While there is limited capacity for the family to be involved in the decision about whether a notification is recorded, once that decision has been made, there are many opportunities for the child and family to be fully and meaningful involved throughout.
When planning an Investigation & Assessment (I&A) for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child, seek cultural advice from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff such as Cultural Practice Advisors and Practice Leaders or from a local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community representative (sharing non-identifying information).
From the point of allocation, start to plan and think about how to engage the child and family and increase their participation. This is the time to think about an independent person, and using a family led decision making process facilitated by the Family Participation Program (FPP). Get advice and support from the Cultural Practice Advisor and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff who can help you to prepare the most suitable approach and conversation with the family.
The Practice guide Culturally capable behaviours prompts cultural considerations in line with the five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle across all practice. Read the 'In all our practice' and 'Investigation and assessment' sections to reflect on whether your practice is culturally sound during I&A.
Conversations with families about having an independent person
During the first conversations with the child and their family, provide information to the child and their family on their right to have an independent person. This includes:
- how their independent person could help them participate in decision making
- how their independent person’s suitability will be considered
- how their independent person can facilitate the family’s participation in the development of an immediate safety plan, if required. (See the practice guide Safety assessment and planning.)
The simplest way to do this is to:
- provide the family with a copy of the Handout: Children and Families: Support for Children and Families to have their say in decisions or use the video
- engage the family in a conversation about the brochure and to talk about their understanding of having an independent person
- talk with the family about the requirement of Child Safety to ensure the suitability of the nominated independent person
- ask them if they have any questions
- learn more about:
- language and communication
- yarning with dignity and respect (refer to Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families).
Provide support to the child and their family to nominate an independent person, which might include helping them to approach a person and making practical arrangements for the person to be present.
The following is some suggested scripting that may be used to have discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families about the independent person and who in their family and network could be their independent person:
- 'I need to let you know that you have the right to have an Independent person. An independent person can help you to participate in meetings with Child Safety when decisions are being made. An independent person must be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person. Would you like more information about the role of an independent person?' (This would be a good opportunity to provide a copy of the brochure or show the video on the independent person).
- ‘Child Safety would like to hear from you what is best for you and your family’.
- ‘In your family, your child may have one independent person, mum may have an independent person for them and dad could chose to have his own independent person. You might decide to have just one person to represent all of you. How many and who they are is up to you’.
- ‘It is important that the independent person can help you express to Child Safety your family’s needs and circumstances. They also have a role to make sure specific cultural protocols are followed’.
- ‘An independent person can be someone who knows about your family’s current situation or understands your past and who you feel will make sure that your thoughts and feelings will be heard by Child Safety’.
- ‘It would be good for you to think about who might be the best people for you to have as an independent person. Can you think of a time when you have been struggling or facing challenges in your life and someone was able to support you?’
- ‘Who have been the people who have helped you through this?’
- ‘Who was able to give you some good advice?’
- ‘Who helped you get back on track?’
- ‘Who would you like to be sitting next to when you are talking with Child Safety so you can feel you have confidence to say what you want Child Safety to hear?’
- ‘Who are the people in your life that you feel most connected to, that you can involve in the process to make sure you are heard when you are talking with Child Safety?’
Examples of conversations to have with families regarding the nomination of the independent person
When the independent person does not live locally or cannot physically attend
Child Safety staff can offer a variety of ways for the independent person to still participate even if they cannot physically attend. Child Safety may also consider paying reasonable out of pocket travel and related costs. Alternatively, it may considered for the independent person to participate through skype, video conferencing or by telephone call. Even if the independent person does not have access to these mechanisms, they may be able to support the person with the help of a community organisation or their local Child Safety Service Centre who may be able to provide private rooms and compatible technology to assist them.
You could say to the family:
‘You can still choose an independent person who does not live nearby. If you do choose an independent person who is not living nearby, Child Safety can still help to work out a way to still have this person participate in the process.’
If a nominated person does not live within the local area or cannot physically attend, have a conversation with the person nominating them to see if they know of an organisation within their area that could provide the independent person with a room or compatible technology to help them to participate.
It may be useful to connect with Child Safety staff in the local area of the independent person to seek local guidance on ways that have worked well to support the independent person to participate.
When the child or family have nominated a person to be an independent person but they are neither an Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander person
Sometimes a person may want to nominate someone who is not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person to be their independent person. Because an independent person must be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, you will need to explore whether they have another person they can nominate or whether they would like the person they nominate to be a support person, potentially as well as having another independent person.
You could say to the family:
‘It is important that the independent person you choose is someone who can help you feel stronger and supported to make sure everything you wish to say is heard by Child Safety staff. The independent person also helps you to tell Child Safety about your culture, community and family support network and talk about any important personal or cultural factors that will help Child Safety to learn what is important to you and your family. One of the requirements for an independent person is that they are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. If the person you want to help you is not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person they can still be help you when you meet with Child Safety but they will be a support person.’
When the child or family do not have anyone in their family or network who can be the independent person for them
There will be times when the family would like to have an independent person but may not have anyone in their family or network that could undertake the role of independent person at this time. The Family Participation Program or Family Wellbeing Service may be offered to the family as services that have staff who the child or family can nominate as the independent person.
You could say to the family:
‘If you don’t have someone in your family or network that you feel could be your independent person we can help you get one through a service such as the Family Participation Program or Family Wellbeing Service.’
When the child or family want to nominate a staff member from a community organisation they are engaging with to be their independent person.
You could say to the family:
‘If you don’t have someone in your family or network that you feel could be your independent person, we can help you get one through a service such as the Family Participation Program or Family Wellbeing Service or from another Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander organisation you are currently engaging with that meets the requirements of the role of the independent person.’
When the child and family tell Child Safety they do not want to nominate an independent person.
There may be many reasons a child or family do not want to nominate an independent person. This could be as a result of disconnection from family, culture or community or it could be that they are experiencing a sense of ‘shame’ and do not want people they know to be aware of their involvement with Child Safety. Whatever their reason, Child Safety staff need to find a balance between providing the child and family with enough information to inform their decision not to nominate an independent person and honour their right to self-determination.
You could say to the family:
‘While I respect your decision and your right not to nominate an independent person, I also want to make sure that I provide you with information regarding an independent person just in case you change your mind and you decide you do want someone with you to help you make decisions about yourself/your child when you speak with Child Safety. I’ll leave the brochure here for you to look at and if you want to I can call you tomorrow or ask [Cultural Practice Advisor] to give you a call to help you with any questions you might have.’
When the family refused last time to nominate an independent person but are now at another significant decision making point
Remember that the family can have an independent person for all significant decisions. This means they have the right to choose whether they do or do not want an independent person when a decision needs to be made about a child. Also, they may want to choose the same person or a different person.
You could say to the family:
‘While I respect your decision and your right not to nominate an independent person, we have now reached another point where a significant decision needs to be made about you/your child. Is there an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person you know, who you thought would’ve been great to have with you in previous conversations with Child Safety? Do you feel you nominate this person to be your independent person and support you to participate in conversations with Child Safety?’
When Child Safety decide the nominated independent person is not suitable
Once the independent person has been nominated, Child Safety need to make sure they are an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person, knows about the child and family’s culture, is able to help the child and family have their say when making decisions with Child Safety and is a safe person to be the child and family’s independent person. Child Safety also need to ensure the child, family and other people are safe at all times and to be aware of, understand and manage any potential conflict of interests.
Tell the child and family if the person they nominated to be an independent person is not suitable to undertake the role. You cannot tell the child or family why.
‘As part of the process of nominating an independent person, Child Safety need to make sure the nominated independent person is safe for you and your and to make sure the person is able to manage the role of independent person as well as the other roles they may play in your life.
While we cannot discuss with you the reasons why due to privacy, at this time Child Safety consider [person’s name] to be not suitable for the role of the independent person.
If you are unhappy about this decision you area able to appeal this decision and I can provide you with information to the complaints management process.
Are we able to talk together about who else you feel you could nominate? Would it be helpful for you if we spoke about some of the suitability criteria? I can also do a referral for you to the Family Participation Program or Family Wellbeing Service.”
You could say to nominated independent person:
As part of the process of being a person who is nominated as an independent person, Child Safety need to make sure the nominated person is suitable to undertake the role and at this time Child Safety has considered you to be unsuitable and I’d like to have conversations with you about this. [Where possible, discuss the concerns clearly and respectfully with the person].’
When the person nominating an independent person changes their mind
Make sure to explore the person’s reasons in changing their mind so that you can understand as much as possible, still but respect if they don’t want to tell you why.
Talk with the person about the best way to go forward. Ask the person if they would like you to talk about this with the independent person first, or whether they need help from you to work out what they will say?
If the person wants you to tell them, document both conversations clearly – the one you have with the parent or child and the one you have with the independent person.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to remind the independent person that even though they aren’t continuing, they are still required to keep things confidential. As stated in the Child Protection Act 1999, an independent person is not allowed to tell anyone else what was talked about at a meeting or show anyone the child and family’s personal information. Telling or showing their information to another person is an offence and penalties apply.
For some families there will be many conversations between the practitioner and the child, parents and family around having an independent person. Each time a significant decision is being made check in with the family about who they want as their independent person. The child and family may choose the same person each time or have a different person or choose not have an independent person involved at all.
Things to share with families to help understand and involve independent person:
Child Safety’s role in supporting the independent person
Where possible, Child Safety staff should modify when, how and where they engage with the child, their family and their independent person to ensure the interaction is culturally safe, informed and optimises the child and family’s participation.
Staff must engage with the person or organisation who has been asked to be an independent person for a child and help them understand the role and obligations under the Act.
Staff must engage with the independent person for a child, and support them understand the role, obligations under the Act and other suitability considerations.
Use this video as resource which describes the role of the independent person to help explain the role to the nominated Independent person.
There are brochures available which provide a summary of the role of the independent person to the nominated Independent person, Independent person: Supporting children and families to have their say in decisions.
Confidentiality and sharing information
Explain to the independent person the obligations and purpose of the role, including the need for the independent person to abide with confidentiality requirements. This assists the independent person to make an informed decision about taking on the role.
The Child Protection Act 1999 makes provision for Child Safety and an independent person to share information with each other to help the independent person facilitate the child and their family’s participation in decision making, planning or provision of services.
Therefore, the independent person may be provided information in their role that is relevant, this may include information relevant to court proceedings, however it will be up to the family what conversations the independent person participates in and what documents they receive. As identified previously, the independent person will be bound by the confidentiality provisions of the Act.
Remember when sharing information it is not the independent person’s role to form an opinion or provide advice on the decision. Their role is to ensure that the family have all the information, support and opportunity they need to have their voice heard and participate meaningfully.
When sharing information with the independent person, make sure you do this in consultation with the person who they are supporting.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making and the Family participation program during the investigation and assessment
The Family Participation program (FPP) can support the family through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making process during an investigation and assessment. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making processes can help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families have their say, have their voice heard and take the lead in making decisions and developing plans for the child.
When it is likely that a child will be in need of protection, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making can help the family generate plans and strategies for keeping the child safe and well without the need for Child Safety intervention.
When working with a family through a family led decision making process, recognise and accept that while Child Safety still has statutory responsibilities and powers, we must allow the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making to occur in a way that the family have the lead in developing the plans and actions.
Child Safety may have non-negotiables or ‘bottom lines’ that relate to the safety of the child and to meet legislative responsibilities and obligations, however, it is up to the family to decide the steps that are taken.
Focus on the relationship and communication with the family, independent person and the facilitator. Be willing to work transparently and openly. Be clear about the concerns and worries and be eager and open to hear from and work with the family to find out what will work best for them to address these.
Remember that the process of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making process can be different to other decision making and planning processes. Use individual reflection, supervision and peers to think about your expectations and what you might need to do to be an ally to the process. Some differences may include:
- The way the agenda is set may vary and the discussion have a different flow.
- Child Safety are less likely to have the lead when things are discussed, allowing the family to talk first and giving staff time to listen more than talk.
- Child Safety might not be involved in all the discussions held – use of private family time can strengthen the family’s ability to generate ideas and plans about safety – be prepared to step out of the room during family time.
- The plan and the meeting might be recorded differently. During an I&A there won’t always be a case plan as the outcome. The family plan may be to address immediate safety, or ongoing safety and support.
- When it does come to case planning, make sure that all the components of the case plan are discussed in the process and be sure to include diagrams, stories or language used, with the family’s permission. Understand that case plans may look different and they are for the family in the way they have developed it.
While the purpose of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making (and all family led decision making) is for the family group to lead the planning, this does not mean Child Safety are passive in this process. Child Safety are active participants.
If there is something that is important to the safety, wellbeing and belonging of the child that has not been discussed, addressed or remains unclear, raise questions to clarify the information.
If a plan needs to be developed for the child to receive medical treatment, you could say to the family and meeting participants:
- ‘We haven’t talked about how mum and dad are going to get [child] to the doctor. It has been difficult in the past and [child] has not always been able to receive the treatment they’ve needed when they’ve been sick. Would we be able to talk a bit more about the best plan that will work for mum, dad and [child]?’
- ‘We have talked about a lot of ideas and options about how the safety and support network could help in relation to [goal]. I am a bit unclear about which of these ideas and options the child and family and everyone thinks is the best and should be included in the case plan. Can we discuss this further and also work about who is doing what and when – so we can all be clear about this and it can be captured in the case plan. What would be the best way to record this so it is really clear?’
Refer to Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to understand ways to engage and yarn respectfully with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
For more information about FPP and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making during the I&A phase, refer to the Practice guide: Family participation program: Timely referral during an investigation and assessment.
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