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Use clear and understandable language about permanency when speaking with parents or family members. How permanency planning is discussed and explained to relevant stakeholders (parents, carers and children) is an important practice consideration and skill.

Research suggests that stakeholders involved in the child protection system are confused and have little understanding of what permanency means or understand it incorrectly. The term ‘permanency’ can be very confusing for clients and staff, and can be a barrier to effective, collaborative work.

Creating shared understanding involves many conversations and ‘moments’. It is never completed in one conversation.

When talking about permanency:

  • use simple language rather than jargon
  • talk about relational, physical and legal permanence (in terms they will understand)
  • allow sufficient time to discuss the three dimensions (of relational, physical and legal permanence)
  • regularly check and double-check understanding with parents
  • ask family members what is particularly important to them. (This will differ between families.)

When engaging with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander families regarding significant decisions, the parent has a right to be supported by an independent person. Permanency planning and decisions regarding permanency for a child are considered significant decisions.

An independent person can support an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander parent in order to optimise their participation in decision-making processes. The independent person is chosen by the parent. The parent also has the right to decide not to have an independent person involved.

You may find the following questions useful to ask parents when talking about concurrent planning and permanency:

  • We are all working to see your child returned to your care. If that can’t happen, what would you like to see happen?
  • Just in case you can’t look after your child in future, what has been your plan?
  • Have you ever thought about who you would want to look after your child if you can’t?
  • What does stability mean to you in relation to your child?
  • Who is important to your child? Who would you like to see in your child’s life? Why are they important? Who keeps your child connected to their culture?
  • What is the best way for your child to feel a sense of belonging and being loved?
  • What is the best way to involve you in planning for your child’s stability and security needs?
  • In planning for your child in both the short term and long term, what do you consider he/she needs?
  • How do you think these needs can be best met?

Family Finding has a list of questions that you can use to assist with finding naturally connected networks.

CSOs can also be concerned that when speaking about concurrent planning with parents that this will damage the relationship built or they find that parents do not want to talk about alternative plans.

Further reading

For additional information concurrent planning, see the practice kit Permanency: Case planning.

Communication and structured decision making

The SDM tools can be used to share information with families in a way that helps achieve a shared understanding of the child protection concerns. For example, in the safety assessment, the worry statement that is written about a child entering care is written from the specific items selected on the safety assessment. Each of these worry statements and immediate harm indicators are shared with the parents and the network. They are then turned into goal statements which creates clear statements for everyone involved of what safety looks like for the child.

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