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Family preservation and restoration
A priority of the Permanency Support Program is keeping children safely together with their families wherever possible. We work to achieve this through early intervention and effective family support.
Providing early intervention activities and intensive support are ways that families with vulnerable children and young people can be preserved or restored.
Family preservation involves working with parents as early as possible and providing them with intensive support to help keep children and young people at home safely.
Restoration is reuniting a child or young person with their parents or kin whenever it is safe to do so. It is the preferred permanency option if a child or young person is placed in out-of-home care while their family is supported to strengthen their parenting.
Parent capacity orders and improved parent responsibility contracts are two options practitioners have to help parents develop the skills they need to care for their children. These are tools that can be used by parents to help keep their families together or restore them if their child is in out-of-home care.
Alternative dispute resolution
The Care Act provides a legal framework for using alternative dispute resolution in the child protection system.
Alternative dispute resolution is a process where an impartial person helps people reach an agreement. This may include mediation, reconciliation, family group conferencing and dispute resolution conferences.
The aim is to improve outcomes for children and young people by engaging families to:
- develop and implement strategies to address child protection concerns
- communicate better with one another
- resolve issues (before Children’s Court) reach informed decisions about the care and protection concerns relating to their child.
We have improved how we resolve contact disputes after final orders have been made. If a disagreement about contact cannot be resolved through casework then alternative dispute resolution should be used.
Legal Aid has been funded to provide alternative dispute resolution services, including mediation, to resolve contact disputes.
This means children and young people benefit from more timely resolution of contact disputes, without the need for Court involvement, unless it is necessary. It also means that children and young people have legal representation to represent their best interests and express their views. Where the dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, the process helps to identify issues before going to the Children’s Court.
For further advice and information on Legal Aid’s alternative dispute resolution service to resolve contact disputes please call the Family Dispute Resolution Unit on 02 9219 5118 or 9219 5119.
Family group conferencing is a family-focused, strengths based form of alternative dispute resolution. It gives families a stronger voice in decisions about their children’s care.
Family group conferencing has been shown to have a positive effect on family relationships. It helps improve communication within the family, reduces family conflict and helps keep children safe.
Participating in family group conferencing is voluntary. Our family group conferencing model includes information sharing, private family time and agreeing to a family plan. Private family time gives families time to make decisions about how they will ensure the child or young person is safe.
We are implementing family group conferencing in a staged approach, starting with four districts. This allows us flexibility to develop and refine the themes of family group conferencing and take into account local district needs and characteristics.
We’ve produced a short video on family group conferencing to support child protection practitioners to keep children safely at home, and connected to their family, kin and community.
Parent capacity orders and parent responsibility contracts are used to help parents keep their children safe.
The Children’s Court can now issue a stand-alone parent capacity order. This order requires a parent to participate in a program, service, course, therapy or treatment to improve their parenting skills so they can provide a safe, nurturing home for their child.
Parent capacity orders aim to reduce the need for FACS to intervene, such as removal of a child from the family home or a decision not to return a child to their parent’s care.
The Children’s Court can make a parent capacity order on its own, or FACS can make an application if the following have identified:
- an issue with the parent’s or primary caregiver’s care for a child or young person
- the potential risk of significant harm to the child or young person
- it is reasonable and practical to make a parent or primary caregiver participate in a service, course or treatment program
- there is an appropriate and available service, course or treatment program
- it is unlikely the parent or primary caregiver would participate unless an order is made.
A parent responsibility contract also aims to improve parenting. It encourages parents to set goals and agree to actions that reduce risks to their child. We are asking parents to accept greater responsibility for the care of their child. This may include drug testing or treatment for substance abuse.
The contract also includes details of how we support the parent to work toward positive changes in their life and how the contract will be monitored.
A parent responsibility contract can only be made if the parent agrees. A contract provides a structured process to help some parents attend services for the benefit of their child.
Parent responsibility contracts are registered with the Children’s Court. Because a parent responsibility contract is an agreement with legal consequences, parents will be given a referral to Legal Aid so they can get free, independent advice.
Parent responsibility contracts have been strengthened by:
- extending the maximum length of a contract to 12 months. This allows parents to attend parenting courses or treatments and demonstrate abstinence from substance abuse.
- allowing contracts to be made with expectant parents to reduce the likelihood that the child will be at risk of significant harm after birth
- requiring FACS to set up contracts with parents before care proceedings start, when appropriate.
We’ve produced a short video on parental responsibility contracts to support child protection practitioners to keep children safely at home and connected to their family, kin and community.
Contact with family, community and Country
Contact enables children and young people in out-of-home care to maintain relationships with parents, siblings, grandparents and other important people in their life.
It is important that every child or young person has opportunities to learn about their family heritage. This can help them to have a strong, healthy sense of self and identity. If a child or young person is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, or from a different cultural background to their carer, contact arrangements help them stay connected to their culture, community, identity, religion and language.
A child’s best interest is always our primary consideration when we make complex decisions about contact. Planning for contact should be flexible and respond to each child or young person’s needs. When planning the type of contact and how often it happens, we have to consider the child or young person's:
- experience in care
- changing developmental needs
- case plan goal.
It is better to agree on contact arrangements by working with a caseworker instead of through court orders. This avoids additional stress on children, young people and families and is more sensitive to the child or young person’s needs.
We aim to give more opportunities for children and young people and their families to have positive contact experiences. We use a co-design approach to develop principles and supporting initiatives that improve how children and young people stay connected with their families.
We talked with children and young people, parents and carers to identify their needs and come up with solutions that give them better contact experiences. Through this, we developed principles and standards to improve how we plan and manage contact.
More information: Contact arrangements