assessment process
  • Assessment Report
  • Recommendation for approval or non-approval
  • Cross-sector Foster Care Panel
  • Outcome
  • Right of Review
  • Overview

    ​The importance of stability and connection for children has been well documented in child protection literature. It points to issues of attachment and children's developmental needs and shows that instability has negative consequences for children's healthy physical, emotional, and psycho-social development and learning. It is clear that children need specific, consistent and available parents to provide the love and structure necessary to engender feelings of safety, belonging and wellbeing.

    In response to this research, the Department has implemented 'permanency planning', a process which limits the time allowed for a decision to be made about a child returning home or being placed in permanent out-of-home care until they reach adulthood.

    Foster care is an arrangement where a family or an individual cares for other people's children in their own home. Foster carers are volunteers who are willing and able to open their homes and include these children as part of their family. The children generally keep in touch with their birth parents, brothers, sisters and other family members.

    All children in foster care are in the CEO's care and range in age from 0-17 years. For further information, refer to In the CEO's Care – Parental Responsibility Chart (in related resources).

    Foster care can either be temporary or permanent. Permanent foster care can lead to Special Guardianship Orders or Carer Adoption - both provide a child with permanent care. Please see Chapter 3.3 Legal and Court Processes for more information on these permanent care options.

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    Enquiry and Information Booklet

    Interested people can find general information and information about the application process for becoming a foster carer in a variety of ways, such as:

    Information Booklets (in related resources) contain information about foster care, the types of care that can be provided and what is expected from an applicant. Information Booklets are available on the website or can be sent out to interested parties via post or email.

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    Information Sessions

    Metropolitan applicants must attend an Information Session (one person per household). Information Sessions in the metropolitan area are advertised on the Department’s website and a calendar is attached to the Information Booklet. Information Sessions are held on a fortnightly basis, or may be more frequent in the metropolitan area and are held periodically in some country districts.

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    Expression of Interest

    After attending an Information Session, people still interested in fostering can complete an Expression of Interest (EOI) Form (in related resources).  It can also be obtained at the Information Session or downloaded from the Department’s website .  A copy is also attached to the Information Booklet.

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    Pre-screening applicants

    The EOI Form is reviewed by the Child and Carer Connection Hub (the Hub) when it is received. A Department officer will telephone the interested person to arrange a home visit or telephone interview.

    An assessor generally conducts the Initial Home Visit.  This is an introductory meeting to begin the assessment process and provide further information to the interested person. The Department officer should discuss any concerns as they arise during the home visit and ascertain from the interested person their wish to continue with the application process.  An interested person is entitled to lodge an application form, even if the Department officer who conducted the pre-screening believes they are not suitable. The assessor completes the Form 247 Initial Home Visit or Phone Contact and Form 715 Practical Checklist (in related resources) and discusses the screening and assessment processes with the interested person.

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    Application

    An application package is left with the applicant at the initial home visit. If the person lives outside the metropolitan area, or an initial home visit has not occurred, the application package is posted to them.

    The package includes the following (in related resources):

    • Form 713 – Foster Care Application Form (one form per applicant)
    • Form 395 - Record Check Consent (for each applicant and adult household member)
    • Form 711 - Authority to Release Medical Information (one form per applicant), and
    • Form 718 - Health Questionnaire (one per couple).

    The applicant must complete these forms and submit them to the Hub in the provided reply-paid envelope if they choose to proceed with their application.

    Dual Applicants

    Applicants who are interested in applying for both foster care and adoption are referred to as ‘dual applicants’. These applicants will be contacted directly to ascertain which application they wish to pursue in the first instance – fostering or adoption.  Once this is determined, an assessor will be allocated and the relevant process will be followed up and completed.  When completed, applicants will be able to undertake the assessment related to the other process – fostering or adoption. 

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    Assessor allocation

    ​A district assessor or contract assessor will be allocated to undertake the assessment.  If a contract assessor is allocated, a district staff member will be identified to manage the process; this worker or the district assessor must open a 'Manage Carer' tab under the Activities tree in Assist.

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    Health assessment

    After all appropriate forms have been received, the Hub must request a medical report from the applicant's General Practitioner (GP) using Form 709 – General Practitioner's Report on Foster Care Applicant (in related resources).

    Assessments are generally commenced before the medical reports are received. Only in circumstances where significant medical issues are identified in the Form 718 Health Questionnaire would the assessor receive the medical reports before continuing the assessment. Any information of concern is discussed with the applicant. If required, a report from a Mental Health Practitioner other specialist can also be requested.

    In instances where health issues are identified, the assessor may need to obtain additional reports, including specialists' reports or assessments in order to assess whether the applicant is able to provide foster care.  The applicants must be made aware that additional information is sought and be provided the opportunity to discuss any health related issues.

     

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    Screening

    The Screening Unit is responsible for screening all foster carer applicants. The applicants and any other adults that live in the home must complete the Form 395 - Record Check Consent Form (in related resources).  Children 10 years of age and above that live with the applicants should be listed in the applicant's Form 395 - Record Check Consent Form as a household member.

    The following relates to applicants and any identified adult household members.

    Minor or non-adverse screening results

    The Screening Unit determines whether criminal information or Client and Child Protection Records are minor/non-adverse and will finalise these checks accordingly.

    Adverse screening results

    The Screening Unit will forward a copy of the applicant's criminal history in a Check Result Report with a Submission Template attached by email to the authorised officer. This information must be discussed with the applicant.  It cannot be disclosed to any other party.

    In certain circumstances, a district director or an Executive Director can support a recommendation to approve the continuation of the assessment of an applicant or adult household member when there are adverse screening results. A submission should be provided (using the template provided by the Screening Unit) which must include an accurate summary of the applicant's criminal record history including offence, conviction date, penalty and spent conviction status (if relevant). The submission must also outline any mitigating circumstances, such as any relevant changes in lifestyle and/or personal circumstances since the time of the offence that indicates a positive change in behaviour, and support the recommendation to approve the continuation of the assessment of the applicant as a foster carer.

    The draft submission must be forwarded to the coordinator, Screening Unit before submission to the district director and/or Executive Director in order to ensure accuracy of criminal history information details.

    Referees

    The assessor will contact a range of referees to obtain further personal information about the applicant, particularly covering their child rearing years if applicable. The number of referees contacted will depend on the need to clarify specific issues and on the quality of the information provided. At least three referees should be contacted for a single applicant and a minimum four referees for a couple. The assessor should make sure the applicant selects a range of people that should include family members, friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc. At least one referee should be unrelated to the applicant. If the applicant is currently working in, or has previously worked in any child-related field, then an employer or colleague reference must be obtained.  Referees from employers, where relevant, should also be sought

    A telephone interview should take place using the Form 707 Referee Questionnaire for Foster, Family and Significant Other Care Applicants (in related resources). The referees will be asked to provide oral evidence to support the applicant's ability to meet the competencies. Wherever possible, this information is confidential, however this cannot be guaranteed due to Freedom of Information legislation.

    The assessor will need to contact all adult children connected to the applicants to obtain information about their experience as children of the applicants, and ascertain their views on their parent's becoming foster carers.  

    Working with Children (WWC) Check

    The applicant and adult household members must apply for a WWC Check when it is determined that they are likely to be approved. This is at the last stage of assessment, and before the applicant is recommended for approval.

    The assessor must make sure that the WWC Check Application Form has been signed by a member of staff (Level 5 or above) and been given to the applicants to lodge at an Australia Post Outlet. 

    Note: Section 6 of the WWC Check application form must be completed by a Department officer (examples in related resources).

    If the applicant already has a WWC Card, the details must be included on the Form 395 and submitted to the Screening Unit.

    Where the applicants have their own adult children, lodgers, other adult family members who also reside at the house, these individuals are required to have a WWC Check.  In other words, other adult household members who support the care arrangement, for example, by looking after the child while the carer is away, transporting the child to school etc., require a WWC Check.  An adult household member does not need a WWC Check if it is very clear that they are unable to care for a child (e.g. severe disability and requires a full-time carer).

    An Interim Negative Notice or a Negative Notice from the WWC Screening Unit will preclude an applicant from being approved as a foster carer (r.4 of the Regulations). If an adult household member has an Interim Negative Notice or a Negative Notice, that person  must vacate the house or the child will not be placed in that household, even if other household members are the primary applicants and are approved as foster carers.

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    Preparation Training

    Metro

    All metropolitan foster carer applicants must complete 19 hours of Preparation Training before their assessment report is submitted to the Cross-sector Foster Carer Panel (the Panel).  Training will provide further opportunities for applicants to demonstrate their competence.  Metropolitan foster care applicants must attend a number of face to face training sessions and complete a participant workbook. Face to face training, preferably with experienced carers presenting to discuss their experiences, is viewed as the most useful learning option.

    Regional

    There are alternative learning methods available and requests for these will be considered and approved on an individual basis (e.g. the applicant is from a remote area and unable to travel to a training location). The self-paced packages (facilitated and individual) are available when no other option is possible. Regional foster care applicants can also link into video conferencing training, but mostly use the self-paced learning packages. Some districts run their own training a couple of times a year when possible.

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    Applicant withdraws during assessment process

    ​Applicants may voluntarily withdraw their application at any time during the application and assessment process. Assessors should discuss this with the applicants, and if they wish to continue with the withdrawal process, applicants are asked to complete a form to formally withdraw from the process.

    Form 703 Foster Care Applicant Withdrawn from Assessment Letter and Notification Form (in related resources) must be sent to the applicant to complete and return. For district assessors, the relevant district send the letter which is signed by the Assistant District Director, and for contract assessors, the Hub will send the letter signed by the Director, Hub. Each letter should be sent with a prepaid self-addressed envelope. Each applicant must sign their own form and send it back to the relevant district or the Hub (depending on where it was sent from).

    The assessor must then finalise the assessment report, briefly covering what they have been able to assess up until that point in the process (the completion of a full assessment is not required).

    Once the assessment report is finalised, the assessor must attach the returned signed Form 703 and save all documents in Objective. The application must then be closed off in Assist,

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    Assessment Report

    The assessor completes an Assessment Report.  This outlines the applicant's evidence supporting their competence, skills and abilities to be a foster carer and makes a recommendation.  Assessments should be completed within 12 weeks of allocation unless specific arrangements are made with the Team Leader for an extension (e.g. if the applicant is not regularly available or is sick).

    The Assessment Report is completed using Form 705 – Suitability to Foster Assessment Report (in related resources). The report should be 25 pages or less, including the referee summary, using Arial Font size 11. Exceptions can be made where the applicant is not recommended or the assessment is complex.

    The assessor should provide substantial evidence for each of the requirements or competencies outlined in the Regulations. The Foster Care Assessment Manual and the Foster Care Assessment Manual - Handouts (both in related resources) must be used to collect the evidence outlined in the Assessment Report. The report should include analysis of each of the competencies and any relevant issues including the steps the applicant has made to address the issue and evidence of the applicant's degree of insight.

    The assessor must save a PDF copy of the draft assessment report with a DRAFT watermark, including the recommendation (with confidential material excluded) and send it to the applicant to read and consider. The applicant should be given a sufficient amount of time for this process, to allow them to read all the information, correct any misunderstandings and discuss any issues with the assessor. The assessor is required to give a professional opinion regarding the applicant's suitability to foster, which may be in conflict with the applicant's view.

    The applicant must then sign the Assessment Report and provide the signed copy to the assessor before it can be presented to the Panel. The report must contain the recommendation by the assessor to either approve or not-approve the applicant as suitable to foster.

    Please note: Non-approval recommendations must be discussed with the applicant and they should be given the option of withdrawing or proceeding with their application to the Panel.  Assessments that do not recommend applicants should be submitted to the Panel to allow the Panel as an independent body to either endorse or not endorse the recommendation.

    For further information on how to complete an assessment or the Assessment Report Template, refer to the guidance in Foster Care Assessment Manual and the Foster Care Assessment Manual - Handouts (in related resources).

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    Recommendation for approval or non-approval

    For details on the internal recommendation process for foster care, refer to Chapter 3.1: Cross-sector Foster Care Panel Process.

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    Cross-sector Foster Care Panel

    For details on the Panel process, including the purpose and membership of the Panel, refer to Chapter 3.1: Cross-sector Foster Care Panel Process.

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    Outcome

    For details on the outcome of foster care assessments, including when the Panel endorse or do not endorse an assessment and final approval or non-approval of an applicant by the Department and Community Service Organisations, refer to Chapter 3.1: Cross-sector Foster Carer Panel Process.

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    Right of Review

    There are no review procedures when the Panel’s decision not to endorse is accepted and approved by the Department.  Applicants may request a review of the process through the Department’s general complaints management avenues.

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