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3.1.12 Supporting carers

Last Modified: 24-Mar-2022 Review Date: 04-Jan-2021

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Legislation

Overview

The Department of Communities (the Department) is committed to working together with foster, family and significant other carers (carers) as part of a care team to provide children in the CEO's care with safe, stable and nurturing care arrangements and improved life outcomes.

The paramount consideration is the best interests of the child and every child should be treated as a valued member of society in a manner that respects the child's dignity and privacy.

Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department for Communities.

Rules

  • Carers must be supported by staff to raise children in their care in a stable and secure environment where their social, emotional, psychological, cultural and developmental needs are met.
  • Staff must support carers to participate as care team members in assessment, planning and review of the child, and to participate in other child centred decision making that occur outside our formal planning and review processes.

 

Process Maps

Not applicable.

Information and Instructions

  • The care team approach
  • Exemption from Centrelink activity test and work participation requirements
  • Supporting carers who have young people with mental health issues in their care
  • The care team approach

    Every child in the CEO's care will have a 'care team' comprising of a group of people important to a child and their carer. The care team maintains and supports a child's care arrangement and their continued connection to parents, siblings, their wider family, network, community and culture. The emphasis is to: 

    • create stability and reduce the disruption to lifetime connections that a child has when they enter out-of-home care (OOHC), and 

    • maintain and increase the naturally occurring networks they belonged to before coming into care.

    Having other people in a child's care team does not diminish the role of carers in any way but seeks to enhance support to a child and their carer by extending the partnership to include important people in a child's life. Carers provide the primary care to a child and, as such, will generally have a more stable relationship with a child than with child protection workers, who may change during the time a child is in OOHC. Carers are the cornerstone of the care team; they are the main 'agent of change' in a child's life.

    Care team members will vary depending on the child's needs, pre-existing family and community relationships and their individual circumstances, and will evolve over time, as the child's needs change. Refer to the Care Team Approach Practice Framework (in related resources).

    The care team approach highlights the importance of all members working together with the child in the centre of their thinking and interactions with each other.

    The role of the carer is intrinsically linked to where the child is in their care journey. If the child is in temporary care, the carer will play a central role in supporting the reunification process and provide day-to-day care and emotional support to the child.

    The carer must be kept informed of the reunification plan developed in the Stage one planning form of the Stability and Connection plan, and updated monthly after each review meeting of the efforts of everyone to support the parents being able to safely parent their children again.  The carers should be provided with the version of the plan the parents have agreed be shared so as not to breach the parent's confidentiality.

    Where the child is in long-term OOHC care, the carer will continue to support the child to develop and maintain their connection with their family, friends, community and culture. Carers and parents will need to work together to enable the child to belong to both their birth family and their long term carer family. This task is especially sensitive: 

    • when a child and their siblings are in a long-term OOHC care arrangement with a family carer

    • where siblings are not living in the same care arrangement, or

    • if the children are not living 'on country'.

    Communication between parents and carers is essential to help parents feel they continue to be an important part of their child's life and help the child develop a strong sense of identity and emotional safety. Effective relationships with parents are promoted when carers share information about the child including their progress.

    Working together with the carer and their family

    A range of  staff work with and provide support to a carer and their family. 

    A senior child protection worker placement services (SCPWPS) must  undertake a home visit within one week of the child being placed, and familiarise themselves with the case file before the visit.

    You must work with a carer and their family as a family unit. This includes acknowledging and interacting with other children in the home as appropriate.

    When there is a change in child protection worker, the new worker should be introduced to the carer within one week. 

    You must support the carers and their family to participate as care team members in assessment, planning and review of the child's needs, and to participate in other child-centred decision making that occurs outside of the Department's formal planning and review processes.

    Provision of information

    As soon as practicable after a child is placed with a carer, you should again discuss the Care Team Approach Practice Framework (in related resources). The carer should have been provided a copy during the assessment process. 

    • Communication Book - used for communication between the carer and parents, and is passed to the parents at contact visits available online

    • Protective Behaviours Booklet  - provided in Prep Training throught Learning and Development

    • Information specific to the local district - includes key contacts, local resources and supports, and

    • Information sheets on a variety of matters - such as health, safety, self-care and confidentiality. 

    Annual membership to the Foster Care Association of Western Australia (FCAWA) is $15 for individuals and $30 for families. You should talk to carers about supports offered by the FCAWA, and encourage them to become members.  They will need to complete the membership form - available on the FCAWA's website https://www.fcawa.com.au/about-us/membership/ (membership form and FCAWA information flyer in related resources).

    Carers can also find other helpful information on the FCAWA ​website and our website (under the 'Fostering and Adoption' heading).

    You should provide the carer with as much information as possible about the child at the commencement of the care arrangement so they are able to provide good care. If full information is not available, the carer must be told all that is known to equip them in their caring role and further information provided as it becomes available.

    The initial care arrangement plan and Care Arrangement Referral (CAR) must be given to the carer at the time of the care arrangement. If a child is placed with a carer in an urgent situation, the CAR must be given to the carer as soon as practicable.

    The carer must be given clear information about our consent processes for the child to receive medical and dental treatment, and the child's Medicare card (when obtained).

    A Child Health Passport (Passport) must be provided for each child in the CEO's care, which is given to the carer to hold (except where a child is under 4 years old and has an 'all about me' book). If the child's care arrangement changes, the Passport moves with the child. The Passport provides the carer with information to assist in meeting the child's day-to-day health needs.  For more information regarding the Passport and health care planning refer to Chapter 3.4 Health care planning.

    The carer must also receive a copy of the child's Documented Education Plan (where he or she is attending school); this is updated during the care arrangement and moves with the child. Refer to Chapter 3.4 Education.

    You should discuss with the carer their preferred means of receiving information and keeping in touch, such as face-to-face, by telephone or email.  You must have at least monthly contact with each carer. If the child lives with a CSO carer, liaise with relevant CSO staff (or directly with the carer when negotiated and agreed with the CSO). 

    Diversity and equity

    All children in OOHC will have a cultural support plan. This, like the child's care plan, is a living document and will change as the child's cultural needs change. The primary function of the cultural support plan is to:

    1. Ensure the child's connection to family, culture and community is maintained and enhanced.

    2. Create strategies and educational opportunities for the carers to learn about and celebrate the child's cultural identity and traditions.  This includes when a child is placed with family, as they may have different cultural connections across the extended family network.

    3. Document consultation from Aboriginal practice leaders, PL's, extended family networks, external community agencies and other people significant to the child. All of tThese people will have different information about the child's cultural needs they can share.

    4. Have a plan on how to facilitate communication if this is an issue due to language barriers. Sometimes children might need support to communicate with family where they do not share a language, and.

    5. Support the child to meet their cultural obligations if this is deemed in the best interests of the child, so as they grow, they will be considered full members of the community they identify with.

    A non-Aboriginal carer who is providing care to an Aboriginal child must be provided with the support, information and resources required to meet the child's cultural needs including linking the carer with an Aboriginal practice leader or another Aboriginal officer and a copy of the child's Cultural Support Plan.  You should also inform the carer that the Department will continue to seek family carers for Aboriginal children in the CEO's care, even if none are currently available. 

    If a child is from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) background, you must provide the carer with information on the services provided by the Telephone Information Service and link them with CaLD community groups and agencies. People from the community groups or agencies may be a member of the child's care team.  You should also encourage them to be part of the cultural planning process. 

    The resource Culturally Sensitive Practice in Out of Home Care (in related resources) is a useful guide for you in your work with CaLD families and children.

    Contact

    Carers must meet each of the requirements or competencies outlined in Regulation 4 Children and Community Services Regulations 2006They must be able to work cooperatively with a child's family, workers and other members of the care team when providing care for a child. One of their essential roles is to support the child's family and interpersonal relationships. Carers are expected to have contact with the child's parents; only in rare circumstances would this not be the case. Developing positive connections between carers and parents will assist the child to settle in the care arrangement and reduce their feelings of divided loyalty to two families.

    Discussions should take place with the carer about the reasons for contact, why the child might be distressed by contact, and how to manage this in the child's best interests. You should be available to support the carer in dealing with any contact issues that arise. 

    At each monthly meeting a decision should be made on "who is going to tell the child why they are in care and what everyone is doing to help the children be able to safely live with their parents again".  Once that has been decided we can be sure the parents have had input into that decision, so they are not embarrassed or feel shamed by the explanation. We should also discuss with the carer what the reunification plan is so that they can support the children and resolve their own anxiety about reunification.  The carers can then feedback to each monthly review meeting the responses of the children about the plan and the timeframe.

    You must negotiate any variations in contact visit arrangements with the carer (or CSO) at least 24 hours in advance if possible.

    We appreciate the involvement of the carer in contact visits. When a carer requests that they undertake the contact visits, you must assess their capacity to do this. Based on the outcomes of the assessment, you must provide support (as required) to the carer to undertake this role.

    Support to carers and their families at difficult times

    The role of the carer and their family can be demanding and challenging. Specific members of the care team can provide vital support to the carer and their family during these challenging times.

    You must facilitate access to any additional supports and services necessary, so the carer and their family are able to provide a stable and nurturing care arrangement for the child. Supports may include:

    • debriefing and/or counselling with the child protection worker or other Department staff (for example, with the district psychologist or SCPWPS)

    • additional learning and development specific to the issues the carer is managing

    • utilising natural support networks to provide the carer with a short break from their caring role, and provide opportunity for the child to form closer relationships with other people who are significant in their life

    • providing advice about how to contact the Australian Childhood Foundation's OurSPACE.  OurSPACE WA is a free therapeutic consultation and support service for foster and family carers who are feeling under stress or require extra support.  Carers can contact OurSPACE WA Monday to Friday on 1300 381 581 or email ourspacewa@childhood.org.au  For more information refer to the Australian Childhood Foundation website 

    • providing advice about contacting their General Practitioner to seek a Mental Health Care Plan.  

    District support

    Each district must provide opportunities for carers to provide feedback on the district's systems and processes for children in the CEO's care and carer support.  Representative carers should be invited to attend each district's conference and/or other key planning forums when addressing issues regarding children in the CEO's care.

    Childcare

    Enrolment of a child in the CEO's care in approved childcare may support a carer and the care arrangement. For example, childcare can provide stimulation and development for the child, short break support for the carer, or to support a carer who has work commitments. Full details can be found in Chapter 3.4: Child care attendance.

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    Exemption from Centrelink activity test and work participation requirements

    A parent (the principal carer of a dependent child) who receives an income support payment from Centrelink, such as Parenting Payment or Newstart Allowance, is required to look for or engage in part-time work for at least 15 hours per week once their youngest child turns six years old.

    However, if a  carer receives an income support payment from Centrelink and is the principal carer for a child in the CEO's care, they may be eligible for exemption from the Activity Test and work participation requirements for up to 12 months at a time. This includes a family member or significant other person who provides an urgent placement for a child in the CEO's care (s.79(2)(b) of the Act).  

    Centrelink guidelines state that an approved emergency or respite carer, who is not the principal carer of a child, may be eligible to receive an exemption for the duration of any foster child care arrangement, and for up to 12 weeks after a child has left the care arrangement while awaiting the placement of another foster child. For further information refer to Centrelink - Mutual Obligation Requirements and Exemptions for Principal Cares (in related resources).

    In order to receive an exemption from Centrelink Activity Tests, you must provide the carer with a letter, Form 543 - Exemption from the Centrelink Activity Test and Participation Requirements (in related resources)The letter states that the carer is currently a carer with us and is providing a care arrangement for a child who is in the CEO's care.

    Centrelink will exempt the carer from the Activity Tests and participation in work for up to 12 months.  At this time, if the carer is still providing care for a child in the CEO's care, you must provide another letter (Form 543).

    If a carer is on Newstart Allowance and intends to leave Australia temporarily, you should advise them to contact Centrelink before they travel as it may affect their payments.



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    Supporting carers who have young people with mental health issues in their care

    The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) provides afterhours or urgent support for young people who are having difficulties managing their mental health. Carers can seek support from the following services:

    • Acute CAMHS: Hospital and community-based programs including crisis and emergency response services including: 
      • the Acute Response Team
      • Ward 5A at Perth Children's Hospital
      • Bentley Adolescent Unit
      • Acute Community Intervention Team, and
      • Paediatric Consultation via the Emergency Department at Perth Children's Hospital.
         
    • Community CAMHS: Community-based services across the Perth metropolitan area. These services can provide assessment and treatment of persistent mental health difficulties in infants, children and young people. Children can be supported with a referral by their child protection worker or via a General Practitioner, specialist, treating therapist or their school.
       
    • Specialist CAMHS: Services that support infants, children and young people with complex mental health needs including:
      • the Complex Attention and Hyperactivity Disorders Service
      • the Eating Disorders Program
      • Multisystemic therapy, and
      • Pathways.

    If a carer is worried that a child in their care is at risk of hurting themselves or others due to their mental health issues, you should support them to seek assistance for the child as a matter of priority.

    If a child is communicating that they are suffering from suicidal ideation, are actively suicidal or demonstrating escalating self-harming behaviours, immediate medical attention must be sought, and the situation should be assessed as a medical emergency. If required, seek assistance from the Crisis Care Unit to manage the situation afterhours. 

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