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Engaging with children about permanency

Practice prompt

Every child is unique and individual. Consider this when working out how to engage with that individual child.

There are many strategies that practitioners can use to engage with children when speaking about permanency.

  • Get down to the child’s level. This may be the floor.
  • Break down language or jargon into words and questions the child can understand.
  • Include breaks and check-ins with the child.
  • Use opportunities (like transporting a child) to communicate.
  • Allow the child to look away, fidget, wiggle, be under a table, and so on. It does not matter as long as they are participating.
  • Take note of what works for the child and do more of it.
  • Incorporate playfulness and fun wherever possible.
  • Consider the setting. Sometimes these can be chaotic. Can you move outside? How do you make the best of the chaos?
  • Use tools such as puppets, play doh, paper and pens.

The following are some conversation prompts to help start discussions with children about the three dimensions of permanency: relational, physical and legal.

Relational permanency

Speak with the child about who is important to them. Use information from ICMS, other stakeholders and professionals to prompt the child. In the earlier stages of working with a child, ask questions such as:

  • Who is part of your family?
  • Who are your siblings?
  • Who do you see often?
  • Tell me about times when you have slept over at someone else’s house.
  • Tell me about some people you know who make you laugh.
  • Who would you like to live with if you can’t stay with Mum or Dad?

When exploring long term care decisions, ask:

  • Who would you most like to live with?
  • If you can’t live there, who else would you like to live with?
  • Who are the people you feel close to?
  • Who are the people who help you feel safe?

Physical permanency

A large amount of information about a child’s physical permanency will come from family and other professionals. Children will also have some of this information. If there are gaps, consider if it is appropriate to ask the child. In the early stages, ask questions such as:

  • Do you remember going to the doctor? Tell me about that. Where did you go?
  • Tell me about when you went to your other school.
  • Have you ever played a sport? Tell me about that.
  • Where have you lived? Is there a place you feel you belong?
  • Are there places that are important to your culture?

When exploring long term care decisions, ask:

  • How do you feel about the place you are living now?
  • Is there a place you would like to live or spend time visiting?
  • What is the community/town/neighbourhood you live in like?
  • Are there places you have lived or visited before that are important to you?

Legal permanency

Depending on the age of a child, legal permanency may be difficult to explain to a child. Provide relevant and age appropriate material where available, for example, the permanent care order handouts (information for children and young people, information for parents, information for proposed guardians) and the long-term guardianship order handouts (information for carers, information for children and young people, information for parents).

Some questions that may help an older child explore legal permanency include:

  • If you can’t go home to Mum or Dad, who would you like to live with?
  • Who would you like to make the big decisions in your life? Like where you go to school, and medical decisions?
  • A guardian is your legal parent. Who would you like to take legal responsibility for you and make decisions or give permission?

If a child is too young to understand the legal permanency decision, record this in the case plan. It can then be reconsidered at each case plan review and discussed with the child when it is appropriate. Include the safety and support network members, as there may be other suitable people better placed to speak with the child.


There are tools to assist with engaging with children, gathering information and seeking their views.

The Three Houses Tool is good for the collaborative assessment process and for learning about the child’s safety and danger areas. The hopes and dreams section of the house can give information about a child’s views on their relational and physical permanency.

The Safety House Tool is good for safety planning as well as for learning about the child’s safety and danger areas. Having an understanding of those safety and danger areas can contribute to permanency planning.

The Immediate Story is good for helping children to understand the moments and early days following statutory intervention. It can also be used to explain to a child what is going to happen and how permanency planning occurs with their involvement, and to explain a permanent change.

Circles of Safety and Support is a good tool for understanding relational permanency and identify who are important people in the child’s life. This tool can also show gaps in a child’s relational permanency.

The Future House can be used to help a child to think about their future and what their wishes may be regarding their relational, physical and legal permanency.

Life story work is good for recording relational and physical permanency through a child’s care experience.

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