The foundation for a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development stems from their attachment experiences. A child’s attachment experience is shaped by how consistently and reliably a caregiver responds to their distress signals, with the ideal attachment experience being a result of consistent, reliable and responsive caregiving (Cassidy, 2008 cited in McLean, 2016). Such attachment experiences assist in forming the basis for self-concept, self-esteem, and social, emotional and cognitive development (McLean, 2016).
This highlights the importance of parents remaining in contact with their children when they enter care, so children can maintain positive and healthy relationships with them, regardless of the case plan goal.
The concept of attachment has developed over time, with Bowlby (1969) considering attachment as a strong need to seek closeness to and contact with a preferred caregiver, and including the responsiveness and emotional availability of the caregiver (McLean, 2013, cited in McLean, 2016).
Mary Ainsworth et al, (1978) broadened the concept of attachment by considering how an individual child views their self and others along with the child’s understanding of whether or not the caretaker would be available when needed (McLean, 2016).
Parents of children in care often think they lose their identity as a parent, as they are not parenting their children every day. Children’s contact with their parents is often reduced while they are in care. It is important for parents to continue be involved with parenting their children. This may impact on the child’s and parent’s attachment and ability to maintain strong and healthy relationships while the child is in care.
We must support parents in actively parenting in every interaction they have with their child—family contact, phone calls, school events, and doctors’ visits. In partnership with the carer, parents can maintain and grow their relationship with their children while supporting their child’s relationship with their carer. Just as importantly, carers can grow their relationship with children in their care while supporting the relationship with the children’s parents.
Partnering & participation
Partnering with parents is essential to achieving better outcomes for their children in care. We need to ensure we partner with parents in all decision-making processes about care arrangements. Our partnering with parents should always be strengths-based, collaborative, informed and genuine.
Research tells us we need to take a collaborative approach to planning and managing transitions that keeps the child and people significant to the child (such as their parents) at the centre of the decision-making process. This more likely to result in a successful outcome for the child.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, there may be family members other than their parents who should be closely involved in this work, along with workers from family wellbeing services and an independent person.
The Framework for Practice highlights the notion of ‘nothing about us, without us’ which is crucial in partnering with parents of children in care. Parents are the experts about their children and will be able to provide you with a vast amount of information to help in your work in supporting their children in care.
This may include but is not limited to the children’s:
- medical needs
- favourite meals
- bedtime routine
- daily routine
- brand of formula
- favourite bedtime story
- educational progress
- food intolerances
- traditional language group
- friendship group
- extracurricular activities
- closest relatives
By seeking as much information as possible from parents, we will help them feel included in the decision-making processes, feel empowered and feel that they have an element of control regarding their children—as no-one knows them like they do.
Partnering with parents will help achieve better outcomes for children while they are in care and support the relationship between the parent and the child.
Independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entity (independent person)
The use of an independent person, referred to in the Act as the ‘Independent Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Entity for a Child’, is in line with the principle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination. This requires practitioners to work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families to enable their participation in significant decisions that affect them.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and their families are best placed to identify a person who can support them and help facilitate their participation in decisions that affect the child. This recognises that the child or young person and their families are the primary source of cultural knowledge in relation to their family.
Practitioners can facilitate the participation of an independent person on behalf of the family only if the child, young person and family agree to this in the decision making or planning process.
Self-determination is the process by which a person or community controls their own life, and it will mean something different for each individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person and community.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ participation and leadership in the decisions that affect the care and protection of their children and young people will promote continuity of family and community relationships.
Self-determination can mean different things to different people. Working out what it means to individuals requires the practitioner to respectfully seek the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Practice kit: Safe Care and Connection
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Terminology change - placement to care arrangement