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Placement stability

The importance of stability in care arrangements

All children in care require a stable, supportive care arrangement that meets their needs—not just those placed on long-term child protection orders. One of the ways to contribute to the overall stability of the care arrangement is by including children in placement decisions and keeping them informed.

This is important, as placement changes often disrupt connection with parents, siblings, extended family, school and other significant people in the child’s life. Such disruptions can substantially reduce the likelihood of successful reunification with parents, which is the primary permanency goal in most cases. It may also lead to difficulties in developing a sense of self, impacting on all domains of a child’s life.

Note

‘Having a stable living arrangement helps children to maintain their relationships with friends and service providers, and remain engaged with school and community activities.’ (Beauchamp cited in Heyes et al, 2018)

Note

‘I get what they’re trying to do—they’re trying to create stability for kids. But for me stability doesn’t come from a plan. Stability comes from having people, carers and caseworkers who are committed 100% to you and your care.’ Young person who spent 15 years in care, Western Australia. (Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women, 2015).

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) show that the number of children in care continues to rise in Australia, with an 18% increase from 2013 to 2017. While surveys conducted by the AIHW and the CREATE Foundation show the vast majority of children in care feel safe and secure in their placement, the research shows children face many challenges, including multiple placement changes and limited preparation for making the transition to adulthood (Heyes et al, 2018).

In 2013, the CREATE Foundation completed a study with 1,275 Australian children in care, aged 8–18 years. Some children were unhappy with their placement history which may be due to a high number of previous placements or placement instability. Children were happiest in placements when they felt loved and cared for, had a positive relationship with the other people in the household, and had some privacy and space to themselves. They experienced more placement stability when living with carers who were kin (McDowall, 2018).

Practice prompt

The greater the weight we place on our children’s placements from the start of their journey in care, the better outcomes they may achieve. A stable placement makes it easier to achieve permanency goals, whether this be reunification or a long-term alternative.

Further reading

To read more, refer to the Permanency practice kit.

Outcomes for children

Research has shown that a stable attachment to a responsive adult caregiver is important for all children (Osborn and Delfabbro, 2006b and Bowlby, 1969 cited in Queensland Family & Child Commission, 2017). This attachment promotes a range of healthy social, emotional and physical wellbeing outcomes for children (Ainsworth, 1973 cited in Queensland Family & Child Commission, 2017).

Note

‘Children in planned, stable out-of-home care placements tend to have better learning and psychosocial outcomes than children experiencing instability.’ (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018)

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care, stability in care arrangements may also lead to greater connection to culture. Literature on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care demonstrates that ‘cultural integrity, community involvement and well implemented cultural support plans contribute to positive, stable placement arrangements’ (Kalinan et al, 2018, p.22).

Cultural support plans include:

  • goals and actions in relation to family and community connection
  • education programs, such as cultural competence training for carers
  • ways of ensuring the child feels a sense of belonging to their culture (Kalinan et al, 2018).

Having a meaningful connection to culture while in care is a significant outcome for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care. To support this notion, the connection element of the child placement principle outlines strategies to meet a child’s connection to culture through their placement by:

  • having a placement with kin (relative carers) and community
  • supporting early reconnection and reunification options
  • developing strong and meaningful cultural support plans
  • the carer having an active role in supporting and developing the child’s cultural connection
  • prioritising kin and community connection

The mental and physical health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is enhanced when they maintain their traditional culture (Colquhon & Dockery cited in McDowall, 2016). An understanding of a child’s traditional culture is important for developing their sense of identity and wellbeing (McDowall, 2016), and it is our responsibility to ensure our plans and approaches to placements strengthen a child’s connection in all domains of their life.

Tip

For more information see the Cultural Support Plans part in the practice kit Safe Care and Connection.

Having a meaningful connection to culture while in care is a significant outcome for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care. To support this, the connection element of the child placement principle outlines strategies to meet a child’s connection to culture through their placement by:

  • having a placement with kin (relative carers) and community
  • supporting early reconnection and reunification options
  • developing strong and meaningful cultural support plans
  • the carer having an active role in supporting and developing the child’s cultural connection
  • prioritising kin and community connection.

The mental and physical health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is enhanced when they maintain their traditional culture (Colquhon & Dockery cited in McDowall, 2016). An understanding of a child’s traditional culture is important for developing their sense of identity and wellbeing (McDowall, 2016), and it is our responsibility to ensure plans and approaches to placements strengthen a child’s connection in all domains of their life.

To further understand how placement stability contributes to the outcomes of children in care, see the Queensland Out-of-Home Care Outcomes Framework.  

← Snapshot of the framework

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