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Dimensions of permanency

Legislation identifies three dimensions of permanency:

Relational permanency

Relational permanency refers to the experience of having positive, loving, trusting and nurturing relationships with people important to the child. One of the most important parts of achieving relational permanency for a child is finding permanent and supportive relationships and connections and ensuring these connections support a child’s sense of belonging and wellbeing.

Relational permanency can sometimes be referred to as ‘emotional permanency’, as it provides a sense of belonging for a child. This is usually provided by significant family attachments but will also include friendships and community relationships.

Children who spend time in foster care may miss out on normal opportunities to develop important relationships. Often they can have numerous relationships with professionals who are not, and should not, be ‘forever’ or permanent relationships.

To promote the long-term wellbeing goal for a child, practitioners need to pay attention to identifying and strengthening a range of connections that the child has with their family and other people of significance.

Practice prompt

The Circles of Safety and Support Tool is used with a child or their family to identify who the important people around a child are. Use this as soon as Child Safety becomes involved with a child and revisit it at important points in case work.

Some examples of how relational permanency can be achieved for a child include:

  • placing a child with kin (where possible)
  • placing a child with their siblings
  • encouraging relationships with a child’s family and extended kin (think outside the nuclear definition of a family to include people like cousins, aunts and step-grandparents)
  • identifying and maintaining relationships that the child already has, such as with a family friend who they have had sleepovers with frequently, or a community Elder who provided education to the child and family
  • creating opportunities to strengthen relationships with other people of significance, such as school friends or medical professionals
  • supporting ongoing involvement with clubs, associations, religious institutions (and others).

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle recognises the importance of connections for a child to family, community, culture and country.

Some additional examples of how relational permanency can be achieved for an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child include:

  • placing a child with kin or in their community
  • reviewing placement options regularly until permanency is achieved
  • ensuring carers understand the role they play in supporting a child in maintaining cultural, community and family connections
  • seeking connections and opportunities for the child to use their language.

When a child enters care, there may not be a lot of information about who is important to a child. This does not mean they don’t exist. Ask the child and a range of people around the child who may hold this knowledge.


The single most identified factor contributing to positive outcomes for children involves meaningful connections and lifelong relationships with family.’

Kevin Campbell (2018), quoted in

Watch this video for an overview of ‘Lifelong Families’. This is a practice model developed by Casey Family Services, a non-government organisation working across America. The video highlights the critical importance of relational permanency in improving long-term outcomes for children and young people in care.

Foster Care Practice Model: Lifelong Families

Physical permanency

Physical permanency refers to stable living arrangements that support connections to a child’s community. The living arrangements should meet the child’s developmental, educational, emotional, health, intellectual and physical needs.

Physical permanency contributes to relational permanency in that it supports continuity of relationships with family, friends, and community, and enhances the child’s safety, belonging and wellbeing.

Children form their sense of themselves, their identity and self-worth through their experience of primary attachment caregivers. Children who have secure attachments are more likely to develop into socially competent adults and experience a range of positive life outcomes.

Plan and provide supports to maintain placement stability and reduce the risk of placement disruption or placement changes for the child. Placement stability prevents further damage being caused to a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

Physical permanency does not just refer to a house or a placement of a child. It also includes:

  • stability in schooling, including child care arrangements
  • continuity of health care providers (for example, regularly attending the same doctor or specialist to meet their ongoing health needs)
  • remaining within or connected to their local community.

For an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, it also includes:

  • relationships with key groups in the community
  • involvement with identified professional services
  • placement or regular visits to country.

Legal permanency

Legal permanency refers to the legal arrangements for a child that provide a sense of permanence and long-term stability.

Child Safety works proactively with families to keep their children safely at home wherever possible. If children enter care and reunification with family is not possible, the child’s safety, belonging and wellbeing will be met through an alternative permanency option. Timely decision making is required to achieve legal permanency for children.

The first preference is for a child to be cared for by the child’s family. This recognises that:

  • the preferred way of ensuring a child’s safety is through supporting the child’s family
  • if a child is removed from the family, support must be given to the child and their family for the purpose of allowing the child to return to the family if the return is in the child’s best interests.

The second preference is for the child to be cared for under the guardianship of a person who is a member of the child’s family (other than a parent) or another suitable person.

The third preference is for the child to be cared for under the guardianship of the chief executive.

For some children, adoption under the Adoption Act 2009 may also be an appropriate option, subject to consent requirements in Part 2 of that Act.

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