We must make active efforts to implement the five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principle in all our work. This means ensuring all of our engagements are affirmative, active, thorough and timely.
Indeed, the importance of family, culture, and community has been reiterated by Indigenous young people in care. We would argue that culture, family, and identity are components of stability for Indigenous children that are every bit as important as placement stability with a primary carer. (Krakouer, Wise, & Connolly, 2018).
The 2019 SNAICC resource The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: A Guide to Support Implementation provides guidelines for implementing and embedding the elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principle into our everyday work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principle aims to:
- ensure an understanding that culture underpins and is integral to safety and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and is embedded in policy and practice
- recognise and protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, family members and communities in child safety matters
- increase the level of self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in child safety matters
- reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in child protection and out-of-home care systems. (SNAICC, 2019)
Protecting children’s rights to grow up in family, community and culture by redressing causes of child protection intervention.
The first element of the ATSICPP [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle] is the most critically important for minimising child protection involvement and upholding the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to grow up within their own family and community. The Prevention element encompasses:
- primary prevention activities that improve the health and wellbeing of children, families and communities
- early intervention or secondary level activities that provide family support services for children and families who are experiencing vulnerabilities or facing personal or social barriers in meeting their needs
- tertiary or statutory intervention for children and families where maltreatment has been identified and aims to prevent it re-occurring, and promote preservation and restoration/reunification.
This is not just the responsibility of Child Safety, but all government agencies that interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, children and the community as a whole.
For practitioners, the focus needs to be on putting in place supports that enable children to remain safely at home or to be reunified with their parents.
Ensuring the participation of community representatives in service design, delivery and individual case decisions
Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations need to be developed through active efforts and a shared commitment to building deeper, respectful and more genuine relationships. (SNAICC, 2019)
It is important that Child Safety develops collaborative working relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. These relationships need to include a strategy for effective communication.
Arnstein’s (1969) participation continuum (below) shows how ‘Genuine partnership requires more than consultation and tokenistic efforts … it requires a shift in the power dynamics’ (SNAICC, 2019).
‘Too many white Australians think the door opens to opportunity from the outside, when you’ve got to be let into the door from the inside’.
Noel Pearson, Aboriginal activist, as quoted in The Australian, 7 May 2015. (Bita, 2015)
Placing children in out-of-home care in accordance with the established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle placement hierarchy.
When a Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is not able to remain safely at home and a placement is required, practitioners must consider the placement hierarchy, as outlined in the Child Protection Act, section 83, to ensure a child in care is able to maintain the highest level of connection possible to their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family, community, country and culture. The decision-makers need to exhaust all possible options at one level of the hierarchy before considering the next.
The placement hierarchy as outlined in Child Protection Act, section 83 involves placing the child, in order of priority, with:
- a member of the child’s family group. All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children/young people must, if practicable, be placed with a member of their family groups
- a member of the child’s community or language group, if it is not practicable or possible to keep the child in close geographical proximity to immediate family
- an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person who is compatible with the child’s community or language group
- another Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person
- a person who lives near the child’s family, community or language group who has a demonstrated capacity for ensuring the child’s continuity of connection to kin, country and culture.
Note: Only if the options 1 and 2 are not available should options 3, 4 and 5 be considered. Placement with a non-Indigenous carer should only be considered as a last resort, and the non-Indigenous carer should (as stated above) be one who lives near the child/young person’s family, community or language group and has demonstrated capacity for ensuring the child’s continuity of connection to kin, country and culture.
Additionally, all placements should be undertaken with the full involvement of the child/young person’s family and where appropriate, community representatives. We need to demonstrate that all efforts have been made to ensure the child/young person remains with family/community and in culture.
When an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is placed with a carer who is not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, it is important for practitioners to continue, in partnership with the placement agency, to regularly review the child’s placement and continue to attempt to arrange a placement for the child within their family, community or language group, in accordance with the placement hierarchy.
Prior to placing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child with a carer who is not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, ensure that the child’s proposed carer is committed to:
- facilitating connection between the child and their family members
- helping the child to develop and maintain a connection with their community and language group
- helping to maintain a connection with their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander culture
- preserving and enhancing the child’s sense of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander identity
- implementing any actions required of the carer within the child’s cultural support plan.
Placement as a significant decision and the role of the independent person
Placement of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child is considered to be a significant decision and the child and parents must be given the opportunity to have an independent Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander entity (known as an independent person) to facilitate their participation in any decision made about the child’s placement.
This is unless:
- the placement is made in an emergency and it is not practicable to include the independent person
- arranging an independent person is likely to have a significant adverse effect on the safety or emotional wellbeing of the child or another person
- it is not in the child’s best interest.
Ensuring the participation of children, parents and family members in decisions regarding the care and protection of their children.
It is important to ensure that all children, young people, parents and family members have the opportunity to participate in all decisions affecting them. This is based on the principle that families have the best knowledge about what does and does not work for them.
Children should be encouraged to participate in decision-making processes and be kept informed of matters affecting them, giving consideration to their age, developmental stage and any other factors that may affect their ability to participate. The child’s independent person may assist them to have their voice heard.
Involving family members in decision making can assist to widen circles of safety and support for parents and children, identify placement options with family and community, and ensure families take responsibility for plans of their own making to address safety concerns (SNAICC, 2019).
It is the responsibility of practitioners to encourage and support the participation of children/young people, their parents and other family members in all decision-making processes to ensure that significant decisions take into account the family’s expert knowledge and their views and preferences.
‘Decisions in which people are involved are more likely to be accepted and understood; families are more likely to take responsibility for issues and buy in to interventions decided upon. Involving family members reflects their important role in raising their children and increases the likelihood of and mechanisms for identifying supports and options to address care and protection issues. This is also a matter of procedural justice: in the administration of law, a fair procedure is one that affords those who are affected by a decision an opportunity to participate in the making of decisions.’
For practitioners to ensure they are upholding the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children/young people and families and ensuring true participation in decision making, they need to be:
- culturally competent
- willing and able to fully include the child/young person and their family in case planning
- able to ensure quality and culturally appropriate family decision-making processes are undertaken.
- able to value the voice of the child/young person, parents and extended family.
Maintaining and supporting connections to family, community, culture and country for children in out-of-home care.
The connection element maintains our focus on ensuring children who are in care are supported in maintaining or re-establishing their connection with family, kin, culture, country and community.
Protecting children’s rights to maintain cultural connection requires that:
- the appropriate legislative and policy frameworks are in place
- the placement hierarchy is respected and timely placements at the top end of the hierarchy are facilitated so that children are placed in homes where they maintain connection to culture and community
- when children are placed in care, that cultural plans are developed, resourced, implemented, monitored and reviewed for every child.
Cultural planning should start with and be guided by the child, family, kin and community.
[It should be] comprehensive and practical, specifying the activities that will support a child’s cultural connection, when they will happen, who will be responsible for ensuring they happen, and how they will be resourced.
For more information, refer to the cultural support plan part of this practice kit.
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