Important considerations before safety planning
This part provides ideas for working with children, parents and the alleged abuser or offender to decide if a safety plan, developed in conjunction with a safety and support network, will make it safe enough for the child to stay at home in the short and longer-term. It is designed to support professional judgment and to complement the structured decision making policies and procedures.
It is possible to safety plan with the alleged abuser or offender in the home. However, this should be undertaken with caution and there are circumstances where a safety plan is not recommended as outlined below. All of these factors indicate increased vulnerability of the child and practitioners need to consider whether a safety plan can be developed that manages the specific vulnerability of the child.
The child is:
- telling Child Safety or other people that they have been sexually abused by the alleged abuser or offender
- fearful of the alleged abuser or offender
- fearful of the parent and unable to identify any other protective adults in the home
- exhibiting overtly sexual behaviour towards the alleged abuser or offender.
The parent is:
- unable or unwilling to supervise the alleged abuser or offender
- fearful of the alleged abuser or offender.
The alleged abuser or offender is:
- unable, unwilling or unlikely to adhere to a safety plan
- known to engage in domestic violence in relationships with current or previous partners
- reasonably believed to have created and/or distributed child exploitation material (including videoing children, eliciting children to engage in sexual activity to develop images or videos/ altering videos or images of children to make them appear to be sexually explicit).
The above circumstances significantly impact the likelihood that the alleged abuser or offender can remain safely in the home. Review these points each time safety planning is being considered in the context of sexual abuse. Consultation with experienced staff such as senior team leaders, senior practitioners, regional practice leaders and specialist teams such as Practice Advice and Support will assist you in your work with safety assessment and planning. Safety planning where these factors exist needs to specifically address the worry or vulnerability posed. You may determine that an appropriate safety plan cannot be developed to address the specific vulnerabilities.
The difference between immediate safety plans and longer-term safety plans
Immediate safety plans
An immediate safety plan is developed when an immediate harm indicator is identified during a safety assessment, and it has been assessed that there is sufficient safety provided by the parent or other safe adults to prevent the child from being removed from the care of the parents. Generally this involves ensuring the child is not around the worrying behaviour or the person whose behaviour worries us. It has clear worry statements, and begins with non-negotiables for planning and ‘what-if' scenarios. It details action steps to address each worry statement, including who will do what to make sure the child is protected from the immediate danger. It is a time limited strategy that is designed to immediately reduce the danger to the child rather than monitor long-term behavioural change.
When safe and age-appropriate, it is best practice for a child to have a cohesive narrative around what the worries are for their safety and to participate in safety planning.
To help determine whether an immediate safety plan is possible, practitioners must assess acts of protection, and strengths and resources. If the family do not have a safety and support network, this is the time to help them identify who may be able to help them. Network members could be extended family, friends and neighbours who care about the child and are able to work both with the family and Child Safety.
Review immediate safety plans at least every seven days. Call upon network members to monitor the safety plan (which can be daily) and implement actions in the safety plan.
Longer-term safety plans
Longer-term safety plans are developed with the children, family and their safety and support network, including the alleged abuser or offender, when appropriate. The network is made up of a range of people, and could include family members, professionals, carers, school staff and community members. These network members support the children, parent, alleged abuser or offender to develop and maintain safety through case planning and safety planning. They have a long term focus and are reviewed less frequently than immediate safety plans which require review at least every seven days.
Longer-term safety plans provide clarity to network members about their purpose, the known worries, goals and action steps as well as the non-negotiables and ‘what ifs’ which everyone should plan and have contingencies for. Longer-term safety plans can support safe and effective reunification, family contact within a more natural setting and can support children to safely maintain connections with family, community and culture.
Use the circles of safety and support tool to help parents identify people in their safety and support network.
Practice guide Safety Assessment and Planning.
Understand what past child protection concerns mean for safety planning
When safety planning, understand how the parents, alleged abuser or offender and the safety and support network each impact on the child’s experiences of danger and safety. Use the following questions to guide thinking and practice when reviewing the child and family’s history:
- How has the parent previously responded to child protection concerns? What does that say about their ability to protect their child now?
- How has this child’s community in the past reacted to child sexual abuse concerns? Consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and multicultural practitioners or practitioners who have a connection to the community.
- How has the alleged abuser or offender responded previously to child protection concerns? What does that say about their ability to follow the safety plan?
- Consider what the child’s experiences of being hurt mean for them, their relationships with family, friends, adults and professionals, their mental and physical health, and the way they view themselves.
- Have other agencies been involved with this family in the past? Were they able to work with the family? What helped them work with the family?
- What allowed Child Safety to close the case last time? What did the family achieve?
- Has the alleged abuser or offender ever used coercive control, violence, verbal abuse or other strategies to control family members?
- Does the parent and safety and support network have a history of actively protecting their child from the alleged abuser or offender?
- Has the parent or alleged abuser or offender ever had thoughts of harming the children?
- Has the parent’s mental health or drug and alcohol use ever impacted on their ability to keep their child safe?
There is a correlation between perpetrating intimate partner violence and perpetrating child sexual abuse. Controlling and violent behaviour by the alleged abuser or offender (including physical abuse, verbal abuse, financial control, isolation from support) can also impact significantly on the capacity of the parent to implement a safety plan (Kellogg & Menard, 2003).
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