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Two key reforms have guided changes in child protection and out of home care (OOHC) over the last several years. These are the Safe Home for Life child protection and the OOHC Program reforms.
Safe Home for Life
Every child deserves a permanent and stable home for life. Safe Home for Life reforms, announced in October 2014, aimed to do just that by strengthening the child protection system. These reforms included legislative change, new policy and practice, and a redesign of how technology is used in child protection. To do this, FACS invested $500 million over four years.
Outcomes for children are much better when they have a stable and safe home and the earlier we can get this right for them, the better. Safe Home for Life reforms made sure work was firmly focused on each child’s experience. Caseworkers were given the time, support and tools to work better with children, young people and families.
Safe Home for Life aimed to enable everyone working with vulnerable children and families to:
- do more of what we know works
- solve problems at a local level
- use the right data and measures to better assess the impact of our work with families.
Since the Safe Home for Life reforms, out-of-home care has become a better service delivery system. While these reforms helped children and their families by giving them more stability and certainty, there is still much more work to be done to achieve permanency and enhance wellbeing as part of the Permanency Support Program.
Designing Safe Home for Life with our partners
Co-design is an approach to public service reform that aims to include all stakeholders in the change process. It’s about creating the system together and uses experience from our caseworkers, partners and families to guide, test and review how we work.
An important part of the Safe Home for Life reforms was co-design, which allowed service districts to respond differently to their unique challenges. It let districts develop solutions appropriate to their local needs rather than a one size fits all approach.
Amendments under Safe Home for Life
Safe Home for Life introduced a two year cap on the financial support available for a child or young person who enters a supported out-of-home care placement with a relative or kinship carer without a court order after 29 October 2014.
The cap on the duration of supported care placements was designed to achieve greater permanency and stability for children and young people through permanent legal orders.
Under this arrangement, risk assessment was used to determine whether a child or young person was in need of care and protection. This placed a greater focus on making a decision to return a child or young person to their parent’s care, or where this was not possible, reallocating parental responsibility through a court order.
A psychotropic drug is a prescribed medication that affects a person’s perception, thinking, mood, level of arousal or behaviour.
Since the Safe Home for Life reforms, administering a psychotropic drug to a child in out-of-home care for the purpose of controlling behaviour has no longer been classified as ‘special medical treatment’.
This means that decisions about the use of psychotropic medication are made by the people who know the child best.
When a child is prescribed a psychotropic drug, their carer must immediately notify FACS or the agency responsible for their placement. As required by law, the treatment must form part of a child’s behaviour support plan. This plan must be developed and approved by the agency that has responsibility for the child’s placement.
A behaviour support plan ensures a child or young person receives appropriate support in relation to their needs. The plan describes the behaviours that are a concern and outlines agreed strategies to manage or prevent the behaviour. A behaviour support plan should be considered whenever a child or young person’s behaviour:
- puts their physical safety or emotional wellbeing at significant risk
- puts those around them at risk
- jeopordises their inclusion at home, school or other services.
A behaviour support plan must be developed by a relevant specialist such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, education or health professional. It must also include advice from the child or young person’s caseworker and in consultation with the child or young person. Behaviour support plans can be approved for a period up to three months.
Changes to the Care Act made it clear that children or young people involved in care proceedings or final court orders cannot be identified to the public. This includes publishing their identity on the internet and on social media. This helps keep children and young people safe and ensures matters before the court are kept confidential.
Everyone has a part to play in keeping children and young people safe.
Changes to the Care Act have made it clear that people working at residential accommodation services, such as refuges and hostels, must report to the Helpline if a child or young person under the age of 16 years is living away from home without their parents’ permission. However, friends and relatives are not required to report this. This helps FACS to identify children and young people who may be at risk of significant harm.
OOHC program reform
The OOHC Program reform was a suite of projects that aimed to reform OOHC. It included placement prevention and early intervention projects, as well as enhancements to OOHC service provision.
The reform was designed to stabilise and improve the system before the majority of OOHC was transferred to the non-government sector under Keep Them Safe.
The program was informed by the NSW Government OOHC Review undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group.