Sometimes children who are in the CEO's care, especially older children, do not want to stay with the carers who have been assessed to care for them. Instead, they might choose to stay with friends, family members or acquaintances who have not been assessed and approved by the Department of Communities (the Department). This is known as a self-selected living arrangement (formerly "unendorsed care arrangement").
Young people make these arrangements for many reasons, including conflict with their usual carer or a care arrangement breakdown where the child does not want to stay in an emergency placement arranged by the CEO, such as a residential care home.
When a child changes a self-selected living arrangement, they are likely to feel scared, upset, angry and confused, even when they seem to have made this decision themselves. Children need additional support and understanding at these times.
If a child is deemed to pose a risk to others, has seriously hurt another child in their care arrangement, or displays behaviours that indicate they are likely to pose a risk to others, such as extreme violence and violent or abusive harmful sexual behaviours, you must do the following:
Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Communities (the Department).
Under s.10 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004, education officers also need to emphasise the importance of child participation, particularly in relation to significant events and times of intense planning for the child:
Children must be included in making any important decisions, including their self-selected living arrangements.
When a decision is being made that is likely to have a significant impact on a child's life, to ensure the child is able to participate in the decision-making process, you must give the child:
In terms of the extent of a child's participation, carefully consider their age and level of understanding.
If the child makes it clear they do not want to be part of the process, you must give them a full explanation of the decisions that have been made and why they were made.
Where a child has self-selected to live with people or family who have not been assessed, you should conduct an initial search of Assist to determine if there are any immediate safety issues for this child in the home. A separate search should be conducted for all adults in the home, based on whatever information you have at the time.
Where this reveals potential cause for concern, such as a person in the home listed as Actual Harm Continuing Risk (AHCR), you
must make an immediate plan for the child's safety and determine the level of risk to the young person remaining in the self-selected living arrangement.
If the child is 15 years or older, this situation should be viewed as an opportunity to plan for independent living as part of the child's Leaving Care Plan.
The young person might also find it helpful to be referred to a community support service, which can form part of a safety plan for young people in self-selected living arrangements.
All children who are in self-selected living arrangements must be offered a safe alternative accommodation option, even if they are unlikely to want this option.
All decisions about a child's self-selected living arrangement must be made as a matter of urgency, this includes ascertaining if the self-selected living arrangement is "unsuitable" or "dangerous".
Where the child refuses to stay with anyone else, you must use your professional judgement when assessing the risk of the self-selected living arrangement versus the potential for harm if the child chooses to live on the streets, and any other consequences which may arise if the Department does not support the self-selected living arrangement. The decision to support the child to remain in the self-selected living arrangement with a safety plan should be made in consultation with the Team Leader and approved by the District Director. Examples of actions to support the child in a self-selected living arrangement could include:
Purchasing furniture for the child to settle into this living arrangement.
Providing or arranging transport to move the child's belongings into the living arrangement.
Advising the adults in the living arrangement of the carer assessment process.
Depending on the person, it may be appropriate to start a 'significant other' carer assessment. For more information see Chapter 3.1 Family and significant other care.
As a matter of urgency, you should ask the person the child is choosing to live with to complete and sign a Form 395 Record Check Consent Form (in related resources). The Screening Unit will undertake a file review and discuss the outcome of this with you or the Team Leader.
Subsidies will not be paid to a person who has not been assessed or approved by the Department, except in rare circumstances. However, you are still responsible for addressing the child's other support needs.
Reasons to support or not support a self-selected living arrangement should be clearly documented on file, endorsed by the Team Leader and approved by the District Director.
You should record this type of self-selected living arrangement in Assist as either 'Self-Selected Person', 'Self-Selected Environment' or 'Unknown, in Contact'.
Where the self-selected living arrangement is assessed as high-risk and may be detrimental to the child's wellbeing, the Department has a responsibility to ensure the child's safety. The child should not remain in a high-risk self-selected living arrangement.
If the child refuses to leave the self-selected living arrangement, the District Director
must be informed, and all attempts should be made to relocate the child to safe accommodation. The person the child is staying with should also be informed of our concerns and, where appropriate, it may be necessary to involve the Western Australia Police Force (WA Police).
You must develop a safety plan to address the risks and all relevant stakeholders should be consulted in the development of the safety plan. Where the child is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, this must include family members and relevant senior Aboriginal staff who know the child, such as an Aboriginal Practice Leader.
The safety plan must address the specific risks and include ways for the child to get help, e.g. making sure they have their own mobile phone with the phone numbers for WA Police, the district office and the Crisis Care Unit (CCU).
The safety plan must be approved by the Team Leader and District Director.
There may be times where a child is safer remaining in a self-selected living arrangement or where the child is likely to continue to return to a self-selected living arrangement after they have been moved. Where this happens, a case alert stating the reasons why, along with the safety plan and consultation details, should be placed on Assist.
The alert should also include important information about the child and alternative accommodation options. The alert will provide direction for CCU to manage any contact after hours.
You must speak directly to the child or young person to ask them if they have any worries about their safety. It is important that this conversation happens away from anyone else in the home. If the child raises any concerns, you should reassure them that you will help them find somewhere safe for them to stay until a longer-term care arrangement or independent living can be organised.