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The return home from care practice framework

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the University of Bristol partnered to develop the Return Home from Care Practice Framework which provides guidance to support practitioners when working towards reunification after a child has been in care. While set within a different jurisdiction, this resource provides practitioners with detailed information about the multitude of tasks and decision making points associated with seeking permanency for a child, with reunification as the primary goal. The framework:

  • helps practitioners assess whether or not reunification is the best permanence option for the child
  • supports practitioners to apply professional judgement to complex decisions about reunification
  • guides decision making around post reunification support
  • provides a structure for risk analysis
  • supports families to understand what needs to change, to set goals, to access support and services and review progress.

(Wilkins and Farmer, 2015)

A number of core messages shape the framework:

  • Robust assessments of risk and protective factors, parental ability to care and capacity to change are central to determining if safe reunification is possible.
  • Reunification is to be considered cautiously when certain risk factors associated with future harm are present, such as parental alcohol and drug misuse and previous unsuccessful reunification
  • The voice of the child is central
  • Parents need opportunities and support to change
  • The family’s network contributes to success
  • Support, monitoring and review will continue for as long as required.

(Wilkins and Farmer, 2015)

A staged approach

Like the Reunification Pyramid, the Return Home from Care Framework is based around a staged approach. The framework has five stages, with associated tasks to guide practitioners at key decision making points focused on safe and timely reunification.

Stage 1 focuses on the assessment of risk and protective factors and parental capacity to change. The assessment is informed by the parents and child and requires practitioners to produce an analytical case history, genogram and identify a trusted adult for the child to talk to.

Practice prompt

This framework advocates for a second worker to be engaged at Stage 1 to produce the analytical case history in order to reduce bias in decision making and promote objectivity. This worker does not meet with the family. What do you think are the merits of this approach? What are the limitations?

Stage 2 is about risk classification and making a decision on the potential for reunification at this time. A Risk Classification Table (page 40 in the Return Home from Care Framework document) is used to support decision making and the outcome of this is communicated with the child and family – including if the decision is that reunification is not possible.

Stage 3 is the point at which clear goals are set with parents about what needs to be achieved before the child can return home and what supports need to be put in place. The assessment of parental capacity to change is ongoing. Tasks that help achieve the aim of this stage include communicating with the child, establishing written agreements which outline SMART goals, provide relationship-based support and create contingency plans.

Stage 4 focuses on the re-classification of risk to inform a decision about reunification and develop a plan to support this. Agreements, goals and plans require updating and if reunification is to proceed, preparation work with the child and family is prioritised.

Stage 5 is about the safe return of the child to their home. Support is directed to gradually increasing contact and time spent at home, coordinating support services, monitoring and reviewing the situation post-reunification and re-classifying risk.

A number of principles provide a foundation for the Return Home from Care Framework which align with the values and principles outlines in the Queensland Framework for Practice:

Return Home from Care Framework Framework for Practice
Child at the centre. We always focus on safety, belonging and wellbeing.

Child centred timescales.

We are rigorous and hopeful in our search for strengths and solutions.

Promoting the child’s emotional wellbeing.

We always focus on safety, belonging and wellbeing.

Respectful engagement with families.

We build collaborative working relationships and use our authority respectfully and thoughtfully.
Understanding diversity. We recognise that cultural knowledge and understanding is central to children’s safety, belonging and wellbeing.

The importance of support for parents and children before and after the return home.

We build and strengthen networks to increase safety and support for children, young people and families.


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