There are several tools a practitioner can use to ensure their engagement with the child is meaningful, age-appropriate and will elicit the information needed. They can bring the child into the decision-making process and help them actively participate in matters that directly impact their lives. Tools include:
A genogram is a pictorial display of a person's family relationships and other factors such as mapping medical history and complicating factors. It is best completed with the child and family to ensure records are accurate.
The genogram can then be used to source network members, who may be suitable as kinship carers for the child.
It is also a useful tool for identifying which family members the child is close to, to ensure we continue to provide family contact and connection with all important family members while they are in care.
The Three Houses Tool
The Three Houses Tool involves both drawing and words and is an effective way to help children express in drawings their worries, what makes them happy and what they would like from their care arrangement.
The children don’t have to use houses as a basis of this tool. They could use any symbol or drawing that will help them connect such as a teddy bear, a fairy or their favourite television or movie character.
The Safety House Tool
The Safety House Tool is a practical, visual tool that has been designed to include children’s views and understanding of what makes them feel safe.
An outline of a house is drawn by the child and the worker and used to talk with the child about the specific safety arrangements that would need to be in place to make sure previous worries do not happen in the future. The child’s views are then recorded in the Safety House in both pictures and words. The child is invited to create a ‘safety path’ leading to their Safety House and they can indicate where on the path they are as a way to represent their views on how safe they currently feel within the family.
This tool can be used to influence placement agreements and clarify what the child needs from their carer in order to feel safe in their care arrangement.
Circles of safety and support
The Circles of Safety and Support Tool can be used with children to identify significant others who could become part of their safety and support network.
The safety and support network is made up of people such as extended family, friends and community members who will work with the children and/or parents and involved professionals to develop and maintain a plan to ensure the children’s long-term safety, belonging and wellbeing. The network will help with short-term safety planning, take agreed action when there are safety concerns, and provide continued support as part of a longer-term safety and support plan.
Using timelines is another technique for identifying significant people in a child’s life. This strategy may help identify pockets of people who have cared about the child at different times in their life.
Timelines can also identify gaps in what we know about the child or young person and highlight clusters of traumatic events. A timeline can help surface some of our own empathy when we may be struggling to see the best in a child.
One thing to note is that doing this with a family or child can be empowering or traumatising. Be sure to develop agreements with clear boundaries before you use this with a child.
Helpful questions for unpacking the timeline:
- Who was in the child’s life at this time?
- Who would have cared about the child during this time?
- What do we know or imagine their relationship was like?
- What connections did the child have to their culture, language, religion and beliefs during this time?
- Who do we think might have been in the child’s life (for example, teachers) about whom we don’t know much yet?
Strength cards can be used to engage children and help them to identify their strengths and skills. Identifying strengths reminds children that they have them, they can use them to address problems and that they should be celebrated.
The Immediate Story
The Immediate Story is a tool that can be used when children are entering a care arrangement. It is provided to the child at the point of being removed from their parents’ care or as soon as possible afterwards. The tool can help reduce the impact of trauma by sharing information in a simple yet meaningful way so children understand as much as possible.
The Immediate Story provides an explanation to the child about the reason for the care arrangement, about what is happening now or has just happened (for example, the child being moved from their parent’s care and going to stay with other family members or foster carers), and what is going to happen next.
This tool is also beneficial for the carer’s own children when new children are entering their family home at the start of a care arrangement, or perhaps when a sudden change to the care arrangement occurs and the carer’s children experience a loss.
Sesame Street in Communities
As a practitioner working with children in care, you have the responsibility of building and supporting safety and support networks to help increase a child’s sense of safety, belonging and wellbeing.
The Sesame Street in Communities website has some great resources you can use to help engage and communicate with young children in an age-appropriate and interactive way. View all resources on various topics such as foster care, incarceration, autism and more on the Sesame Street in Communities website.
For example, the following video may help young children understand their care arrangement is ‘for now’ while their Mum and Dad work hard to make it safe for them to go home. It shows the child they are cared for and have a place in the carer’s home. The video also highlights the use of simple yet meaningful strategies (such as personalised placemats) to help children in care feel as though they belong.
The next video shows the adults talking about being Karli’s foster parents, her ‘for now’ parents. It may be a good video to show the carer’s family when a new child is entering a care arrangement.
Another strategy that helps with engaging children through the use of technology includes the kicbox application (app).
kicbox is a digital, standard practice tool that is used for all children in care, regardless of their age, length of time in care and location. This app supports the process of life story work, in which important personal information and significant life events are recorded. Maintaining a life story throughout a young person’s time in care is critical and is a significant inclusion in the transition to adulthood process.
All young people in care experience some level of disconnection from their family and community, and disruptions in care arrangements may result in the loss of personal possessions, photos and memories.
Life story work supports the development of a strong foundation for a young person’s independence and will assist them to create a clear understanding of their family relationships and connections, increase their self-knowledge and self-esteem and promote an understanding of what has happened to them during their time in care.
kicbox also has an instant messaging feature that allows the young person to send their child safety officer (CSO) an instant message through the app, see when the CSO is available online and upload documents and pictures to their profile at any time.
kicbox includes 4 main categories:
- My life—which helps them record their journey in care by uploading photos, describing particular events and recording their thoughts and feelings.
- My future—which helps them to visualise their life goals through words and images.
- Important documents—which provides a single place for storing all their documents, such as their birth certificate, certificate of Aboriginality, or school reports.
- Contact and support—which lets them connect with their CSO by sending secure and private messages.
Letters and emails
Written communication can be a useful strategy for keeping children informed and enabling their participation in important decisions. This can be quite informal, as a follow-up to a home visit, to remind them of an agreement or to provide a record of important evets in their life.
Sometimes formal letters are required for older children, such as when there is a decision made to change a care arrangement. Remember to tailor your language to the developmental and literacy level of the child.
It is important to provide written letters to children advising them of their care arrangement, as this decision is reviewable through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).
This letter will outline the reason for the decision, which should include:
- your conversations with the child, parents, carers and network members if applicable
- the case work you implemented to match the child's needs to the care arrangement
- how the care arrangement will enhance the children’s stability and meet their safety, wellbeing and belonging needs
The letter helps prepare the child for a transition and provides all the information regarding a decision about them. This is an empowering process for the child and demonstrates participation at its highest level when the content of the letter is already known to the child, as you have implemented case work strategies to include the child in every step of the process.
Home visiting and other contacts
Regular home visits with children are critical to ensuring their safety, belonging and wellbeing. These home visits include:
- reviewing the wellbeing of the child
- exploring any worries they have about their care arrangement
- developing safety plans together
- listening to the child talk about their family and culture
- providing information to the child on their parents, siblings and extended family members
- seeking the child’s feedback on family contact arrangements
- helping the child feel safe
- assessing their strengths and needs and ensuring needs are met.
When completing a home visit with a child, ensure you are clear on what goals you and the child would like to achieve during the visit. Some questions to ask yourself before the visit to help set the scene may include:
- What do I hope to accomplish in partnership with the child?
- What are the worries and good news I need to share with the child?
- How can I be useful to the child on this visit?
After the visit, take some time to reflect on the home visit by considering and asking the child the following questions (in an age-appropriate manner). This may help to structure meaningful and informed future home visits:
- Which parts of the visit would the child say were most helpful and meaningful?
- What are the next steps for the child?
- In what ways can I be helpful to the child next time?
You may also have contact with children in other environments, such as at medical appointments, family contact visits, school events and so on. Do not display your identification and always ask the child how they may want you to be introduced so as to ensure their confidentiality and privacy are maintained.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children - additional considerations
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.
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 child may request a home visit away from the house so community members don’t see a government vehicle parked in front of the house. Don’t be afraid to be creative and yarn (talk) with the child out of town by the river.
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Terminology change - placement to care arrangement