Support of a carer may be undertaken by both CSOs or a non-government agency. Regardless of which agency or person provides the support, it is important that there is consistency in the delivery of support to carers.
To achieve this consistency, we need to be clear about what support means, how the support needs of carers are determined, and what activities constitute support.
There are two aspects to carer support, with a degree of overlap between them. They are:
- the support required for all carers specific to the goals of the placement for a particular child
- the broader, general development and support needs specific to the carer’s overall role and responsibilities
Foster and kinship carer support agencies
Child Safety funds non-government foster and kinship care (FKC) services for the management of quality foster and kinship care placements. These services are responsible for the ongoing training and development of carers, as well as for providing carers with support and supervision.
When a carer is supported by a care service, they are assigned a dedicated support worker who will visit the carer regularly and also support them by phone. They may attend placement meetings with the carer and will assist them to work as part of the child’s safety and support network, alongside the practitioner and others who have a role in implementing the child’s case plan.
Many agencies also provide an on-call service for after-hours phone support and advice.
Documenting the support plan
The general support needs of foster carers are negotiated during the development of the foster carer agreement and a placement agreement for each child. The development and support needs of kinship carers, along with the support needs of the child, are negotiated and documented in the placement agreement.
All placements require a placement agreement.
Foster carer agreements
The foster carer agreement (FCA) is a live document completed in partnership with the foster carers, carer agency and Child Safety, outlining technical information such as the number and type of placements the carer is approved for, the age range of children, the development and training needs of the carer, and support plans for the carer.
The FCA can be amended and updated at any time with the approval of the delegated CSSC manager.
Placement agreements are a tool to ensure carers have access to relevant information about a child and adequate support for the placement. Information is provided to enable the carer to provide an appropriate level of care for the child and to ensure the child’s safety, as well as that of the carer and members of the carers’ household.
The placement agreement outlines the goals of the placement, provides relevant information about a child and records the agreed support and services to be provided to the carer or care service, based on the assessed level of the child's needs. Placement agreements are also a live document and can be updated and amended as the needs of the carer and/or child changes.
Carers appreciate the following everyday support strategies. They go a long way towards helping the carer provide stability and longevity in the placement.
- When a new placement commences and the child is demonstrating unsettled behaviour, ask the Foster and Kinship Carer Support Line (1300 729 309) to call the carer to check in within the first 24 hours. As the CSO, call or visit with the FKC agency within the first 24–72 hours to see what else the carer and children need.
- When the carer calls, speak to them rather than ask for a message to be taken; return emails promptly; prioritise home visits with carers; and schedule when convenient to the carer.
- Prioritise the processing of paperwork related to child-related costs and reimburse out-of-pocket expenses where prior approval has been provided by the financial delegate.
- Provide all means of communication available for the carer to choose their preferred option, and respect their choice. (For example, if they prefer to email, provide documents and communication via email.)
- Invite carers to all meetings where appropriate to do so, such as safety and support network meetings, family group meetings, cultural support plan meetings, contact review meetings, and education support plan meetings.
- Provide the required consent/approval and signed paperwork to the carer when required. (For example, provide consent for the child attending the dentist and be aware of exactly what consent is required.)
- Use the four domains of inquiry (what are we worried about, what’s working well, where are we now, next steps) when communicating with carers in order to be strengths based; and develop action steps together.
- Provide respite when the carers need it.
Take care not to overload the carers with placements. Carers are kind and generous people, already giving up time and energy to care for vulnerable children. They will often say yes to placement offers and increasing their placement capacity. Explore and assess carefully when the carers may have reached capacity.
Be sure to protect the child from any adult conversations and watch the language you and the carer use to describe and talk about the child. Be mindful that little ears are listening and when they hear themselves described as ‘children in care’ and ‘living away from home’ or that the money for their clothes has not been approved, their sense of belonging may be affected.
In accordance with the Act, we provide written letters to carers advising them of any placement decision, as some decisions are reviewable through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT). The letters will outline the reason for the decisions, which should include conversations you have already held with the carers, as well as the work you implemented to achieve the outcome. See Practice Guide: Reviewable decisions.
The letter is more than just compliance with legislative requirements, as it helps prepare the carer for the decision or a transition and provides all the information to them regarding a decision about them. This is an empowering process for the carer and demonstrates participation at its highest level when the content of the letter is already known to the carer as you have implemented strategies to include them in every step of the process.
Another form of meaningful support is attending home visits with children and their carers at least every month. These home visits should include reviewing the placement agreements, the strengths and needs of the child and the carer, the needs of the carer’s household and general placement strengths and worries.
When completing a home visit with a carer and the child, be clear on what goals you and the carer would like to achieve during the visit. Some questions you may ask yourself before the visit to help set the scene include:
- What do I hope to accomplish in partnership with the carer?
- What are the risks and safety issues I need to share with the carer?
- How can I be useful to the carer and the child on this visit?
After the visit, take some time to reflect on the home visit by considering the following questions. Asking the carer these questions may also help to structure a meaningful and informed home visit in the future:
- Which parts of the visit would the carer family say were most helpful and made a difference?
- What achievements have the child and family made since your last visit?
- What are the next steps for you and for the family?
- In what ways can you be helpful to the carer next time?
When meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, consider where they would feel most comfortable to meet with you. They might like to meet in either their home, an outdoor setting like a park or basketball court, or a cultural space in a school setting, where the school agrees.
Be mindful to consider gender when meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For instance, it may not be appropriate for a male practitioner to meet with a young Aboriginal girl to discuss topics of a sexual nature. Therefore, it is important for practitioners to ask the family in what circumstances the gender of workers would need to be considered.
For discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the carer may request a home visit away from the house so community members don’t see a government vehicle parked out front of their house. After all, it is the conversation that is important, not where it is held.
The contact requirements for reunification cases outlined in Procedure Support a child in care states:
During the course of a month, the practitioner must have face-to-face contact at least once with each child in the child's current living environment ... Contacts with children should be child focused, assessing each child's strengths and needs, views, and wellbeing. Always consider changes in family circumstances that may impact upon the child's safety. During face-to-face contact with a child, it is recommended that the practitioner speak with the child alone, to provide them with an opportunity to express any concerns.
It is not necessary to see the child’s bedroom and walk through the carer’s house each visit, although it is important to see inside the home and child’s room periodically to be confident that the environment is meeting the child’s needs.
A respectful and partnering approach must be taken when spending time in a carer’s home so it doesn’t feel like an ‘inspection’ and an invasion of privacy. Carers can help by suggesting the child show their room to the practitioner and the child might enjoy showing a new practitioner around and introducing family members and pets.
When undertaking a home visit to a child with a disability there are additional considerations and questions. For further information refer to the practice kit Disability.
A short break may include the use of the 48-hour rule, which allows approved carers to make a decision to have someone they know look after children in their care for up to 48 hours. The carer must let their CSO know of the arrangement and provide the person’s name, address and phone number.
The 48-hour rule encourages carers to use their own support networks for child care and support. There are no payments made to any other person in these circumstances. If a more regular respite plan is required, the CSO will need to be involved in assessment and planning.
The 48-hour rule is not a decision made by Child Safety to meet the need of respite. This rule was designed to help the carers when emergencies or self-care needs arise and they need the child to stay with someone else for no more than 48 hours.
This rule is an excellent support strategy to allow carers to use their support networks and family members—as any family in the community would when they need help to care for children. Be sure to not overcomplicate this situation when it arises. Support the carer in using this rule where and when appropriate.
Carer Connect is a web- and mobile-friendly application (app) that has been developed to provide carers with improved and secure access to information and support, when and where they need it.
The app is the outcome of extensive consultation with foster and kinship carers through the Partners in Care engagement across Queensland in 2017. From late September 2018, the app has been made progressively available to Queensland foster and kinship carers.
Carers can visit the Carer Connect site to register.
Carers can view relevant information and documentation to gain an understanding of how the needs of the children in their care can best be supported.
There may be information available about:
- the placement agreements and authority to care
- medical information, for example, serious health condition alerts, health passports and immunisations
- Child Safety contact information, including the after-hours phone number
- the type of child protection order and expiry date
- cultural information
- current education information
In addition to viewing child and carer support information, carers can:
- upload pictures of their home and family that can be shown to children when they are transitioning to a new placement
- view noticeboard articles that announce everything from training and social events to legislation changes
- make contributions to the life story for children and young people in their care using the kicbox app
- view and build children and young people’s “Who am I” profile, includin valuable information about their likes, dislikes, strengths and their routine
- submit claims for child related costs reimbursements for children and young people currently in their care, which have been pre-approved by Child Safety.
To learn more about Carer Connect, watch this short video.
Some placement changes are inevitable due to difficulties in placement matching, harm reports, the carer retiring or moving interstate.
How we describe placement changes may affect the emotions the people involved in this situation will experience. Naming it as a placement change rather than a placement breakdown may help you, the child and the carer consider the positives and use the strengths present to manage the change for the carer and child.
The frequency of placement changes can be reduced if appropriate and meaningful support is provided to the placement—both for the child and carer. One engagement strategy to help unpack the situation prior to deciding if a placement change is required, is to have the carer and child, and possibly the whole household, participate in the Family Roadmap process (see the following diagram).
This tool is designed to have the family tell their story and reflect on what they want for their family and how they think they may be able to get there. This tool may be able to identify the worries in the placement and build on the strengths of the whole carer household to reach their ‘life at its best’.
To read more about the Family Roadmap tool, refer to The Family Roadmap booklet.
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