Association of Children s Welfare Agencies Position on the Case Management Policy in NSW

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1 Association of Children s Welfare Agencies Position on the Case Management Policy in NSW Introduction In August 2013, the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) released an updated Case Management Policy for Out of Home Care (OOHC). While there was some consultation of the policy prior to its release, the non- government sector has expressed concerns over particular points in the policy. Consequently, ACWA asked its members to raise their concerns through written feedback and consultation. Overall, agencies highlighted that the Case Management Policy had been inconsistently communicated across FACS and therefore not applied appropriately by all Community Service Centres (CSCs) and Child and Family Regional Units (CFRUs). This response covers the feedback that ACWA has received from agencies and draws out some recommendations for action for FACS. 1. Care plan The new policy risks blurring the line between two distinctly different (but linked) case management domains within one continuum - child protection and care arrangements. Many NGOs have stated that these responsibilities need to be clear and boundaries maintained. Agencies were concerned that while the policy refers to collaborative practice and input from NGOs, FACS still makes the end decision. The Policy states that Final approval of the care plan is a Community Services responsibility (p. 8) while the Guideline for Implementation of the Case Management Policy in Relation to Development of Care Plans and other Court Work outlines the dialogue and agreement needed when finalising the Care Plan. This latter document also requires CS to allow the designated NGO to see the Care Plan before it is submitted to the Children s Court. Whilst good working relationships have developed around care planning, NGOs are not always formally involved in documenting their views in the Care Plan. There are crucial discussions, like those involving contact arrangements, that have implications for the sustainability of a placement and, therefore, need NGO involvement. There is recognition of the unequal power relationship between FACS as contractor and NGOs as service providers, which can make collaboration difficult. Some agencies explained that their experiences of case management responsibility improved with better relationships with FACS staff. For example, one agency reported that writing the care plan with CS was successful in clarifying the restoration goal, contributing the child s perspective, and supporting the agency s continued family work and birth parent relationship. However, there is a concern that this collaboration is relationship based and the level of collaboration changes between districts. Greater clarity around roles and responsibilities would help mitigate this issue, especially with complex cases. 1

2 While a dispute resolution process was incorporated into the policy after sector consultation, there remain concerns that the process may cause further delay in seeking a care plan for the child or young person. 2. Contact Agencies expressed concerns over a variety of facets of contact as described in the policy. Agencies would like decisions around contact arrangements to be as close to the child or young person and therefore think it is more appropriate for this to occur with minimum FACS involvement. As more children and young people enter directly into NGO care, FACS will have less information on the child or young person s circumstance e.g. emotional responses, history etc. The table in the Case Management Policy details FACS responsibility when CS exercises the Minister s PR functions: If the Minister has parental responsibility for contact, approve contact arrangements not specified in the court order (Page 16) Agencies have received inconsistent advice around this statement. It is also of concern that FACS will be approving an increase or decrease contact arrangements for children and young people that they increasingly will know little information about. Some agencies have expressed that their experience to date has been that FACS at times makes decisions about contact that are excessive and this would result in agencies having to negotiate with CFRUs in order to change them. The cost implications for agencies are substantial in these circumstances as agencies must pay for contact visits as well as prepare evidence for the reduction of contact visits. For example, one agency gave the case example of two young Aboriginal children in a short term placement waiting for a long term placement. The contact arrangement was for unsupervised contact with a relative 3 times a week for 4 hours. The Care Plan stated that the children would be in long term care until 18 years old and restoration was not possible. The agency requested the contact be reduced in line with the Care Plan to accept the long term placement and provide stability for the children in the new placement. Reduced contact to support a long term placement was not permitted by the Child Protection Manager. Having two contact visits per week covering a large geographic area is difficult and expensive. For example, overtime needs to be paid for workers for weekend contact or fee for service contractors must be used at an increased expense. The Exception supports and placements factsheet for NGOs explains that exception support may be requested where more than two supervised contacts per week are required, but this is not all agencies experience. This contributes to agencies being less inclined to take a placement, especially immediate placements, while a child is on Interim Orders and there is a higher level of contact. This issue should be addressed through the implementation of the Child Protection Legislation and the development of a common framework for contact. 2

3 2.1 Contact - NGO decision making Further clarification is also sought in relation to the following point listed in the table: Review contact arrangements, which are not specified in court order (Page 21) This says NGOs are to review contact arrangement but it does not clearly state who is responsible for making changes. When granting long- term orders (Parental Responsibility to the Minister until 18) the Children's Court is becoming less inclined to make contact orders. Some agencies have received advice that in these cases, the NGO is expected to implement the contact arrangements recommended in the Care Plan for twelve months from the date they were endorsed by the Court. After that, NGOs (who will have case management) are responsible for assessing and reviewing the frequency and type of birth family contact for children and young people. However, there are currently no evidence informed practice guidelines or practice tools available to assist NGOs to guide this kind of decision making. It is likely that some parents will be unhappy with changes to contact arrangements by NGOs who have determined this to be the appropriate course of action to promote placement stability and wellbeing for children. There needs to be clarity about the appeals process for birth parents in these cases. Currently parents can apply to the Court via S90 seeking changes to Court orders. ACWA would like clarification on whether birth parents are eligible to appeal to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT) following NGOs contact decisions (where there is no court order in place). Regardless of whether the appeals mechanism is ADT or agency complaints process, this area of work presents another expense for NGOs as it is resource intensive and not covered adequately in the current unit cost. 2.2 Contact - Purpose For children on Interim Orders, there needs to be more clarity about the purpose of contact. For example, there is a difference between using contact as part of the assessment of parenting capacity to assist permanency planning decision- making as compared with assisting the transition home once restoration has been identified as the goal. The purpose of contact will determine the nature of supervision and the type of report required. There is a difference between contact that is purely observational (e.g. assessment of parenting capacity) versus evaluative and educational contact with high levels of casework intervention to model good parenting practices (e.g. to assist with family restoration). As NGOs are sub- contracted by FACS, there needs to be clear expectations of contact by FACS and the courts, as this has ramifications for staff qualifications and experience in recruitment. 3

4 2.3 Contact - Report writing Some agencies have requested a consistent report template or practice tool for contact reports in order to promote consistency of practice. The Business Rules and unit cost for Non- Placement Support Services (NPSS), which includes contact services, has an impact on report writing as staff have only about minutes available to write each report. If these reports are to inform case planning decision making, they need to be well written by skilled practitioners. Agencies identified this as a gap in skills and practice knowledge for the NGO sector. CCWT, ACWA s training arm, will begin running a one day training on affidavit writing and giving evidence in the Children s Court to build on the Legal Issues for NGO providers in OOHC' training that has been running for the last 6 months. 3. Barriers to immediate placements FACS may find that this policy has implications for the NGO service system s ability (and willingness) to build responsiveness to the demand for short- term and immediate placements. NGOs may be more selective with children they provide placements for (knowing that they will have case management). That may mean that large sibling groups and children with complex needs are further disadvantaged. At the time of accepting these placements, NGOs will already need to plan for a long- term option for the child, should it be required. If this is not available within the agency, they may be less inclined to accept the placement. Case management is assigned immediately after an agency accepts the placement of a child or young person for a period of more that 14 days. This creates difficulties for agencies to provide the appropriate care for the child or young person because agencies hold little information on the child, the information they receive on the Child Information Form (CIF) is incomplete and the agency is then required to maintain the child placement until a suitable long term placement is found. Moreover, assessing the child s needs is difficult within 30 days as they may not display behavioural issues and needs until after the settling period. 4. Placement matching implications An NGO may place a child on Interim orders where they have a foster carer available who is authorised for short- term care. If long- term care is the permanency plan, the NGO (who has case management and is fully responsible for the child) then has pressure to find a long- term placement from within that NGO s carer pool. Where there is no appropriate long- term carer available then there are only two options: Until Referral Management System (RMS) has capability for NGO to NGO transfer, NGOs need to ask FACS for support in identifying a suitable long- term placement (e.g. listing child on RMS) to find a placement with another NGO, then do case management transfer for a second time this approach relies on the human resources and willingness of each Child & Family Regional Unit (CFRU). There is acknowledgement that once RMS has this functionality, this risk should 4

5 be largely addressed as NGOs will not be reliant on the good will of FACS to assist in this process. The NGO makes a less appropriate match with a carer within the NGO for the child. In the long term this could lead to poorer outcomes for children and young people. 5. Case management assigned to Community Services The policy refers to NGO s needing to confirm with FACS that there are no contractual barriers to transferring a placement between NGOs (page 6). Clarity is required with regards to whether NGOs should be holding case management transfer meetings with the new NGO and how local FACS offices or CFRUs become involved, as the policy states that FACS will arrange for case management to be reassigned to the new provider. Agencies would like further clarification on what the extraordinary circumstances where Community Services may be assigned case management are. The non- government designated agency must immediately notify Community Services when an unplanned restoration of a child or young person to birth family has occurred. In these cases, the non- government designated agency should conduct an assessment of the child or young person s circumstances and work with Community Services to ensure the child or young person s needs are being met. (Page 7) Information is needed on what is being assessed following an unplanned restoration parental capacity or child wellbeing and whether this is a child protection assessment. This also raises questions over funding allocation. 6. Self- Placement The New Interim Business Rules for Unplanned Absences has been developed, outlining a four week period (or eight weeks in exceptional circumstances) for agencies to support children and young people who are absent from their placement. This support can be given where service providers demonstrate strong evidence that the child or young person is likely to return to the placement. Agencies require clarification on how these children and young people will be supported when the unit cost is not being paid to agencies. Whether a young person self- places or not their basic safety and therapeutic care requirements need to be met. They require maximum stability through a consistent caseworker contact and support from the agency to ensure their safety. This is work that agencies are best placed to carry out as they will have developed the relationship with the child. For example, one agency supported a young person with mild intellectual disability, alcohol foetal syndrome and ADHD who self- restored. The agency caseworker visited the young person fortnightly and a support worker visited on the other week. This contact involved a six hour round trip as well as the availability of workers to take regular phone calls from both the parent and young person. Also, the agency supported the young person in liaising with the school to look at partial 5

6 attendance options, linking to programs like Reconnect and Youth Connections, and an educational aide. They also provided support with medication, attending medical appointments, supporting parents with young person s difficult behaviours, and communicating with Aboriginal elders in the community about the support they can offer. There are substantial costs in this work that need to be available past four weeks (or eight weeks in exceptional circumstances) for children and young people with Parental Responsibility to the Minister, regardless of whether they are likely to return to their placement. ACWA requests that NGOs are consulted on the final version of the Business Rules for Unplanned Absences, as well as the case management options of children and young people who self- place and have not returned to their placement. 7. Joint work with FACS FACS and the non- government designated agency have joint responsibility for: Developing the initial care plan, including making an assessment as to whether there is a realistic possibility of restoration of the child or young person to either parent; and where restoration is not identified as the goal, then an assessment of alternative permanency options. Decisions to re- engage the Children s Court for new or changed care orders Community Services has the final decision making role in approving the care plan and making court applications in relation to restoration and adoption. Agencies seek clarity on whose responsibility it would be to assess parental capacity and the processes involved in this. Also, the table on page 17 refers to NGOs making joint applications with FACS for an order for Sole Parental Responsibility. This requires further clarity in terms of roles, responsibilities and funding. With changes internally in FACS, agencies would like clarification of the divisions of responsibilities of CSCs and CFRUs and a detailed guideline for when NGO contact each office. ACWA understands that a review of CFRU functions is already being undertaken and feedback has been submitted on this review. 8. Documentation Agencies would like a commitment from FACS around the timely provision of documents and to be given priority for meetings to conduct case management transfers. While agencies accept that there should be a roll out period for this request due to time constraints, they cannot accept case management transfer without the essential documents and information that is needed to effectively case manage a child or young person. Page 5 of the Case Management Policy refers to case management transfer occurring: 6

7 Immediately after accepting the placement of a child or young person on a care order for a period of more than 14 days (as per 135A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, 1998) While a child or young person is on interim orders. A child may be on an interim order for several days up to 12 months For children or young people who have transferred from a Community Services placement to a non- government designated agency placement. Agencies emphasise that this would need to coincide with the handing over of all documentation and information necessary for effective case management, thus there is an expectation that FACS will have this prepared at the point of accepting a placement. Agencies report that their staff spend significant time following up case plans, behaviour management plans, psychology reports and medication authority after a child is in their care. For example, agencies have limited history from the transfer meetings (the Care Plan and Client Information Form) when referring a child for psychological assessment. When agencies have requested further history to assist with life story work or psychological support they have been told to expect up to a six month wait for this information. Thorough child protection summaries and the initiating affidavit are needed so NGOs can understand what life was like for the child and what patterns of behaviours the child and parent are displaying before the child s entry to care. Understanding the triggers, stressors, family support and interventions prior to entry to care, agencies can better target support to build stronger safety networks, service referrals and pathways for the child and parents. In short term or immediate placements, all the documentation may not be available. In these cases, collaboration is critical to ensure a child or young person is not held up in the system. There is also information that other agencies hold, whose contacts have not been transferred from CS to NGOs e.g. IASK Police Information Exchange, Joint Investigation Response Teams (JIRTs), NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. For example, NGOs do not have registration for the IASK Police Information Exchange system. NGOs are required to fax 16A requests through a convoluted process to access information to assist them making a risk assessment. Moreover, there is no process for agencies to obtain Police information from interstate. Clarity is also needed about whose responsibilities it is to make health pathway for children first coming into care. To address these issues with documentation, agencies suggested rules are needed around information sharing. If agencies do not know the child entering a placement, they do not know what information to ask for faced with the unknowns of the child s background. One agency gave a case example where a Client Information Form (CIF) was out of date with missing information without a Nil in the required boxes. It was only until a case conference that the worker was informed of the abuse the child had experienced. This is not information the agency would have known to enable them to ask informed questions but it did have a significant impact on the care they needed to provide for the child. 7

8 9. Child Assessment Tool (CAT) Agencies would like to ensure that they have sufficient input in the assessment of children and young people in their care. The policy states that a CAT review can be requested with a change of placement between NGOs. Clarity is required regarding who would make this request, the current NGO or the new one that the child or young person is to be placed with? Further clarity is also required to determine which agency is responsible for performing CAT assessments. CAT scores for a new placement need to be reviewed. Sometimes, the CAT was completed 2 years previously and does not reflect the child at the time of the new placement. After a placement breakdown, the CAT should be reviewed for the transfer. Different contexts and experiences will affect the CAT score, e.g. when moving from foster to residential care. The time and effort required from agencies to request a review of the CAT is costly. One agency gave the example of a request made in December 2013 and was still awaiting confirmation of the reclassification in May During this time, the agency has had to put in place several additional supports and resources to meet the needs of the child without adequate funding for this level of care. While NGOS can request a review of the CAT within 30 days, this is often not enough time. The policy should be amended so that NGOs can request a review of the CAT at least within the first three months. Some agencies made successful requests for a review outside of this timeframe. Also, the NGO should be able to be more involved in completing this review. 10. Legal work required One of the key concerns expressed by agencies was around the extra responsibilities assigned to them under the new policy. With limited funds to cover the cost of a legal team, agencies currently do not have the expertise to do some of the work, like writing affidavits. The policy states: Arrange for the writer of a report to attend court and give evidence when required for the care proceedings. (Page 9) As court attendance and court report writing has not been a requirement of NGO casework in the past, training is required to up skill staff in this area. With acknowledgement that ACWA has developed legal training, agencies believe this training needs to be available to all casework staff on an ongoing basis, including staff in rural and regional areas and at an affordable cost. We also note that Community Services has a legal back of house team that advises their caseworkers. However, the NGO sector has not been sufficiently resourced to appoint a legal advisor (as this not covered in the unit costing), and there is concern about the consequent legal risks to organisations. 8

9 11. Adoption Page 10 of the policy states: Community Services has the final decision making role in approving the care plan and making court applications in relation to restoration and adoption. While Community Services is responsible for leading and facilitating decision making around adoption and other permanency options, the roles and responsibilities of both parties need to be further detailed. This would include working with the Supreme Court and funding support regarding appeals if they occur. As a sector NGOs will ideally work together and work with FACS to manage the legal expertise and financial costs. 12. Victim s Compensation Following advocacy by ACWA, Community Services acknowledged that it retains responsibility for making claims for recognition payments on behalf of young people and the Case Management Policy was revised accordingly. Nonetheless, it may be useful to include further guidance to NGOs on their responsibilities relating to providing initial support to young people who are victims of crime. Without such guidance, NGOs may not be fully aware of their responsibilities in providing initial support and referral for other types of victim support. Community Services responsibilities relating to Victim s Compensation should also be specified in more detail. Every young person s files should be sent for audit to the Community Services legal team no later than the young person s 15th birthday but this should be done as soon as possible to ensure all evidence is available to inform the audit. The young person should also be supported through the process through case management and Victim s Compensation should be addressed in the young person s Leaving Care Plan. This is a FACS responsibility with residual Parental Responsibility. 13. Permanency planning Review permanency plans involving restoration (within 12 months after it was last considered by the Children s Court) (Page 20) While agencies have been reviewing permanency decisions as part of case planning for a child or young person, requirements of reviewing permanency plans need to be clarified. Restoration assessment tools are needed and training to develop safety plans around domestic violence and child protection. Staff need in depth training and support to make restoration successful. 14. Funding Issues Concern have been raised about the cumulative impact of the increased responsibilities that NGOs have under the Case Management Policy which are not adequately covered 9

10 by the unit costs, particularly (but not only) in relation to Interim Orders. This includes, for example: contact with birth families including transport costs provision of evidence and preparation of reports to assist with Community Services running of the Court Case pursuit of restoration 1 making an application to the Guardianship Tribunal on behalf of a child or young person for guardianship orders investigating reportable conduct matters (FACS previously had a reportable conduct specialist unit, these resources have not been transferred to the NGO sector) rural and remote travel to allow for travel time in conducing home visits to carers and children in a vast regional or remote areas NGO s role in Family Group Conferencing, following the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill Leaving Care and After Care Best practice dictates that NGOs do provide continuity for young people leaving care. With case management, NGOs have additional and unfunded responsibilities for care leavers past the age of 18 years. It is also noted that agencies have experience that FACS is continuing to transfer young people over 15 years, despite stating to the Ombudsman that this would not occur. 2 Agencies main concern is not that the young people over 15 are being transferred, but that they are being transferred without financial support for leaving care. It is requested that FACS provide clarity about what financial support will be available to support leaving care for these young people. Recommendations The feedback presented in this paper has led ACWA to the following recommendations for action: 1. Clarification of roles and responsibilities: the Case Management Policy requires agencies to be working with FACS in a different way. Some of the work, for example permanency decisions and evidence to support care plans, involve joint work between the agencies however there is no clarity around expectations of both parties on how this work will be completed. ACWA asserts that while importance must be placed on regional responses to how joint work will be undertaken, it is crucial that the non- government sector is consulted on what the processes will be. Further questions around roles and responsibility are attached to this document. 1 ACWA notes that the Restoration Support Payment has been developed to resource agencies to carry out this work. 2 data/assets/pdf_file/0017/10880/the- continuing- need- to- better- support- young- people- leaving- care- web.pdf 10

11 2. Legal support services: there is an identified gap in the skills and worker capacity to undertake the roles under the legal requirements that are addressed in the policy. While ACWA is running legal training for the sector, the lack of financial resources for agencies to access legal support remains an unaddressed issue. 3. Unit cost: the Case Management Policy has brought to light the limitations of the current unit cost for OOHC. While some of these issues have been highlighted in this paper, ACWA will be addressing this issue separately in the future. Appendix 1 Questions concerning roles and responsibilities 1. What is the role and responsibility of the NGO when a carer is applying for an order for Sole Parental Responsibility (PR) and how does this now change with Guardianship and Adoption under the new amendments? 2. What is the role and responsibility of the NGO in risk assessment when CS retains PR? 3. Is the NGO responsible for developing the Care Plan, or just providing input? 4. What are the restoration responsibilities of the NGO during Interim Orders? a. Whose responsibility is it to assess parental capacity for restoration? 5. What is the process for transferring case management between NGO s? a. Clarity is required with regards to whether NGOs should be holding case management transfer meetings with the new NGO and who/how local FACS offices or CFRUs become involved, as the policy states that FACS will arrange for case management to be reassigned to the new provider. Would this require a MOU between NGOs? b. With a change of placement between NGOs, a CAT review can be requested, clarity is required regarding who would make this request, the current NGO or the new one that the child or young person is to be placed with? 6. Agencies would like clarification on the length of time it will take before FACS becomes re- involved in a case. 7. Who is responsible for making changes in the contact arrangement review for CYP on long term orders? a. What is the appeals process for parents in relation to contact arrangements on long term orders? 8. When do agencies contact CSCs and CFRUs? 9. Are NGOs or FACS responsible for making health pathway referrals for children first coming into care? 10. Agencies would like clarification on what processes and documentation is needed in order to close a case. 11. What is the responsibility of NGOs in Family Group Conferencing, following the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 2013? 11

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