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3.4.15 Stability and connection planning

Last Modified: 24-Mar-2022 Review Date: 01-May-2020

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Legislation

Overview

The Department of Communities (the Department) undertakes stability and connection planning to ensure transparent and accountable plans for the reunification or long-term care of children in the CEO's care are made with parents, families and other relevant people.

Stability and connection planning is a staged process where parallel planning for reunification with one or both parents is conducted at the same time as planning for long-term out-of-home care.

All stages in the planning process (stage 1 Planning, 2 Review, 3 Decision, 4 Reunification and 4 Long-term care) are documented in the Stability and Connection Planning Form in related resources.  Guidance for documenting each stage is also available in related resources under the form. 

Stability and Connection Planning was previously known as Permanency Planning.

After community consultation it was agreed that the use of the words 'stability' and 'connection' were more culturally appropriate and moved the focus to stability and connection for children whether they are reunified or remain in long-term out-of-home care.

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

Process Maps
  • Professional Practice Clinic PowerPoint- Overview and Assist Changes
  • Transition Guide - reunification process

Information and Instructions

  • Stability and connection planning
  • Stage 1 - Planning
  • Stage 2 - Review and assessment
  • Stage 3 - Internal decision making
  • Stage 4 - Transition to reunification
  • Stage 4 - Transition to long-term care
  • Stability and connection planning

    Stability and Connection Planning should not be confused with planning for permanent care and is more than just making a care arrangement; it places an emphasis on meeting the child's need for:  

    Relational Permanency

    Stable, unconditional emotional connections. The relationship dimension is very important to children and young people in out-of-home care. Continuity and stability are not only found through care arrangements, but in enduring lifetime relationships that can be established and maintained through family contact, community connections and relationships at school.

    Physical Permanency

    Safe, stable living environments, which extend to maintaining a child's cultural safety and identity through ongoing connection to Country (particularly for Aboriginal children) and community.

    Legal PermanencyStable permanent legal arrangements, as determined by the Courts, to be in the best interests of the child.

    There are four stages to Stability and Connection Planning:

    • Stage 1: Planning for reunification/long-term care.

    • Stage 2: Review and assessment of reunification/long-term care.

    • Stage 3: Internal decision whether to continue with reunification or for the child to transition to long-term care.

    • Stage 4: Planning to transition and support reunification; or planning to transition and support long-term care.  

     

    You must be proactive in working towards reunification as soon as the child enters provisional protection and care.  The decision to continue reunification (Stage 3) should be made as soon as sufficient progress is made by the parents towards the safety goal.  This decision must be made no later than:

    • 12 months for children who enter provisional protection and care at less than 3 years of age; and
    • two years for all other children.

    All decision making must be made in the child's best interests. For sibling groups, the youngest child's age should direct the timeframe for decision making.

    Do not wait to complete the Stage 3 process before commencing or continuing reunification.

    Reunification should occur during Stage 1 and Stage 2 so there is evidence and information to complete Stage 3.

    Refer to the Stability and Connection Planning Factsheet.      

    The parallel process

    You must work toward the primary plan of reunification with parents and the secondary plan of long-term out-of-home care (OOHC) at the same time (parallel planning process) and assess what is in the child's best interests in a timely manner.

    Primary Plan:  Reunification

    Secondary Plan: Long-term OOHC

    Reunification refers to the process of assessing, planning for and returning a child to their parent's care after a temporary period in the CEO's care. 

    Reunification is usually the preferred option for a child in provisional protection and care or on a protection order (time-limited). 

    It is the first consideration because it recognises the parents' legal rights and that parents and extended family play a primary role in promoting a child's sense of belonging and identity.   

    If reunification is not possible or deemed not to be in the best interests of the child, you should progress with the secondary plan of long-term OOHC.
     

    Long-term OOHC options

    • Protection order (until 18) and stable care arrangement with:
      • a family or significant other carer; or
      • a foster carer.
    • Protection order (special guardianship) with a family or significant other carer.
    • Protection order (special guardianship) with a foster carer.
    • Parenting order with a person with an established relationship with the child, such as a family member.
    • Carer adoption with a family, significant other or foster carer.

     

    Given that adoption is a long-term legal arrangement that terminates a child's legal ties with their birth parents, adoption (other than "customary" adoption), is not generally recognised in Aboriginal culture.

    It is therefore only considered appropriate when there is no other appropriate alternative, if in the best interests of the child and if the child's parents and family consent to the adoption.

    Applications for parenting orders or carer adoptions must be made through the Family Court of Western Australia. 

    For further information refer to the resources:

    For further information on long-term OOHC options, please refer to:

    Adherence to the Child Placement Principle

    The adherence and promotion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP) acknowledges the significance of connection to Country, family, culture and community in planning for Aboriginal children in care. 

    The table below outlines how you can implement active efforts to adhere with the five elements of the ATSCIPP.  For more information about the ATSICPP, please refer to s.12 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (the Act).

     Element

    Active efforts

    • ​Ongoing, culturally appropriate and effective communication between workers and family to encourage openness and trust.
    • Referral to culturally responsive services to support reunification.
    • Implementation of parallel planning during the stability and connection planning process.
    • Identification and engagement with family to allow for their participation in parallel planning.
    • ​Identification of and engagement with family and significant others to allow for their participation in parallel planning.
    • Facilitation of meaningful participation by family and community members with knowledge of the child and family when making placement arrangements and parallel planning.
    • Application of the Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework principles to create stable working relationships and trust between family, community and the Department.
    • Application of a cultural lens to all interactions between the Department and Aboriginal families. This includes increasing awareness and understanding of cultural issues such as unconscious bias, intergenerational trauma and healing Aboriginal parenting practices and attachment. 
    • Care arrangements and cultural support planning consultation with Aboriginal Practice Leaders of the Department and Aboriginal representative organisations with relevant knowledge of the child, the child's family or the child's community.

    ​Early identification of Aboriginality is necessary to:

    • prompt cultural support planning and exploration of Native Title opportunities.
    • Contact that is safe, purposeful, well-planned and supports the child's ability to maintain lifelong connections to their parents, family and other significant people in their life.
    • Development of quality cultural support plans and commitment by members of the child's care team to support and implement the plan.
    • Regular review and approval of cultural support plans in line with the care plan review cycle and when significant changes occur (e.g. the child changing a care arrangement) and recognition that children's cultural needs and obligations will develop as they mature. 
    • Identification and connection with family and community to allow for their participation into parallel planning.
    • Promoting the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration in decision-making. This includes genuine and meaningful child participation in decision-making.
    • Facilitation of child and family participation in parallel planning.
    • Facilitation of involvement by family, Aboriginal Practice Leaders of the Department and Aboriginal representative organisations in the development of a cultural support plan for the child. (Inclusion of Aboriginal registered organisations is dependent on passage of legislative amendments through Parliament).
    • Care arrangements enable the greatest level of connection between the child and their family, community, Country and culture consistent with the child's best interests.
    • Ongoing identification and engagement of family members of Aboriginal children to find support networks and explore all possibilities of family care.
    • Application of the placement hierarchy requires decision makers to exhaust all possible options at one level of the hierarchy before considering a lower order care arrangement hence consultation with Aboriginal representative organisations.
    • Cultural planning is essential when placing an Aboriginal child, especially for the children placed lower in the placement hierarchy (placed out of Country, apart from siblings or with a non-Aboriginal carer).
    • Development and review of cultural support plans is a priority in care planning. Care planning and review is a collaborative process involving the child and their family.
    For guidance about completing and documenting a meeting at a specific stage, refer to the relevant guidance for that stage.  For example, select Stage 1 in the Stability and Connection Form and refer to the Stage 1 Guidance in related resources.

        

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    Stage 1 - Planning

    Stage 1 is designed for you to:

    • identify clear harm and/or danger statements and safety goals;
    • plan a trajectory with the parents and family; and
    • commence reunification where that is the primary plan.

    This stage involves two meetings:

    1.  Seven day internal meeting 

    • Must be held within seven days of a child entering provisional protection and care and documented in the  Stage 1 section of the Stability and Connection Planning Form.  For information on completing the form, refer to Stage 1 Guidance 

    • You and a team leader must attend the seven day internal meeting and consider who else should attend the meeting, such as the senior practice development officer, Aboriginal practice leader and/or psychologist.

    2.  30 day family meeting -

    • Must be held within thirty days of the child entering provisional protection and care with the parents and safety network and documented in the  Stage 1 section of the Stability and Connection Planning Form.  For information on completing the form, refer to Stage 1 Guidance

    • The team leader must attend the meeting.

    • The record of the meeting must be given to attendees as soon as possible after the meeting.

     

    You must be proactive and commence reunification as soon as the child enters provisional protection and care.  The decision to continue reunification (Stage 3) should be made as soon as sufficient progress is made by the parents towards the safety goal. This decision is made no later than:

    • 12 months for children who enter provisional protection and care at less than 3 years of age; and
    • two years for all other children.

    All decision making must be made in the child's best interests. For sibling groups, the youngest child's age should direct the timeframe for decision making. 

    Do not wait to complete the Stage 3 process before commencing or continuing reunification.

    Reunification should occur during Stage 1 and Stage 2 so we have the evidence and information we need to complete Stage 3.

    Refer to the 30 Day Family Meeting Factsheet

    A child's care team needs to be identified and established as soon as possible after they enter OOHC.  Full information about the care team approach can be found in the Care Team Approach Practice Framework.

    An Aboriginal practice leader (or other senior Aboriginal officer) must be consulted and attend the meeting when a plan for an Aboriginal child is being considered.  

    For children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) backgrounds cultural advice must be sought on stability and connection planning. 

     Engaging with the parents as a priority

    You must engage the child's parents in the case planning and decision-making process for long-term care from the initial meeting.  This should also include siblings (where appropriate), grandparents, other family members and people important to the child.

    You should contact the parents as soon as possible after the children have entered the CEO's care or after you have received the case to organise a first visit. If the parents cannot be reached by phone you should visit the home. 

    Your first contact with the parents after their child is taken into the CEO's care is critical in supporting the parents to work through some of their emotions and to focus on what changes they need to demonstrate to get their child home.

    Develop a plan before you meet with the parents for the first time, after their children have entered care. You may want to think about:

    • the number of staff that will attend
    • which staff will attend, and
    • where this meeting will happen.

    You should consult with your team leader to make this decision.

    During the first meeting, talk to the parents and: 

    • acknowledge that the removal of the child has created a significant crisis in the family's life

    • emphasise that our aim is to make the process of the care arrangement and reunification as positive and timely as possible

    • explain why the child is in the CEO's care and what steps the parents need to take so their child can be returned home

    • emphasise that the parents will need to work with us to demonstrate their child is safe in their care and discuss the need to share information regarding any child protection issues that may arise

    • discuss ways the parents can remain connected to the child, including contact arrangements (for further information refer to the practice guidance on contact), and

    • explain the importance of Stability and Connection Planning (previously known as Permanency Planning) and the parallel planning process.

     

    You will need to demonstrate patience, persistence and substantial and ongoing effort to engage, even where parents display reluctance. 

    If the family is still resistant you should explore if there are other agencies the parents would be prepared to work with. If engagement is not possible, non-engagement should be recorded on Assist (as part of the case planning process) as either:

    • unable to establish a working relationship, or
    • parents not available or not engaging at appointments.

    Each family's journey through the child protection system is unique, although the feelings of grief and loss are shared.

    You must recognise the impact separation can have on parents, such as:

    • feelings of bereavement, sadness, grief and anger

    • loss of identity in their role as a parent

    • acknowledging emotions and the effect these may have on their behaviour, including the impact of intergenerational trauma, and

    • an inability to contain their anger and grief sufficiently to take in information or participate in meetings.

     

    You must show awareness and sensitivity to the historic removal of Aboriginal children and the potential impact of intergenerational trauma on the behaviour of Aboriginal families after children enter care.

    You must consult with an Aboriginal Practice Leader when Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children enter the CEO's care and should discuss with them strategies for addressing intergenerational trauma.

    The seven day internal meeting

    The seven day meeting is the Department's opportunity to be clear on what behaviours the parents need to change, and to develop suggested actions and next steps for discussion in the 30 day family meeting. 

    The trajectory is the overall primary plan, and this steps out progress from the danger statement towards the safety goal.

    The trajectory should track the progress towards the safety goal by using the safety scale to measure observable changes in the parents' behaviours through their actions in contact, meetings, home visits and reports by the safety network and any community organisations involved. For more information about the trajectory refer to the 30 day family meeting section below.

    The seven day internal meeting is your opportunity to be clear about what behaviours the parents need to change and what the changes should look like, so that when the trajectory is developed with the family, they are able to nominate how they will progress through next steps and actions.

    The actions and next steps should be family owned. Next steps/actions that are suggested by the Department should only be included in the trajectory if the parents agree that they are able and willing to undertake them. 

    The purpose of this meeting is to:

    • Clarify the harm and/or danger statements.

    • Clarify the safety goals.

    • Record the Department's danger statements and safety goals (as they relate to the Department's application to the Court and basis for child entering care) in the  Stage 1 section of the Stability and Connection Planning Form.  For information on completing the form, refer to Stage 1 Guidance.  There should be one harm statement and/or danger statement and corresponding safety goal per substantiated abuse type.

    • Identify what attitudes and observable behaviours the parents demonstrated that the Department are concerned about and need to change.

    • Identify what attitudes and observable behaviours the parents have demonstrated or will need to demonstrate that will show progress towards the safety goals for each stage of the trajectory.

    • Consider who needs to attend and facilitate the 30 day family meeting (parents, safety network members, Department staff, other professionals, carers and child if age appropriate).

    • Discuss if there should be one meeting that all participants attend, or several meetings involving a different combination of participants. Consider what issues may arise with all participants in the room and how to best manage this. While the aim should be to have one meeting, there are times where this is inappropriate and multiple meetings may be required (for example, in family and domestic violence cases or due to cultural considerations).

    • Develop questions to put to the family about how they plan to achieve the safety goal and who they think can support them in this (the safety network).

    • Include the voice of the child to inform planning. For example, consider whether it is possible and appropriate for the child to attend the meeting; if not, consider the use of audio, letters or pictures.

    • Plan what actions need to occur before the 30 day meeting. Including, meeting with the parents to explain the danger statements, safety goals and what is going to happen at the 30 day meeting. This preparation is important so that the parents have an opportunity to prepare for the 30 day family meeting and think about what actions they might take to progress toward the safety goal.

    The remainder of the document should remain blank in anticipation of it being completed with the parents, family and safety network. At this stage contact arrangements should be recorded in the provisional care plan which must be completed within seven days.

    The 30 day family meeting

    You must make every effort to meet with the parents before the 30 day family meeting to:

    • explain the purpose of the 30 day meeting, and
    • discuss the danger statements, the safety goals and how these will be used to plan out their reunification with their children.

    This will give the parents an opportunity to think about actions and next steps they can take to address the behaviours outlined in the danger statement and progress towards the safety goal. You should provide the parents with the information sheets on the stability and connection planning process, Safety Networks, Child's Care Team and Preparing for the 30 day family meeting.

    The purpose of this meeting is to work with the parents, family and safety network to:

    • Explain stability and connection planning, the parallel planning process, timeframe requirements and next steps.

    • Use the harm and/or danger statements and safety goals to explain the reasons why the child was in need of protection and ensure the language used is understood by the parents, family and safety network. 

    • Use the harm and/or danger statements to explain what concerns exist for the child if the child was returned to the parents' care and give the parents the opportunity to respond to this.

    • Explain the Department's safety goals so that parents understand what we need to see for their child to be returned to their care. Give them the opportunity to respond to this.

    • Develop a trajectory which plans the stages of reunification, in line with progress toward the safety goal, and links what contact will look like at each stage. You will need to consider what behaviours each individual parent would need to change in the trajectory and how this looks if the parents are working towards reunification individually or as a couple. If the parents are working towards reunification separately or have different issues in which to work on, you can have separate trajectories for each parent.

    • Discuss the identified attitudes and observable behaviours the parents have demonstrated that the Department are concerned about and need to change.

    • Assess the parents on a safety scale and determine what stage they are at in the trajectory.

    • Discuss what timeframe the parents are working on, if they follow the trajectory as planned.

    • Discuss the identified attitudes and observable behaviours the parents have demonstrated or will need to demonstrate that will show progress towards the safety goals.

    • Identify actions/next steps to address the harm/danger statements and progress toward the safety goals.

    • Decide on contact arrangements, frequency, purpose and supervision in line with the parents' safety scale rating and trajectory.

    • Identify people who want to be involved in the parents' safety network and what they are able to do to support the parents' to change their behaviours and progress towards the safety goal.

    • Begin planning and preparing the parents and safety network to avoid and manage setbacks.

    • Identify if a safety plan is required and document as an action in Stage one of the Stability and Connection Planning form (refer to Stage 1 Guidance).  Document the safety plan  separately.

    • Identify people who might be involved in the child's care team, who will explain to the child what is happening in a way that is appropriate to the child's developmental needs.

    • Commence Cultural Support Planning for the child in consideration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP) and the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Child Placement Principle (CaLD CPP). Identify the significant connections the child needs to build and maintain with family, culture, community and Country to keep their identity and spirit strong while in temporary care.

    • Develop and review the genogram and ecomap to explore whether any members of the safety network could provide a care arrangement and identify the family's opinions about long-term care options.

    Trajectories

    The trajectory should include the following:

    • A clear harm and/or danger statement at the top, describing the parenting behaviours that have/will cause harm and the harm to the child (either past or future harm).

    • A clear safety goal at the bottom that states what parenting behaviours will look like that would make it safe enough for the child to return home.

    • What it looks like at each safety rating so that the parents understand what behaviours will result in them having supervised contact, unsupervised contact, overnight contact and reunification. The safety scale provides a way for the parents to monitor their own progress in the monthly review meetings at Stage 2.

    • What the Department needs to see from the parents for case closure to occur.

    • A timeframe for the parents to work towards, if they address the concerns as agreed in the trajectory.

    Refer to Facilitating a Signs of Safety Meeting with Families for further information. 

    Setbacks

    A setback is a something that will affect the success of the change process and could threaten success of the reunification. This could be something like parents losing their motivation and/or safety network, the parents' behaviours showing signs of self-sabotage, or a crisis that the family may struggle to manage.

    Prepare the safety network and parents for the likelihood that the parents will experience a setback at some point in the reunification process.  This is key to the long-term success of reunification and should be part of the primary plan trajectory.

    In preparing for setbacks, you are building a transparent and trusting relationship between the Department, the parents and the safety network. You should recognise the likelihood of setbacks occurring and embrace this as an opportunity to build resiliency within the parents and the safety network. 

    This process involves encouraging the parents to develop their awareness of the warning signs that they are not coping, assisting the safety network to identify those warning signs and creating a plan for:

    1. what the safety network people and the Department will do to support the parents to avoid a setback, and

    2. if the parents have a setback, what the process will be and what the plan will be to offer immediate support so that the momentum and motivation for reunification is not lost by the parents' and safety network.

    A setback should not interrupt or significantly impact the progress of reunification.  You should stay at the same stage regardless of the setback and support should be identified to be ready when this happens. 

    It should NOT make the safety scale return to 0 or decrease unless the parents' concerning behaviours have continued past the setback even with supports in place.

    Assessment, supports and services for the parents

    Earlier Intervention and Family Support (EIFS) services continue to operate. The Aboriginal In-Home Support Service (AISS), Intensive Family Support Service (IFSS) and Family Support Network (FSN) are currently providing ongoing support to families, however strategies to engage and support families may be different.

    Refer to individual organisations and agencies to establish how they are working with families during lockdown and whether their day to day functioning is being affected.

    Be mindful in undertaking case management tasks, including safety planning, that the regular provision of services may not be available and take this into consideration in making your plans.

    Assessments, supports and services required for the parents to achieve reunification must be identified as part of the stability and connection planning process. Assessment of the parents' needs must commence as soon as practical after the child enters temporary care and work towards building the parent's capacity to provide safe care. The types of assessments, supports and services required for each child and their family will vary depending on the reasons for involvement by the Department. 

    Generally, you should provide reunification and assessment support, however in some cases it may be appropriate to refer this to Community Service Organisations (CSOs) contracted by the Department. You should consult with a team leader and/or the senior child protection worker placement services for advice about the appropriateness of the referral and availability of services in your district. 

    You should complete a referral to an appropriate CSO who offers reunification support as soon as a child enters care. This support should assist in building the parents' capacity and progressing the reunification.  If the CSO you contact has a wait time, explore other available options to support reunification and avoid any delay.  You should contact the CSO directly if you have questions or concerns about the suitability of the family.

    As part of the Earlier Intervention and Family Support Strategy, two services are available to provide reunification support to families.

    The Intensive Family Support Service (IFSS) and Aboriginal In-Home Support Service (AISS) provide intensive, in-home support for families who are working to reunify their children. The services work with the parents to provide practical support and strengthen their connection to culture and support networks. 

    The referral process includes, but is not limited to:

    • Child brought into the CEO's care.

    • Seven day internal meeting – forming safety goals to include in the referral to service.

    • Department worker commences reunification planning.

    • Discussion of support services with family.

    • If family agrees, consultation with team leader and Aboriginal practice leader to quality assure referral.

    • Referral sent to relevant IFSS or AISS Service via Assist, including safety goals.

    • Form generates into Objective.

    • Send form to service provider - check the IFSS and FSN contact details for a list of metropolitan service providers based on location (also in related resources).

    • Receive confirmation within two working days.

    • Service provider attends 30 day family meeting to discuss what they can offer to support the parent's working towards changing their behaviours/how the safety goal will be achieved. Discuss any expectations around when the service will start working with the family and their ongoing attendance at monthly meetings.

    • Commence working in partnership.

    • Service provider begins working with family to support parent's working to change their behaviours/working towards the safety goals.

    • Proceed to Stage 2 and continue reviewing in partnership during monthly meetings with the family and safety network.

    Exceptional circumstances 

    In exceptional circumstances, at the commencement of Stage 1 you may form a view that the child may never be safe in the care of their parent and assess that reunification cannot occur.

    You must provide substantial and very clear, credible evidence that the parent is unable to show the behavioural changes needed for the child to return to their care. 

    A parent having multiple children in long-term OOHC does not preclude them from being able to make the changes required to their behaviours for reunification to occur when another child enters the CEO's care. 

    You must complete the Stability and Connection Planning process for each child that enters the CEO's care.

    Examples of exceptional circumstances:

    1.  The parent is imprisoned for a substantial period of time.

    Rationale: Their imprisonment means they are unable to participate in reunification and the child would have built a significant attachment to their primary carer by the time the parent has served their sentence of incarceration.

    2.   The parent has significant brain injuries and there are medical reports detailing significant inability to curb impulses, change behaviours and protect a child.

    Rationale: There is significant evidence that the parent's capacity is extremely limited and there will be an ongoing risk to the child.

    3.  The child was brought into the CEO's care due to the behaviours of a single parent, however the child's other parent is located and there are no safety concerns for the child with that parent.

    Rationale: The necessary checks have been completed and you have conducted an assessment as to the safety of the child with that parent, the child can be reunified with that parent and recommendation made that the matter is dealt with further via family court processes.

    If you have formed a belief that there is enough credible evidence the parent will never be able to make the changes required to progress through reunification, then you should complete Stage 3 of the Stability and Connection Planning Form (refer to Stage 3 Guidance).  

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    Stage 2 - Review and assessment

    Once you have completed the Stage 1 meetings you must continue to meet at least monthly with the family (monthly family meeting), safety network, carers and other professionals to assess the progress of the primary and secondary plans and record these meetings using Stage 2 of the Stability and Connection Planning Form (refer to Stage 2 Guidance).

    You must consider how the child's views will be identified and addressed, including whether it is appropriate for the child to attend the meeting.  

    You must begin to develop a Words and Pictures explanation with the parents within three months of the child entering provisional protection and care, to explain to the child the reasons why the child could not live with their parents. 

    You must make efforts to actively engage both parents in the Stage 2 process and ensure that they are able to attend the monthly meetings. Their attendance at the Stage 2 meetings is essential. Efforts to engage the parents might include:

    • contacting them via telephone or conducting a home visit to arrange the meeting
    • confirming the arrangements via SMS, telephone or letter, or
    • sending a reminder closer to the date via SMS or telephone.

    If one or both parents do not respond, or are still unable or unwilling to attend the meetings, you must document your efforts and their responses on the Objective file. 

    You should make efforts to engage other significant people in the child's life and ensure they can participate in the monthly meetings. Their role will determine how essential their attendance at the meeting is. You may be able to get their feedback beforehand by meeting with them separately or having a telephone conversation or they may be able to attend the meeting via telephone. 

    If you are unable to engage either parent in attending the monthly meeting you may still want to proceed with a meeting to document this and any other actions that have occurred. 

    Monthly Review Meetings 

    The Stage 2 process should be family driven and child focused. Meetings should not occur without the family present in some capacity.  

    In planning the meeting you should consider:

    • who is going to attend

    • who is going to facilitate

    • the best location for the meeting to occur

    • any conflict that may arise with participants and how this will be managed

    • how the meeting will be documented, and

    • how the participants will receive their copy of the notes.

    During the meeting you should consider:

    • What the safety network has seen in the parent's behaviour that demonstrates progress towards the safety goals. Each parent may have separate and different behaviours they need to address.

    • What further actions are still required to show the parents' behaviours are changing.

    • What progress has been made and whether the parents' have moved closer to the safety goals and measure this according to the corresponding stage in the trajectory.

    • Reviewing the contact arrangements according to the corresponding stage in the trajectory.

    • Reinforcing the timeframes for decision making to motivate the parents to persist in making required changes.

    • Emphasising that parents are responsible for making changes with support from the safety network and the Department.

    • Whether existing supports and resources are adequate to support the changes required or if additional or alternative ones should be explored, as well as who will take responsibility for this.

    • What further planning needs to occur to support the child to connect and maintain with their community and culture.

    • Planning and preparing with the parents and safety network to avoid and manage setbacks, and 

    • if the primary plan were to fail, what are the child's family and significant others' preferences of who should provide safe and stable care for the child.

     

    You should maintain a focus on the actions that will or have occurred in between meetings. The time between meetings should be used as an opportunity to undertake identified actions, gather information and progress towards the safety goal.

    New concerns during the process

    If you receive a new child protection concern relating to the parents after the child enters the CEO's care, you must use the interaction tool to determine whether this concern meets the threshold to be intaked for a new Child Safety Investigation

    If harm is substantiated, and it is assessed that the parents do not have the capacity to protect, a new harm and/or danger statement and safety goal should be added. These should then be included in the Stability and Connection Planning with the family.  

    You must review the safety and reunification plans in consideration of the new concerns.  The new danger statement must be addressed before reunification can be progressed.  Further assessment is required here as any new concerns may have been addressed already through existing planning.

    Sources of information

    You must consider multiple sources of credible information to assess the action or inaction by the parents, including direct observations and interviews with:

    • the child
    • the parents
    • siblings, and
    • significant others and safety network.

    You should also consider other relevant perspectives and sources of information including:

    • carers

    • service providers, professionals from placement services and family services, and other professionals involved with the child and family, particularly the reunification support service, and

    • file records regarding the child and any siblings. Case records can reveal critical historical information on previous interventions and must be integrated into the present assessment.

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    Stage 3 - Internal decision making

    The purpose of Stage 3 is for you to provide an assessment and recommendation on whether to continue with reunification (and with which parent). You must be mindful that reunification planning could include the child safely returning to both parents or only one parent if they are separated. 

    The recommendation must be approved/not approved by the district director.

    You must not wait for Stage 3 to commence or progress reunification.

    Reunification should occur during Stage 1 and Stage 2 so there is evidence and information available to complete Stage 3.

    For this stage all planning must be documented in Stage 3 of the Stability and Connection Planning Form (refer to Stage 3 Guidance).  This must be saved in the Stability and Connection Planning screen in Assist (refer to Assist User Guide - Stability and Connection Planning). This stage involves three key actions:

    1. internal decision meeting
    2. writing the assessment in the Stage 3 Form, and
    3. meeting with parents to notify them of the assessment and recommendation made (and approved by district director).

    A Stage 3 internal decision meeting can be held at any point during the Stage 2 process when you feel it is timely to examine whether the parents have made sufficient progress towards or away from the safety goals to make a recommendation. 

    Decision making timeframes may be extended with Regional District Director approval and a documented rationale if it is in the best interests of the child, including whether any delay in decision or actions may have a harmful effect on the child. 

    This is recorded on the Stage 3 Form.

    For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, the completed 'Stage 3' Stability and Connection Planning Form must be sent to an Aboriginal Practice Leader for review and recommendation.

    If the professionals' recommendations and rationales differ, document these in the Stage 3 section of the form for the district director to consider as part of their decision making. 

    Internal decision-making

    When the parents have made sufficient progress towards the safety goal or you form the view they are unlikely to make sufficient progress within the child's timeframe (as documented in Stage 2 of the form), you must hold the Stage 3 internal meeting to inform decision-making about whether to continue with reunification or to apply to the Court for a long-term order.  This meeting must be attended by the team leader. 

    You should consider who else should attend and facilitate the internal decision meeting, such as the Aboriginal Practice Leader, senior practice development officer, district psychologist, education officer and other relevant staff. 

    This meeting should assess the parent's action/inaction, and whether continuing with reunification with the parents is in the child's best interests (s.8 of the Act). Things to consider include:

    • the need to protect the child from abuse and/or neglect

    • the parent's capacity to protect the child from further abuse of that kind and/or neglect

    • the parent's capacity, or of any other person, to provide for the child's needs

    • the nature of the child's relationships with parents, siblings, other family and significant others

    • the parent's attitude to the child and what level of parental responsibility they have demonstrated

    • any views expressed by the child, having regard to the child's age and development

    • the importance of continuity and stability in the child's living arrangements including separation from parents, siblings or other family, a carer or any other person the child has recently been living with, or any other person significant to the child

    • the need for the child to remain connected to parents, siblings, other family and significant others

    • the child's age, maturity, gender, sexuality, background and language

    • the child's cultural and religious identity (including any need to maintain a connection with the lifestyle, culture and traditions of Aboriginal people)

    • the child's physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, developmental and educational needs

    • any other relevant characteristics of the child, and

    • the likely effect on the child of any change in his or her circumstances.

    It is critical that discussion about the above items be held in the context of the harm/danger statements and safety goals identified so far in the planning process. You must maintain a focus on the grounds for the child entering the CEO's care and how the parents have addressed those concerns for the child to return to their care. 

    This meeting should be documented separately (not in the Stability and Connection Planning Form).

    The Stage 3 section of the Stability and Connection Planning Form is designed to capture your complete assessment and recommendation, which will include some information or discussion from this meeting, but it is not designed to be minutes from this meeting.

    Possible critical indicators that reunification should not be pursued include:

    • parents are not demonstrating a desire or willingness to reunify with their child

    • parents are unable or unwilling to understand the harm experienced by their child, and are not willing or are unable to change their behaviours that led to their child being taken into the CEO's care

    • when family and domestic violence is an issue, children cannot be reunified with parents if the risks posed by the perpetrator have not been addressed. In some instances, the protective efforts of an adult victim (parent) will be limited by the abusive and coercive tactics used by the perpetrator

    • the nature of the abuse before intervention was so severe and/or repeated that it is likely to pose an unacceptable likelihood of further harm to the child

    • parents are unable or unwilling to understand and prioritise their child's needs

    • parents are unwilling to accept assistance to adequately care for their child and protect them from future harm

    • parents have not demonstrated a sustainable capacity to care for their child

    • parental capacity is unlikely to benefit or respond to intervention and treatment to achieve necessary change, and

    • the child consistently expresses a preference not to be reunified with their parents.

    Possible outcomes of the meeting are:

    1. there is insufficient evidence to complete a Stage 3 Form and the Department should continue with Stage 2

    2. there is sufficient evidence to complete a Stage 3 Form  and the recommendation should be to continue with reunification. If there is sufficient evidence to reunify the child with one parent only, that rationale for one parent having not progressed toward the safety goal is clearly stated, or

    3. there is sufficient evidence to complete a Stage 3  Form and the recommendation should be for the child to remain in long-term care.

    Writing the assessment 

    You must make a recommendation when you complete Stage 3 of the form. The district director must decide whether to approve the recommendation (either reunification or long-term care) before an application can be put to the Court. 

    The Stage 3 section of the form is designed to be a formal professional assessment, completed by you, with a recommendation.

    You should take into consideration information gathered from the Stage 1 planning meetings, the Stage 2 monthly review meetings and the Stage 3 internal decision meeting and any other relevant documents or sources.

    You must consider the following to assess each child's needs:

    • each individual child in a sibling group
    • their relationships with each other
    • the dynamics of the group, and
    • how each child sees their role in relation to the other siblings.

    Decisions to separate siblings long-term, including which child should be placed with whom, must be accompanied by a comprehensive and documented rationale.  The views of the child and parent must be given due consideration.

    Meeting with the parents

    You must convene a review meeting with the parents, carers, safety network and the child (where appropriate) to advise them of the Department's decision and what has informed this.

    The team leader must attend this meeting

    The regular monthly review meetings that have been occurring as part of the Stage 2 process should give parents an indication of the likely recommendation to be made in Stage 3 and the decision should not be unexpected. 

    If…

    Then…

    The decision is made that reunification should continue

    proceed to Stage 4 reunification using the Stability and Connection Planning Form

    ​The decision has been made that reunification is not in the child's best interest​begin Stage 4 Long-term planning using the Stability and Connection Planning Form

    Application to the Children's Court 

    The relevant Assistant Director General must approve proposals to seek an extension of a protection order (time-limited) before the application is made to the Court.

    If it has been assessed and recommended that reunification is not in the child's best interests, and you have informed the family of this decision, you must apply to the Court for a determination on whether a protection order (until 18) or another long-term order is in the child's best interests. This includes:

    • withdrawing a current protection order application and replacing it with another protection order application such as a protection order (until 18) or protection order (special guardianship), or

    • revoking a protection order (time limited) and replacing it with a protection order (until 18) or protection order (special guardianship).

    You must provide the Court with a rationale on why reunification is not in the best interests of the child and how parental relationships, where appropriate, will be maintained to support the child's wellbeing. 

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    Stage 4 - Transition to reunification

    This stage involves regular meetings to review and monitor the transition plan and safety plan associated with the reunification.

    If we are reunifying with one parent, you must still monitor the progress of the other parent (who is not being considered for reunification with their child) toward the safety goal. If the parent who is being reunified is not legally represented, you should encourage and support the parent to obtain legal advice around parenting orders through the Family Court.

    You must continue to hold and record the monthly meetings with the family, safety network, carers and other professionals to plan and review the progress of transition of the child safely back into their parents' care (monthly review meetings). Consider, where appropriate, including the child in the meetings and if not, how their views will be incorporated - you must  document their views in the Stage 4 section of the Stability and Connection Planning Form (refer to Stage 4 Reunification Guidance).

    You must provide the carer with support during the transition process.

    If the transition plan is to reunify the child with one parent, the plan must set out any safety concerns and how they will be managed with the other parent. Secondary planning should continue in the event the parents are not able to create sufficient safety for the child to return to their care. 

    Continuing reunification

    The aim of Stage 4 is to work through how everyone is going to make reunification happen ( the transition plan) and how everyone will keep the child safe during and after reunification (the safety plan).

    By planning for reunification thoroughly we aim to minimise any negative impact that the transition can have on the child, carer, and the child's family.

    The transition to successful reunification should occur over a short period of time to facilitate the transfer of the child's primary relationships and attachments. 

    Transition interactions between the child, parents and carers will need to be planned with sufficient frequency to facilitate the transition in a timely manner.  

    The carer should play a significant and positive role in reunification and will be an important member of the child's care team during this stage. You must provide the carer with support during the transition process.  For more information refer to the flowchart Transition guide - reunification process and the resource Sample questions for transition home. 

    You should encourage contact between the child, their previous carers and the carer's children once the child has been reunified with their parents. The decision should be based on the needs of the child and made on a case-by-case basis.  This allows continuation of any significant positive relationships the child may have formed in care. 

    Preparing the child

    The child may experience feelings of loss and sadness on leaving a care arrangement or school, even when a transition has been planned and is seen as positive. It is likely that the child will be feeling uncertainty with separating from familiar people and places. 

    Significant others in the network

    People such as teachers and friends may have a significant role in the child's life and these relationships should be maintained to minimise the sense of loss for the child. 

    Birth parents

    Although this is what the parents have been working so hard to achieve, the reality of caring again full time for their child may be a significant adjustment. You should plan for and manage this issue with the parents and safety network.

    It is important that the plan to avoid and manage setbacks (completed in Stages 1 and 2) is integrated into the safety plan with the parents, child and safety network.   

    You need to have clear discussions with the parents, the child and the safety network to prepare for setbacks together, identify what any setbacks might be, and what support would be needed given the likely possibility that a setback will occur and what this could mean for reunification.  The reunification support service may be able to assist with this planning.

    Services

    Internal services and supports are available within IFS teams to support the reunification process, and community sector agencies are also funded to provide family support services.  The EIFSS Point of Referral table provides guidance for workers in relation to opportunities to refer families to both IFSS and AISS services throughout the course of the Family's involvement with the department.

    When reunification can no longer continue

    If you assess that after attempts to stabilise a family after a setback or due to new, significant concerns that reunification can no longer continue and the child is not safe with the parent, review the Stage 3 section of the form.  For further information, refer again to Stage 3 Guidance.

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    Stage 4 - Transition to long-term care

    You must continue to hold and record the monthly review meetings with the family, child's care team and parents' safety network, carers and other professionals to plan for the transition of the child to long-term care.

    Consider and where appropriate include the child in the meetings, and if not included, consider how their views will be incorporated. This must be documented in the Stage 4 Long-term section of the Stability and Connection Planning Form (refer to Stage 4 Long-term Guidance).  These meetings continue until a long-term protection order is granted.

    The transition to long-term care now becomes the primary plan. The priority is to secure a long-term, culturally appropriate care arrangement for the child if this is not already in place. Reunification is now the secondary plan.

    You must continue to record the parents' progress toward the safety goal to inform the Court's final decision.

    In the event that the Court does not agree with the Department's decision, we must return to Stage 2.  Do not reduce contact on the assumption that a long-term order will be granted; you should continue to use contact as an opportunity to monitor the parents and their relationship with their child and gather evidence until the Court makes it's final decision.

    Long-term care contact arrangements should only commence after the Court endorses the Department's decision. Once the protection order is granted, further planning can be documented through the usual care planning process.

    It is not unusual for parents to disengage from attending these meetings once the Department has recommended the child remain in long-term care. You must continue to offer the parents opportunities to meet with you and demonstrate any progress towards the safety goal until the protection order is granted.  

    If the parents refuse to attend the meetings or engage, then you are not required to continue holding monthly meetings; instead, it is best practice to progress to regular care team meetings. This is provided that you continue to make efforts to engage with both parents.

    Progressing long-term out-of-home care

    Monthly review meetings 

    The focus at this stage is to make the primary plan for long-term OOHC clear to the children, parents, carers and family. You should explain what Court Order the Department has applied for and the Court process, and work with the family to identify the most appropriate long-term care arrangement and how the child will maintain their family connections.  

    The primary plan is now long-term OOHC. This Stage 4 process includes continuing to work with the parents to achieve the safety goals, however this work now becomes the secondary plan. The parents' progress towards the safety goals may improve safety of contact and increase the likelihood of the child being reunified.  Reunification remains a legal option until the Court makes a decision. 

    The Court may not support the Department's application for long-term OOHC.  Where the Court does not grant the protection order (until 18) and/or protection order (special guardianship), you must return to and progress the primary plan of reunification as part of the Stage 2 review meetings and determine whether a subsequent application should be made to the Court or reunification should proceed.  

    If a long-term order is made, the care planning process becomes the formal forum to meet with the child, family and significant people to plan for the child, and Stage 4 can cease.  You should consider how you will continue seeking a long-term care arrangement once care planning commences. 

    Parent's consent 

    It is likely that parents may find it difficult to consent to orders even if they acknowledge that their actions have resulted in their child coming into the CEO's care and/or needs to remain in long-term OOHC.  Reasons for this could include the perception that they were giving up, or how other people, such as family, may view them if they give consent. 

    Contact arrangements 

    After the decision has been made that long-term OOHC is in the child's best interests, contact arrangements should be reviewed to consider any likely effects of the change for the child. You should continue with the contact arrangements in line with the safety scale rating from the trajectory until the Court endorses the decision.  Proposed long-term OOHC contact arrangements should only commence after the Court endorses the decision.

    Revoking long-term orders

    Stability and connection planning does not change a parent's right to seek a revocation of a protection order (until 18) or protection order (special guardianship).

    You must conduct a review of the child's circumstances to provide a report to the Court where: 

    • a child's parent's make an application to revoke a protection order (until 18), and

    • a child's placement breaks down and the Department considers it may be in the child's best interests to live with their parents.

    If the review supports the revocation you must document the reasons in the case plan. You must then refer the matter to the relevant Executive Director for approval before making a recommendation in the report that supports the application for revocation.

    Refer to the form Proposal to support or apply for the revocation of long-term orders in related resources.

    A comparison of the Department's long-term orders can be found in  Long-term out-of-home care orders for children in the CEO's care.    For information when an application is made to revoke a protection order (special guardianship) refer to 'Variations to the conditions of the order' in Chapter 3.3  Protection order (special guardianship). 

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