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What is permanency planning?

The term permanency planning relates to the case work, or the development of a formal case plan, to support a child in achieving permanency.

Aims of permanency planning

Quality permanency planning practice should aim to:

  • start from day one. The decisions made will affect future options
  • make timely decisions
  • encourage the development of relationships and the maintenance of existing relationships for a child
  • maintain and strengthen a child’s identity (think about biological, cultural and racial identity)
  • create opportunities for a child to develop attachment to a primary caregiver
  • encourage and maintain connections for a child to social systems such as school, doctors and dentists
  • create opportunities for a child to reach their full potential
  • prevent protracted, unnecessary placement changes
  • maximise a child’s sense of safety, belonging and wellbeing
  • provide living situations that assist children to recover from harm.

Practice prompt

We always focus on safety, belonging and wellbeing.  (Refer to the practice guide Framework for practice.)

The family and Child Safety’s planning for a child’s permanency must be safe and realistic. While it is the first preference for a child to be cared for by their family, this may not always be possible. The child needs a backup plan, a ‘just in case’ plan if reunification does not happen. This is referred to as concurrent planning.

Concurrent planning

Concurrent planning requires practitioners to work with the child and their family to develop a primary permanency goal as part of the case plan, while also identifying an alternative permanency goal. The case work and planning for these goals run alongside each other, and legislation requires both goals to be progressed simultaneously with the family and (if appropriate) the child having full knowledge. 

Most families have a ‘just in case’ plan for their child. This might be the plan for where the child will stay or who will care for them should something happen and a parent can no longer look after their child. If parents have written a will, this information may be written down in this document.

The urgency of the development of this plan can change. A family may have thought about this plan, but never spoken to the other people involved or never written it down. If someone is then diagnosed with a terminal illness, for example, this alternative plan may become urgent. At this point, parents would speak to other possible guardians for their children and write this plan down or perhaps arrange court orders.

Alternative plans may never be needed, but they should always be thought about. When a child enters care, the child has been assessed as being in need of protection. It is at this time that an alternative plan becomes more urgent and needs to be documented and become an active part of case work.

Reunification is usually the primary goal, but an alternative goal needs to be identified and a plan developed at the same time.

It is important to assist parents to talk about the alternative goal, so they can be included in the decision making about plans for their child.

Practice prompt

Where to start: Ask the family if they have ever thought about a ‘just in case’ plan.

Short-term care arrangements—the importance of kin

If a child cannot live with their parents, the preferred alternative is for them to live with a family member or a member of the child’s network. This is referred to as a kinship placement.

Children may live with kinship carers through:

  • informal or private arrangements
  • formal approved kinship care
  • short-term custody under the Child Protection Act 1999
  • Family Court orders.

Kinship care is the preferred care arrangement for a child in care because of the benefits it provides. Research shows that if kinship placements are identified early in a child’s care experience, outcomes can be improved. Kinship placements can provide a child with:

  • stability and continuity
  • enhanced opportunities to develop their identity
  • increased feelings of belonging
  • better opportunity for family contact and ongoing relationships
  • strengthened reunification outcomes (if assessed as appropriate)
  • the best outcomes for young adults transitioning to adulthood
  • options for long-term guardianship.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle requires Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be placed with kin. For more information, see the practice kit: Safe care and connection: Child placement principle and the practice kit: Care arrangements: Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Seeking out kin early allows a child to maintain existing relationships and often fits with a family’s ‘just in case plan’. This can set the child up for a stable long-term arrangement if needed.

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