Safety planning is a proactive, structured and monitored process that provides parents with an opportunity to demonstrate that they can address the Department of Communities' (the Department's) concerns by providing safety for their child.
Within the Department, safety planning is referred to in different ways, for example, immediate Safety Plan, interim Safety Plan, verbal Safety Plan and Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) Safety Plan.
It is essentially a process which takes place with the Department, the parents, the safety network and the child (where appropriate) during which a written plan is developed that addresses the harm statements (where applicable), danger statements and safety goals. The safety plan should be family owned.
You should complete a Signs of Safety meeting with the family before conducting safety planning, in order to determine the level of safety for the child and whether safety planning is actually required.
Where safety planning is required as a consequence of a critical incident refer to the Critica Incident Reporting Policy for guidance and effective responses.
Safety planning must be conducted where there are immediate and/or substantial concerns for the wellbeing of a child.
Section 32(1)(b) Children and Community Services Act 2004 (the Act) outlines the actions you, as an authorised officer, can take in arranging or facilitating a meeting in order to safeguard or promote a child's wellbeing.
You can invite:
You cannot prevent a parent having contact with their child or mandate conditions of contact when the child is not in the CEO's care.
You cannot use your statutory powers or coercive influence to move or keep a child away from their parents. Rather, be skilful in your use of authority to promote a good working relationship with the family that is transparent and affords them natural justice.
You can approve a safety plan where parents have developed a plan to address the Department's concerns. If the parents' plan involves a change of residence, they should be referred for legal advice with respect to Family Court proceedings.
You can state your concerns if an action occurs and what the possible consequences from the Department may be. For example, if contact occurs, the Department will need to consult and may consider intervention action.
A safety network is a group of people who care for the child and are willing to engage with the Department in addressing the concerns for the child's safety.
You should always encourage the parents to bring along as many people as they can to a safety planning meeting to participate in the safety network. A robust safety network can be an indication of the level of support available to the parents and/or child, and may mitigate the Department's concerns.
Not all members of the safety network will be able to provide the same level of support. In assessing safety network members, you should consider:
There may be people the Department deems unsuitable to be a part of the safety network, such as a person convicted of child sex offences under s.557K of the Criminal Code Act 1913, and you must check that this is communicated appropriately as part of the safety planning process.
The facilitator should chair the meeting and ensure that focus is maintained throughout the meeting.
The harm statements (where applicable), danger statements and safety goals should be discussed to ensure that everyone present understands the concerns for the child.
Invite the parents and safety network to come up with rules for the safety plan that they believe will ensure the safety goals are achieved.
Questions to elicit this could include:
"What do you think you, you partner, your family or the safety network can do to increase safety for the child?"
"In your opinion, what would it take to make your child safer?"
"If we asked your child what would make them feel safer, what do you think they would say?"
"How did you make sure your child was safe before the Department was involved?"
"As a parent, what would you like to learn about this situation?"
"If you had exactly the sort of support you needed to deal with these concerns, what would that support look like?"
Adhere to the SMART principlewhen preparing for a safety plan:
Specific - Who does what, when and how?
Measurable - Who is making sure that everyone is doing what they say? How will we know?
Achievable - Is the plan achievable? Can the people who are a part of the plan realistically achieve what they say they are going to do?
Relevant - Are the actions in the plan from the family and network relevant to the danger statements and safety goals?
Time-Limited - How is this going to be reviewed? By whom? How often? When will the case be closed? Once safety is demonstrated, how long will we ask them to keep demonstrating it.
You may want to use a scaling question to measure, over time the effectiveness of the safety plan.
Discuss the consequences that the Department is including in the safety plan in case it is not followed or breached:
"In the event that this safety plan is not followed, the Department will convene everyone for a review meeting and may consult with the district director about intervention action".
Safety plans should document in writing the following elements:
Distribute the safety plan in a timely fashion; ideally it should be available to the safety network on the same day.
It's critical that the entire safety network or anyone with a role in the safety plan receives a copy.
Think about how the child will receive their safety plan and who will ensure that they do.
When developing a safety plan you should agree upon, and document a timeframe for review.
A review of a safety plan should examine its effectiveness and whether changes are required. A good way to review the effectiveness is using scaling questions to examine whether safety for the child has improved.
Not all safety plans require review as some are time-limited, however, where a case is being closed and a safety plan remains in place you should consider who will continue to monitor the safety plan in the Department's absence.
In cases involving high risk infants, you must review safety planning weekly with the parents, their network of support people and professionals undertaking both a monitoring and supportive role.
Where a safety plan has been developed to address emotional abuse - family and domestic violence it must be reviewed regularly to respond to the dynamic nature of the risk.
In cases involving high risk infants where the parents do not comply with a safety plan, or the risk to the infant and their siblings is so great that a safety plan may not prevent further harm, you must consult with your team leader regarding whether intervention action is necessary to promote the infant's safety. For further information, refer to Chapter 2.2 Consulting a team leader.
When the safety plan is developed it should include considerations about what will happen if it isn't followed, for example a review meeting being called immediately with the safety network.
The safety plan not being followed does not automatically mean that it has failed, it may provide an opportunity to revisit the details of the safety plan and make changes so that the safety plan is more effective.
When the safety plan not being followed is considered to pose an immediate and substantial risk to the child involved consult with your team leader and district director to determine whether intervention action is required.
There are some circumstances where you will need to safety plan to manage risks for children in the CEO's care. This could include risks associated with the child engaging in high risk behaviours or if the child is self-selecting to live in an unendorsed care arrangement.
You should consider safety planning with a child who poses a risk to others; or if the child you are working with is sharing a care arrangement with another child known to pose a risk to others.
Safety plans involving high risk infants must be rigorous and aimed at:
increasing the infant's visibility in the community and decreasing parental stress via the use of child care services, parenting and respite services.
increasing parenting skills and providing strategies to manage the infant crying (such as Best Beginnings Plus, Ngala or Child Health Nurse-led services).
setting up a schedule of home visiting to ensure that the infant is seen by a member of the safety network, daily if necessary, to monitor the infant's safety and to provide support to the parents.
checking that safe sleeping practices are monitored and tested by the safety network, daily if necessary.
assessing the risk of family and domestic violence, and support to the adult victim.
assisting parents and caregivers to manage their anger and improve impulse control via referral to services if necessary, and
referring parents and caregivers to drug and alcohol and mental health services when necessary.
You must review safety planning weekly with the parents, their network of support people and professionals undertaking both a monitoring and supportive role.
Related resources for specific safety plans
If your case involves…
High risk infant assessment
Emotional abuse - family and domestic violence
Dynamics and context of fatal or serious injuries to infants and children
Building safety when harm is denied
Emotional Abuse - Family and domestic violence assessment toolkit
Emotional Abuse - Family and domestic safety planning toolkit
Building safety when harm is denied
Child development and trauma guide