Permanent Care and Adoption: A summary of all previous Reviews

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1 Permanent Care and Adoption: A summary of all previous Reviews Introduction In order to grow up satisfactorily, children need to know that life has predictability and continuity; they need the reliability of knowing where they will be growing up...the foremost question to be asked and answered in each case is: Will the child have a family when he or she grows up? Maluccio, A.N; Fein, E. and Olmstead, L. (1986) Permanency Planning for children Concepts and Methods Finding families for the growing number of Victorian children who cannot return home is one of the greatest challenges facing the out of home care system. The stability audit conducted at the end of 2006 by Child Protection and Family Services Branch gathered data on 2,454 children and young people in out of home care and concluded that over half of the children and young people (1,346 or 55%) will not return to their birth parents and will require long term or permanent care with an alternative carer. Some of these children may be able to remain in their current placements; however a substantial shortfall in stable, continuing care arrangements for many children placed away from their families still exists. In Victoria Adoption and Permanent Care Services (A&PC) provide permanent family placements for children unable to live with their birth families either through permanent care or adoption. This includes children placed in permanent care after a period of child protection intervention and a decision that they cannot be returned safely to their parents care and children relinquished for adoption by their birth parents. In addition the Intercountry Adoption Service places children from overseas with approved adoption families. The intention of permanent care is for the placement to last indefinitely, the child becomes a member of the family and the permanent carers accept parental responsibility for the child until they reach social and psychological independence. Permanent care placements are legalised through the Children s Court granting of a permanent care order that gives custody and guardianship rights and responsibilities to the permanent care parents. A&PC teams are also responsible for organising and supporting infant and special needs adoptions as well as managing applications by step parents to adopt their step child. The current adoption and permanent care service system comprises: Nine regionally based adoption and permanent care teams. Four of these are departmental teams managed alongside child protection in Eastern and North Western Metropolitan Regions, Hume and Barwon South Western Regions. The other five regional teams are based in community service organisations. Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Association (VACCA) receives funding to deliver permanent care services for aboriginal children. The CatholicCare state wide adoption and permanent care team based in North Western Region. 1

2 The Departmental Intercountry Adoption Service (ICAS) and the Family Information Networks and Discovery Service (FIND), formally Adoption and Family Records Service (AFRS), that provides information and records, search, intermediary, counselling and support to adopted people and former Wards of State (Forgotten Australians) and their families. Both these services are managed by DHS Southern Region Children Youth and Families. This current service system configuration has been in existence since 1995 with the only change being the move of ICAS to Southern region management in A&PC is a small program with 50 full time equivalent positions and current funding of $4.4 million for permanent care and $396,867 for adoption. This is equivalent in number to approximately 10% of the current case load carrying child protection workforce. The programs current targets are 22 Adoption and 96 Permanent Care placements. Intercountry adoption receives funding of $940,150 which supports seven FTE departmental staff and a number of part time contract workers who assess applicant families and support placements. This figure does not include infrastructure and administrative costs. In 2010/11 56 children were adopted in Victoria from overseas, after 54 were adopted in the previous year, with numbers expected to plateau or fall in the future. The program has undergone numerous reviews since 1990 with consistent recommendations but limited implementation. More recently the case for change within Adoption and Permanent Care has been articulated and a vision and new service model proposed. Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview summary of all previous reviews conducted relating to Adoption and Permanent Care. Looking Back Adoption and Permanent care is arguably one of the most reviewed programs within the Children, Youth and Family service system. Review and redevelopment commenced in 1991 with the regionalisation of A&PC, completed in 1995 with the establishment of rural teams and has continued with the following reviews and redevelopment projects: Review of Adoption and Permanent Care Services 1994 (DHS) Redevelopment of Permanent Care Project 1996 (DHS) Auditor General s Report on Child Protection 1996 Redevelopment of Adoption and Permanent Care Final Report 1998 (KPMG) Dr Dorothy Scott s Report on Permanent Care Program 2001 Strengthening Permanent Care Project 2002 (DHS) Adoption Victoria Project 2004 (DHS) The main issues and recommendations of each of these reviews are briefly summarised below to provide context and understanding of the continuity of issues facing the program over the years. 2

3 Review of Adoption and Permanent Care Services 1994 (DHS) Ineffective recruitment and assessment processes of potential caregivers including inadequate follow up, cumbersome approval process for applicants, inconsistencies in design and purpose of information/education sessions and inflexible assessment procedures with inadequate focus on applicants birth children. Coordination problems at point of transfer between child protection worker and permanent care worker Unplanned and inadequate post placement support frequency of support determined by access arrangements rather than child or carer needs. Streamlining and standardising recruitment and education processes, including a central register of applicants. More timely and flexible assessment procedures with specific focus on birth children of applicant families and streamlining approval process. Post placement support to be planned at point of placement and progressively transferred to community agencies for placements requiring ongoing support. Consideration be given to funding a support network to include parent and carer self help groups and BIST (Behavioural Intervention Support Team) services. Redevelopment of Permanent Care Project 1995 (DHS) Difficulties in recruiting carers for children with complex needs and high levels of access. Delays in both case planning and court decision making. Inadequate linkages between permanent care, foster care and child protection. Post placement support consuming increased resources: almost three quarters of A&PC work effort in Infant adoption program diverting resources away from permanent care in some regions. In consistency and uncertainty about the application of flexible funding packages to permanent care placements Development of a statewide adoption service to undertake infant and spousal adoption. Consideration is given to providing relinquishing counselling and education and assessment of adoption applicants on a contract basis to ensure local access. Special needs adoption to remain with regional permanent care services. Development of individual resource packages for children with complex needs to ensure adequate levels of support. Development of new performance indicators including targets for components of placement support 3

4 Development of a strategic plan to define a comprehensive approach to recruitment incorporating statewide and regional elements. Development of guidelines and protocols to ensure regular consultation between permanent care and child protection. Training on permanency planning to be provided to child protection workers and case planners. Permanent care to be redeveloped as part of a continuum of home based care services, with permanent care services delivered by agencies providing other forms of home based care. An equity review to ensure adequacy of resourcing to permanent care services. Auditor General s Report on Child Protection 1996 Long delays in determining a child s future, particularly at the Children s Court. Continuing attempts to re unite children with birth parents who have consistently demonstrated an inability to provide adequate care. A failure to consider permanent care at the earliest possible stage and poor use of the capacity of DHS to arrange permanent care orders. Continuation of access arrangements that are a source of intense distress and insecurity and not necessarily in the child s best interests. More effort needs to be applied by DHS in seeking permanent care orders for children in long term foster care. New strategies need to be developed and legislative change initiated, if necessary, to address the barriers in seeking orders. Permanent care placement needs to be treated as a high priority program within DHS, adequately resourced and with ongoing research in permanent placement strategies. Permanent care families must be assured of ongoing support where required including highly skilled clinical services to assist them in dealing with the disruptive and demanding behaviour of disturbed children. Decision making on permanent care must take place at an earlier date, ideally at the first application for an extension of Guardianship to the Secretary Order. Redevelopment of Adoption and Permanent Care Final Report 1998 (KPMG) The redevelopment of A&PC was part of the broader YAFS (Youth and Family Services) redevelopment and was undertaken to strengthen the overall provision of A&PC services, reduce fragmentation and isolation from other home based care services and achieve a more coordinated, efficient and responsive service system. Three options for future A&PC service were outlined: 1. Maintain the status quo 2. All adoption services consolidate into a specialist statewide program and permanent care integrate with other regional family placement services 4

5 3. All adoption, permanent care and foster care services integrate at the regional and area level KPMG noted a lack of consensus on the way forward due to a diversity of views amongst service providers and regions but they noted a high level of support in principle for the joint provision of permanent care and foster care. Consensus also existed on the need to rationalise low volume services (local adoptions and relinquishment counselling) Additional factors impact on program service delivery that cannot be addressed by changes to service structure. These include delays in court based decisions, lack of commitment to permanency planning and the service gap of post legalisation placement support. Consideration be given to charging fees for some currently free services (e.g local adoption) Given there is little rationale for permanent care to remain a stand alone placement service, consideration should be given to some level of integration with foster care, especially at the auspice and management level. This would create opportunities for greater collaboration and coordination between staff, a more efficient distribution of resources, reduction in administration and overhead costs and maximising the contributions of caregivers. The significant differences between the aims and purposes of foster care and permanent care require them to remain separate at the service provision level. It is argued that the integrity and effectiveness of permanent care services would be seriously undermined if it did not continue as a specialist component. Given the level of support for the idea, consideration be given to the establishment of a separate single adoption service and a combination of centrally managed and locally provided service would be the most effective model for future service delivery. The implementation of such a service requires the injection of additional resources. Dr Dorothy Scott s Report on Permanent Care Program 2001 and subsequent Strengthening Permanent Care Project 2002 Inadequate data collection and analysis Difficulties in recommending a standard permanent care service model due to a lack of demand and trend data. Although the importance of close location to child protection is emphasised. Low numbers of infant and spouse adoptions make centralised, statewide service delivery feasible with relinquishment counselling contracted out to appropriate agencies and private practitioners in rural and regional Victoria. Major obstacles in legislation, policy and practice impacting on effective permanent care service delivery. In particular the perceived reluctance of magistrates, child protection managers and workers to move to a permanent care case plan when family reunification becomes unviable resulting in damaging drift in care for children and young people. Insufficient numbers of permanent care families to meet the demand for placement. Recruitment is challenging due to structural factors such as high levels of access, uncertainties associated with permanent care orders and the high needs of children placed. 5

6 As more children are placed the demand for post placement and post legalisation support increases. The lack of post legalisation support affects the outcomes of placements, the recruitment of new care givers and the ability to legalise existing placements. Legislative amendments to strengthen provisions relating to permanent care. Regionally specific permanent care service design, including strategies to develop closer links with Child Protection and integration with other home based care services. Design and implementation of a systematic electronic data collection system to collect and analyse comprehensive and comparative permanent care data on both a regional and statewide basis. Redevelopment of performance indicators to include monitoring the time children remain in out of home care prior to a decision for permanent care and the length of time between a permanent care decision and placement. Development of practice guidelines and specific training packages to enable better identification of children who require permanent care and action to expedite referral to permanent care services. Re examination of the carer assessment and decision making processes to enhance responsiveness and flexibility. Exploration of more cost effective management of work demands such as arranging and supervising access within permanent care teams to free up resources for recruitment of permanent care families and support of placements. Additional research into best practice recruitment and retention of permanent care applicants. Delivery of post legalisation support within existing permanent care teams to maximise existing relationships and build on worker expertise Development of a model for a centralised, statewide local adoption program. Development of a budgetary framework for adoption and permanent care. Adoption Victoria Project 2004 A statewide adoption service is proposed incorporating local adoption service, delivering infant and spouse adoption; the Intercountry Adoption service and the Adoption and Family Records Service. Adoption Victoria is an appropriate response to the drop in demand for all aspects of local adoption. ( Demand for relinquishing counselling had dropped from 214 clients in 1995/6 to 91 in 2002/3; Infants placed for adoption fell from 60 in 1990/1 to 27 in 1995/6 to 10 in 2003/4) Adoption Victoria creates the opportunity to consolidate adoption services into a responsive, cohesive, specialist service with a single access point for service users and maximise the development of expertise and skill among adoption staff. The separation of adoption services from permanent care allows teams to strengthen service provision in the growing area of permanent care. Services to metropolitan clients and applicants to be provided from the central location. In rural regions contracted social workers will provide services best delivered at a local level such as 6

7 relinquishment counselling, assessment of adoptive applicants, placement supervision and ongoing supervision of access. The proposed Adoption Victoria Service would result in no change to the services delivered by ICAS, AFRS and Centacare (CatholicCare). Regional A&PC services will cease to deliver infant and spouse adoption but will continue to deliver special needs adoption as this is seen to be well aligned with permanent care service provision. A consultation process occurred in July 2004 aimed at obtaining the views of DHS regions, A&PC services and interest groups. The consultation revealed some support for Adoption Victoria from ICAS, Regional Director Gippsland, Child Protection management Barwon South West Region, Centacare and VANISH. All regional A&PC teams and support groups representing relinquishing mothers and adoptive parents opposed the proposal arguing for a need to strengthen the regional model and questioning the fit between local adoption and intercountry adoption. Submissions suggested local adoption fits well with permanent care, especially in terms of the increasingly complex needs of children and birth families. They also argued strongly for continuing to provide services close to community and expressed concern about contract workers providing relinquishing counselling in rural and regional areas. Alternative proposals were suggested including strengthening adoption practice within existing regional teams by nominating an adoption portfolio worker and formalising Eastern Regions leadership role in adoption. Given the lack of consensus the Adoption Victoria proposal did not progress to implementation. However, the questions of how to effectively deliver local adoption services and free up resources within A&PC to strengthen permanent care and create better integration with the broader out of home care system remain firmly on the agenda. 7

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