Protecting children’s rights to grow up in family, community and culture.
Active efforts in prevention
The concept of active efforts is a useful framework in prevention and early intervention with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, and in terms of specific actions to maintain or reunite children with their families.
For practitioners who work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, active efforts may include:
- conducting a culturally safe, comprehensive assessment of a child’s and family’s needs and circumstances, with a focus on family preservation (or reunification) as the most desirable goal
- identifying and providing an integrated service response covering the full range of a child’s and family’s needs
- identifying and using alternative referral pathways at notification and intake—including to Aboriginal community controlled organisations—to divert children and families away from further child protection involvement
- ensuring children and families are actively helped to access the necessary services.
Build trusting relationships and partnerships with families
In establishing effective and supportive relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families:
- be patient and persistent in establishing initial engagement. Developing a relationship that is built on mutual trust takes time. Don’t expect it to happen immediately. At times you will need to be very patient and persistent in building a relationship with the family and community
- engage with purpose. It is important to make it clear to families why you are wanting to engage with them. Be clear as to what your role is and what the worries are, right from the beginning. Building an effective supportive relationship with the family requires you to let them know and demonstrate that you are there to work with them to build on their strengths and address the worries about their capacity to care for their children
- learn from others. Learning from engagement ideas that work for others and planning your strategies will ensure that you are building on a solid base of proven approaches.
Refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services
Ensure families have access to a full range of culturally appropriate early childhood, education, health (and other) supports and social services. Match the supports to the child’s and family’s needs.
Be proactive in linking families to the right services as challenges arise, and consider referrals to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Wellbeing Services and/or the Family Participation Program. Connecting families to these organisations will ensure that the family’s needs will be addressed in a culturally safe and acceptable holistic way.
Be mindful to match the family to the right service based on its needs and goals. The below table provides a two-step process for this:
What supports does the family need?(established through assessment)
|Can this be provided without referral?|
|What services and informal supports are available in the community?||Are the available supports culturally acceptable for the family?|
|Is the family willing to be referred to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Wellbeing Service and/or a Family Participation Program service?|
|Make the referral in a timely manner, ensuring all necessary information is provided to the service.||
Asist the family to make and keep appointments.
|Explain the other service options to the family.||Advocate with the available services to provide support and recognise the cultural needs of the family and child.|
|Ensure the referral to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Wellbeing Service and/or a Family Participation Program service is timely thorough and clear.|
One of the most significant challenges can be finding a service that is culturally safe for and acceptable to the family. Do not assume that just because the family is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander that an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander organisation in the area is going to be appropriate. Have a discussion with the family about their options and let them guide the decision to refer and about which service to refer to.
Non-Indigenous agencies need to develop effective working relationships with local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities to ensure they are able to support the family and child/young person.
- Develop a list of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander organisations in your area. Include on the list the following information:
- name, location, contact phone/email and name of key contact person
- what services they provide
- their referral process
- any special considerations. (Do they have the support of the community? Are they respected in the community?)
- Develop a list of non-Indigenous agencies that have a demonstrated ability to work with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Include on the list the following information:
- name, location, contact phone/email and name of key contact person
- what services they provide
- their referral process
- any special considerations (Do they have the support of the community? Are they respected in the community? Do they have an established relationship with the community?)
- whether they have a ‘Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ policy/procedure.
Create genuine partnerships
More than consultation
Form genuine partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community representatives and facilitate their participation in decision making across the child protection continuum. Consultation alone is not enough.
Commit to genuine partnerships between with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander non-government organisations.
SNAICC (2019), identifies the following key strategies for building and maintaining genuine partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations:
Build your and your organisation’s cultural competence
It is the responsibility of every Child Safety officer to develop their own culturally competent professional practice.
Remember: Developing cultural competence is a continuous learning journey, not a destination. It requires a change in attitudes and practices through which individuals and organisations demonstrate genuine respect and value for a culture that is not their own. (SNAICC, 2019)
It is important for practitioners to build their cultural capability. They should seek the advice of cultural practice advisors, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practice leaders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and community representatives, and listen to and respect their knowledge of culture and community.
Build respectful relationships
Spend time building respectful relationships of trust with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations.
Take the time to connect and build genuine partnerships with people from the community and community organisations. This involves making phone calls and dropping in to say hello on a regular basis—not just when the need arises. It is respectful practice to spend time with people and genuinely listen to their stories. When advice is given or knowledge is shared with you, be respectful about how you share that. (SNAICC, 2019)
Listen to and learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to determine how you can help build capacity for community-led responses.
Understand the existing community strengths and needs.
Good partnership means not duplicating or competing with existing programs, but rather working with and enhancing them. (SNAICC, 2019)
Establish the processes required for effective and sustainable partnerships
Practitioners need to pay careful attention to issues of control and power imbalance.
In many cases, and often for reasons relating to histories and continuing realities of discrimination, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parties have been disadvantaged in partnership arrangements. (SNAICC, 2019)
Senior team leaders play an important role in ensuring practitioners partner well. They should regularly check that practitioners are involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community representatives and organisations in decision-making processes—from the earliest possible opportunity.
Show initiative—don’t just rely on one form of communication. Using a combination of methods to engage the family and community demonstrates to them that you are genuine in wanting to work with them in a way that works for them.
Do not stop after just one attempt to contact. Like all families, the ones you are trying to work with will have many competing priorities (such as cultural responsibilities, housing and finances). Returning a call to Child Safety may not be on the top of their list.
Active efforts in placement
Active efforts in placement could include:
- ensuring all decisions are made with the child/young person’s and family’s participation
- involving the child’s independent person in supporting the family in decision making
- ensuring families are given every opportunity to participate in placement decisions
- making arrangements in partnership with children and families for an independent person to support the child’s and family’s participation in decisions about where and with whom the child will live
- making thorough efforts with the family and network to develop clear, culturally connected placement options
- accepting the family’s definition of what and who kin is to them
- assessing placement options in order of hierarchy (and recording the assessment and attempts)
- ensuring siblings are placed together or as close geographically as possible to ensure their connection can continue. Sibling co-placement provides a sense of stability and is essential to maintaining familial, community and cultural connection
- providing support to kinship carers in the same manner you would a general foster carer.
Placement decision making should be underpinned by a thorough understanding of the individual child/young person’s needs and an understanding that ‘culture and safety are in act mutually complimentary—culture contributes to safety and wellbeing.’ (SNAICC, 2019.)
For more information, refer to the practice kit: Care arrangements—Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Identifying a suitable placement
If it is assessed that it is unsafe for a child to live at home, the parents are the first point of contact to discuss who they believe should care for and keep their child safe.
- In an emergency situation, to secure the safety of a child, a placement decision may be made without involvement of an independent person. However, even in emergency situations, all efforts should be made to partner with the parents and family for guidance as to their preferred placement option.
- All non-urgent placement decisions must include the child/young person (where appropriate), parents and, with parental agreement, the extended family, the independent person, significant Elders and family or community members as nominated by the child and family.
- With the agreement of the parents, a family-led decision making process may be facilitated by the Family Participation Program or Collaborative Family Decision Making program, to assist in the identification of placement options and in decision making about placement.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will often have significant Elders, extended family and other people from their community who play an important role in supporting them and ensuring their child’s safety and wellbeing. The parents should be provided with the opportunity to speak to these significant people as a family unit or community, prior to significant decision-making processes in relation to the child. This can assist the parents and family in developing placement options that best align with the cultural needs of the child and the family.
When considering placing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, practitioners have both cultural staff and resources available to assist in engaging with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander families. These include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practice leaders, cultural practice advisers, other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Safety staff, and practice resources such as Culturally Capable Behaviours.
There are also Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander services who have a specific focus on the support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. These include Family Wellbeing Services, the Family Participation Program, domestic violence services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Services, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Drug and Alcohol services.
These people and organisations may be able to assist Child Safety staff to engage with the family and community. They may also provide broader cultural advice to support staff in integrating the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle into their work.
Assessment process for potential carers
When considering family or community members as possible carers for a child, explain the assessment and approval process to the potential carer and the child’s family.
It is important to be open with the potential carer that the assessment and approval process will include a criminal history check. There may be an element of shame for them about their criminal history, which may put up an automatic barrier in relation to their willingness to be considered as a carer for the child if the process is not explained correctly.
Explain that having a criminal history in itself will not automatically exclude someone from caring for a child, and the carer applicant will have the opportunity to respond to and explain minor or historic offences (if there are any).
The Queensland Government (Blue Card Services) has produced a Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to keep kids safe video. Practitioners can show this video to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families/community members to explain the Blue Card system.
The Placement Services Unit/Service in your region can assist with advice on screening and approval processes.
Cultural considerations in placement
The SNAICC (2013) resource Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Cultural Needs describes some of the important cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The following cultural needs diagram from this resource provides a starting point for understanding what the cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are.
Assessments of a child/young person’s cultural needs should be led:
- firstly and mainly by the child/young person’s immediate family, who should always be considered the cultural experts for their family
- secondly (with the family’s permission) in partnership with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community controlled organisations.
Supporting identification and assessment of kinship placements
Supporting the family and their network in identifying kinship placements is key to ensuring that a child/young person remains in family, community and culture. It also ensures the first item in the placement hierarchy is met. A good way to undertake this task is through family mapping.
Identification of potential kinship carers is only the first step in the processes. It is also important to assess the capacity of these potential carers to provide a safe and supportive environment that nurtures the child/young person’s cultural connections and identity.
Assessments should be conducted in a culturally safe and timely manner. Timely assessment of potential carers at the top of the placement hierarchy is vital to ensuring that children are placed within family, community and culture.
Connect with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander workers who may have an existing understanding of the capacity of a potential carer family, including knowledge of the potential carer’s childhood and family history, as well as the quality of the relationship the child has with the potential carer.
As a result, they may be well placed to help identify and mitigate any possible risks that might exist. Undertaking this step could prevent you having to ask the family questions which might cause embarrassment or ‘shame’.
Where possible, undertake assessments with culturally safe practices and tools. This may mean you need to adapt an appropriate communication style—avoiding closed, intrusive questions in favour of storytelling techniques and open-ended questions. Creating a culturally safe space and questioning approach opens the door to the potential carer feeling that they can trust you, which means they are more likely to speak openly. Employ active listening techniques and use plain English (everyday words, with no jargon) to gather information on their strengths and capacities.
Reviewing the child’s placement
When an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is placed with a carer who is non-Indigenous, there must be continued attempts to locate a placement that complies with the legislative principles for placement.
If the placement continues due to there not being more appropriate options available, ensure the child’s cultural needs are met in relation to their connection to family and country and record this in their case and cultural plan. Considerations include:
- How often does the child spend time connecting with their parents, siblings, extended family and kin, regardless of where they are located?
- How often is the child given opportunities to connect with the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community where they are currently living, if this is outside of their own community?
- In what ways is the child given opportunities to participate in cultural programs and events that are held in the local community and surrounding areas?
- Does the child attend their local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Medical Health Service and what are the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Service community services and programs the child could access?
- Have the child’s care needs changed, or have the circumstances of family members changed, meaning they may now be available to care for a child when previously they weren’t able to?
When considering the appropriate long-term placement options for a child, make sure the carer has the necessary supports in place to develop or retain and nurture the child’s connection to kin, culture and community. If they don’t, work out how Child Safety can provide additional support.
Note: Following the making of a child protection order granting long-term guardianship to a suitable person or a permanent care order, the guardian assumes full responsibility for identifying and responding to the child’s cultural needs on an ongoing basis. The guardian may be eligible for financial assistance in some circumstances, to meet the child’s cultural needs.
All options, in line with the five elements of the child placement principle and the legislated priority of placement (Child Protection Act 1999, section 83(4–8)), must be fully explored with the family, the child (where appropriate) and the safety and support network prior to deciding on a long-term placement and seeking long-term child protection orders.
- make ongoing active efforts to identify kin for family arrangements or formal placements
- have quality cultural support plans that outline how Child Safety, family and carers will support children in maintaining their connection to family, community and culture
- regularly review placement options if cultural support plans are not being implemented
- (if the child has not been placed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family or carers) regularly review appropriate placement options until permanency is achieved.
‘Indigenous children raised in their community may have attachment bonds with one or more adults. Yet in OOHC [out-of-home care], stability of attachment relationships with primary carers are given priority. Certainly, Indigenous children in care need strong, ongoing attachments to their primary carers. However, their family of origin relationships should also be preserved and strengthened. Placement stability must be coupled with stability in birth family relationships, culture, and identity.’
(Krakouer, Wise & Connolly, 2018)
Active efforts in participation
Active efforts to support and ensure true participation could include:
- meaningfully including families in decision making
- establishing trust and rapport with children/young people and families
- employing a non-judgemental approach
- allowing families time to understand and react to identified worries
- allowing for family time
- focusing on the strengths and supports the family has and can grow in order to create/maintain safety, wellbeing, family and cultural connections.
- being willing to work with the broader family—not just the parents and children/young people
- allowing the family to identify suitable people from the community who can provide support and cultural guidance.
- being aware of and allowing time for the process and cultural protocols
- considering if a yarning circle would be appropriate for the process
- being guided by the family as to who should/should not be included in the process
- always seeking approval from the immediate family before bringing others into the process
- taking time at the beginning of meetings to acknowledge culture (acknowledging traditional owners). This helps to create a respectful and culturally safe space
- being clear on why people are involved and how they can support the child/young person
- staying focused on keeping children safe and connected to family, community and culture
- keeping meetings focused on problem solving and goal setting that is in the best interests of the child/young person. Avoid blaming/shaming.
Ensure children, parents and family members participate in decisions regarding the care and protection of their children. To do this:
- Draw on family knowledge of culture, strengths and risks. Acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and young people are best placed to provide advice with respect to their culture and the strengths and risks that exist in their own families and communities
- Use family-led decision making processes to enable children (when age appropriate) and families to participate in case planning and decision-making processes. Use services such as the Family Participation Program and assist the child and family to identify and nominate an independent person
- Encourage advocacy and legal representation. Refer families to appropriate legal services if available or arrange for appropriate advocacy to support the participation of children in decision making.
- Find and include kin and community members and widen the circles of safety and support
Active efforts in connection
This is about maintaining and supporting connections to family, community, culture, traditions and language for children and young people in care. To achieve this:
- Place children with kin within their existing community wherever possible and make active efforts to ensure ongoing connections.
- Consider reconnection and reunification options early and review them regularly.
- Develop, in partnership with the family and the child, a meaningful cultural support plan for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and ensure it is implemented and reviewed on a regular basis.
- Ensure carers understand they have a role in maintaining cultural, community and family connections for children, and clearly outline their responsibilities.
‘Cultural connection is fundamental to Indigenous identity and wellbeing, but requires family connection if it is to be fostered and strengthened.’
(Krakouer, Wise & Connolly, 2018)
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