Step by Step NSW 2023—Assessing suitability to care for Aboriginal children in foster care

Change in the 2023 edition

The 2023 version of the Step by Step NSW Foster Carer Assessment Tool will now require all foster care applicants to be assessed for their suitability to care for Aboriginal children. In the previous version of Step by Step NSW, this was optional.

Improving cultural safety of children in care

This change has been made to improve the cultural safety of Aboriginal children who are in foster care. ACWA is committed to supporting best practice of placing Aboriginal children with Aboriginal carers and to working with the sector to grow the capability of Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations so that this can occur.  However, while there is still a need to place Aboriginal children with non-Aboriginal carers, we need to ensure that those carers have been assessed as suitable to meet the cultural needs and safety of the child.

In order to demonstrate their suitability to care for Aboriginal children, carers are required to have links with Aboriginal people and communities. Currently, many Aboriginal children are placed with non-Aboriginal foster carers who have yet to develop these links and may not have strong cultural awareness and knowledge.

To address this gap, Step by Step NSW 2023 provides an additional option when assessing an applicant’s Aboriginal cultural awareness and knowledge. Those carer applicants who do ‘not yet’ meet all the competencies can still be authorised as a carer but are unable to have an Aboriginal child placed with them (other than respite) until they have been assessed as meeting this competency. Where this is the case, the agency is prompted to plan how it can actively support newly-authorised carers to form connections with Aboriginal people and communities. Progress towards meeting this requirement should be considered in their carer reviews until they have demonstrated competency. Developing their carers’ cultural awareness and safety is already standard practice in many agencies, consistent with requirements for the sector to embed the recommendations of the Family is Culture Review Report and the principles of the Aboriginal Case Management Policy into their practice. This change to Step by Step further enhances agencies’ commitment to ensuring that Aboriginal children’s connections to culture and community are maintained.

Conducting assessments of Aboriginal knowledge and understanding

The position of Step by Step NSW 2023 continues to be that best practice when assessing capacity to provide culturally safe care for Aboriginal children, is that Aboriginal assessors should conduct the full assessment and Aboriginal people are integral members of panels that make decisions to authorise carers.

AbSec and Aboriginal agencies consulted when this position was developed in 2010, and when developing the 2016 Step by Step version, did recognise that resource limitations prevented non-Aboriginal agencies being able to adopt best practice in all assessments. It was determined in those consultations that Step by Step assessment of suitability to care for Aboriginal children could proceed with a non-Aboriginal assessor under the guidance of an Aboriginal advisor.

Step by Step NSW 2023 now provides additional guidance where Aboriginal assessors and panel members are not involved in the assessment and authorisation process. There is a requirement that all assessors and panel members should have undertaken current cultural awareness training and that Aboriginal cultural advisors must always be consulted to assist non-Aboriginal assessors.

While this is the practice of many agencies, some non-Aboriginal agencies may need to ensure that their non-Aboriginal assessors undertake cultural awareness training within the required timeframe, outlined below. Some non-Aboriginal agencies may need to develop more connections with Aboriginal Advisors, who should be Aboriginal people from the local community within which the agency works.

Implications for agencies using Step by Step 2023 Foster Carer Assessment Tool

  1. All assessors and panel members must attend current cultural awareness training by 1st January 2024.
  2. All agencies must consider how to increase their pool of Aboriginal assessors.
  3. All agencies must consider how to increase their pool of Aboriginal advisors.
  4. All agencies must consider how they support newly authorised carers to form connections with Aboriginal people and communities.

For information about Step by Step NSW 2023 Foster Care Assessment Tool, contact Tracie Fleming, Louise Mulroney or Jo Roach, at