ACWA’s Response to Immediate and Short Term Placements in OOHC Options Paper
Definitions of Immediate and Short Term Placements
The following definitions are the result of research into immediate and short term care and initial consultations with ACWA members. The definitions outlined below reflect ACWA’s view that out-of-home care placements should be defined by the need for placement stability rather than length of stay. Specifying a time limit on placements inherently introduces the need for a placement change. This is not in the best interests of the child or young person because caregiver disruption can have a behavioural and physiological impact (Carlson, Sampson and Srofe, 2003).
Although placement changes may sometimes be necessary, the out-of-home care sector must design and employ systems to support best practice and therefore plan for a child to remain in the same placement throughout their time in care. This means that flexibility is required to provide a placement with a caregiver who is able to offer stability for the child, at least until Final Orders. If this is not possible in some cases, like a placement breakdown, then the next best situation is for the child to remain with the same agency for continuity of caseworker and other services.
Placements need to be defined by the legal status of the child as well as the planned permanency outcome: restoration, guardianship, adoption or parental responsibility to the Minister.1 Although immediate, short term and long term placements can be provided by the same carer throughout a child’s experience of out-of-home care, understanding the different work at various points in children’s experience and development is crucial. These considerations are integral to best practice case planning so there is a need to frame the discussion around placements (Cheers, 2013). In addition, the needs of the child pertaining to which population group they fall into must be considered: new entrants into out-of-home care, re-entries into out-of-home care, placement breakdowns and those under Final Orders (see Appendix 1).
Definition of immediate placements:
When planned intervention is not possible, an Immediate Placement is a safe placement for new entrants, re-entries into care and those who have experienced a placement breakdown. These groups are not typically under Final Orders and the permanency outcome may be unclear at this stage. These placements need to be found with a short time to prepare because of the ‘immediacy’ of the need.
Best practice dictates that planned intervention is preferable. It is preferable that the child or young person is found a well-matched placement and, if already in out-of-home care, within the same organisation for continuity of caseworker and services. Therefore, a planned intervention must be sought where possible.
There are key components of effective immediate placements, which help to provide the best outcomes when a planned intervention in not possible. One key component is the requirement for providers to give a response within a set timeframe. Agencies also need have the expertise
and resources to complete necessary assessments and case planning as soon as possible to support the child’s needs.
The support carers receive to respond to the distress, disorientation and rejection felt by the child following entry into care or placement breakdown is also essential. Providing the same carer for the duration of the immediate/short term placement without a transfer during Interim Orders requires strong carer support and training.
Another key component is Community Services’ responsibility to provide a comprehensive Client Information Form as soon as possible to inform placement matching. Availability of the necessary information concerning a child enables caseworkers to best support the child and caregiver.
Definition of short-term placements:
A Short Term Placement is a safe placement with a caregiver that can provide stability after experiences of recent trauma and/or disruption and during the court process. This placement should be available for the duration of Interim Orders so one consistent caregiver is maintained throughout the court process.
Stability at this stage is crucial as placements are more vulnerable to change during the first 1 to 2 years (Cashmore, 2002). This type of placement involves intensive work to assess the child to begin restoration or other types of permanency planning. As part of this, Fernandez (2013) explains that “significant planning is needed to establish, monitor and increase contract arrangements from the onset of placement” when restoration is the planned placement outcome. This requires caseworker and carer training for strong skills in working with biological parents to facilitate contact and support the family relationships. The work will also be intensive for the caseworker and carer because of the particular needs of these children due to their legal status and trauma-related behaviour.
ACWA thanks Community Services for the opportunity to engage with the issues that affect children and young people who enter immediate and short term placements. ACWA wishes to continue to work with the sector to develop a service model that will best meet the needs of children and young people in out-of-home care.
Carlson, E.A., Sampson, M.C., and Sroufe, L.A. (2003). Implications of attachment theory and research for developmental-behavioural pediatrics. Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics, 24 (5), 364-394.
Cashmore, J. (2002). What research tells us. Permanency planning, adoption and foster care. Children Australia, 25 (4), 17-22.
Cheers, D. (2013) Connecting Legal Status, Purpose of Placement and Immediate Care (for children on Interim Orders of the Children’s Court)
Fernandez, E. (2013) Accomplishing Permanency: Reunification Pathways and Outcomes for Foster Children (Springer Briefs in Well-Being and Quality of Life Research).
Wendy Foote, Deputy CEO
Locked Bag 13, Haymarket Post Officer, NSW 1240
Phone: 0292818822 Email: email@example.com
Effective casework along with carer training and support is crucial to a successful placement. As well as understanding the legal status and planned permanency outcome for a child, those involved in placing the child must be aware of the experiences of the child. There are a number of different population groups that may need an immediate or short term placement.
Population 1: New entrants into out-of-home care
The legal status of a new entrant and their recent separation needs to inform case planning for this group. The time when children initially enter care is crucial for restoration work in terms of child and family support as well as evidence gathering for the court. These children require a stable placement for the duration of the court process.
Population 2: Re-entries into out-of-home care
Those children and young people who are re-entries into out-of-home care will demand a specific response informed by their case history. Final Orders may be sought quicker for these children, depending on the information held.
Population 3: Placement Breakdowns
The instability caused by a transition between placements after a breakdown, requires specific support and therapeutic input.
Population 4: Final Orders
The other group is those children who are under Final Orders and, where restoration has not been possible, or need to find another form of permanency. The support and care provided should help prepare them for the planned permanency outcome.
These distinctions are drawn because it is vital in planning a model to acknowledge the different types of care that these population groups require. Most difference lies between Population 4 under Final Orders and the other population groups. Any model for immediate and short term placements needs to account for these different populations because they will require different inputs with varying levels of cost. Data on these groups can also inform carer recruitment within the sector.