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Report Details


Committee Name:

Select Committee on the Adequacy of Foster Care Assessment Procedures by the Department for Community Development

House:

Legislative Council
Report Type:Report

Title:

Select Committee on the Adequacy of Foster Care Assessment Procedures by the Department for Community Development
No of Pages:198
Physical Location:Legislative Council Committee Office

Presentation Date:

08/24/2006
Inquiry Name(s):Select Committee on the Adequacy of Foster Care Assessment Procedures by the Department for Community Development


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Hide details for Executive SummaryExecutive Summary

1 The main task of the Select Committee on the Adequacy of Foster Care Assessment Procedures by the Department for Community Development (Committee) was to inquire into and report on the adequacy of foster care procedures within the Department for Community Development (DCD) but the Committee’s term of reference 2 also directed it to inquire into and report on specific aspects of the DCD’s procedures and practices. The order in which these issues are discussed in this Report reflect the order in which the issues appear in the Committee’s term of reference 2.

Substantiated Cases of Abuse between 1 April 2004 and 12 September 2005

2 A review of all of the substantiated cases of abuse in care between 1 April 2004 and 12 September 2005 was conducted by Ms Gwenn Murray, a Queensland-based criminologist who specialises in child protection work, at the request of the DCD. A report of her findings was published in December 2005. Rather than attempting to replicate Ms Murray’s child-focused review, the Committee took a slightly different approach by concentrating on the DCD assessments and reviews of the carers of the abused children and young people. This Report refers to a finding or recommendation from Ms Murray’s report where it is especially pertinent to the Committee’s terms of reference. Some of the cases of abuse are referred to in this Report as ‘case studies’.

Screening and Assessment of, and Training and Support for, DCD Carers

3 The evidence that was obtained by the Committee pertaining to term of reference 2(b) revealed that, among other things:
while the carer screening and assessment process is important, it would not, of itself, guarantee that abuse will not occur while children and young people are in care;
some aspects of the carer screening and assessment process, carer training and carer support have been improved in the two years leading up to the tabling of this Report and that further improvements have been planned by the DCD, although it is the Committee’s view that additional improvements should be made;
there is some disparity between the screening and assessment of general foster carers and the screening and assessment of relative carers. The Committee is of the opinion that the uniqueness of relative care is sufficient to warrant a slightly different focus when assessing relative carers. However, the screening and assessment of general foster carers and relative carers should have the same safeguards;
carer screening, assessment and review procedures and policies were not always followed for the Inquiry Population; and
there is an insufficient number of suitable out-of-home care placements available in this State.

Adequacy of Funding, Training, Supervision and Support for DCD Field Workers

4 The Committee hopes that many of the issues raised by the evidence regarding term of reference 2(c) will now be addressed by the initiatives that have been developed or proposed by the DCD during the course of the Committee’s inquiry and the 2006/2007 State Budget. These issues include:
funding for DCD Field Workers’ operating costs;
funding for the training of the DCD’s staff;
the development of the DCD’s reunification policy;
training for the DCD’s staff in assuming specialist positions;
funding for an increase in the supervision of the DCD’s Field Workers;
funding for an increase in the number of permanent Field Worker positions;
staff relief and administrative support for the DCD’s Field Workers; and
specialisation of the DCD’s delivery of services to its carers.


5 In addition to those issues, the Committee found that:
there are likely to be newly-appointed Field Workers who will be undertaking the full duties of their role while waiting to receive training on the DCD’s fundamental philosophies, practices and policies, and training to develop good practice standards;
Field Workers who are contracted for three months or less do not receive training on the DCD’s fundamental philosophies, practices and policies, or training to develop good practice standards;
Field Workers should be receiving more cultural awareness training; and
the level of turnover of Field Workers is an issue for Western Australia.

Independent Advocate for Children in Care

6 The Committee explored the role and features of the newly-appointed Advocate for Children in Care in the context of the models for advocacy for children and young people in care that are utilised in the other Australian jurisdictions. The Committee supports, in principle, the establishment of the position as a means for giving a voice to children and young people in out-of-home care. The Committee also looks forward to the establishment of the Commissioner for Children and Young People.

Adequacy of DCD’s Procedures and Practices in Identifying Abuse in Care

7 With respect to term of reference 2(e), the evidence obtained by the Committee revealed that, among other things:
the DCD’s staff find many of the policies and procedures relating to the identification of abuse in care to be unclear and cumbersome; and
children and young people in care have not always been visited by their Field Workers as regularly as required under the DCD’s policy of at least one visit every three months, and this has implications for the ability of Field Workers to identify cases of abuse in care or the potential for such abuse to occur. The DCD is already working towards rectifying this issue.

Other related Matters that the Committee considers Relevant

8 In other related matters, the Committee found that:
the collaboration and communication between the DCD and DCD-funded non-government agency providers of out-of-home care placements should be improved;
the DCD is having difficulty attracting and retaining clinical psychologists; and
there is a need for dedicated providers of out-of-home care placements for Indigenous children and young people in regional areas.

Conclusion

9 A majority of the Committee, consisting of Hon Robyn McSweeney MLC and Hon Giz Watson MLC, recommends that an independent review of the DCD’s response to the Committee’s recommendations and the Murray Report recommendations be conducted within two years.


10 Hon Sue Ellery did not support this recommendation on the basis that the two-year period was unreasonable, given that some of the elements of the Government’s initiatives in the 2006/2007 State Budget are to be rolled out over a longer period.

Recommendations

11 As a result of the above observations, the Committee has made 25 recommendations. The recommendations are grouped as they appear in the text at the page number indicated:


Page 31
Recommendation 1: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development consider extending the assessment process for all carers beyond their full registration by including in that process the assessments of the carers’ performance during the first three times that they care for a child or young person at the Department’s direction.

Page 31
Recommendation 2: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development ensure that the information session that is offered to prospective carers in the metropolitan area is also made available to prospective carers in the country. For this purpose, the Committee further recommends that the Department fully utilise the Western Australian Telecentre Network.

Page 36
Recommendation 3: The majority of the Committee (Hon Robyn McSweeney and Hon Giz Watson MLCs) recommends that, wherever possible, a prospective carer who is being assessed by the Department for Community Development be assessed by two of the Department’s officers and/or contractors.

Page 37
Recommendation 4: The Committee recommends that all of the Department for Community Development’s officers who conduct carer assessments:

(a) receive the appropriate training and support in the new, more transparent and objective approach to carer assessments; and

(b) be required to have a tertiary degree in social sciences, with a preference for a Bachelor of Social Work or equivalent, a Diploma in Training and Assessment, two years of post-graduate clinical experience, and industry-specific knowledge.

Page 38
Recommendation 5: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development continue to ensure that a clinical psychologist is involved in the assessments of carers where the need arises.

Page 39
Recommendation 6: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development investigate the possibility of having an experienced foster carer accompany an assessor on a home visit during all carer assessments.

Page 41
Recommendation 7: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development:

(a) update the whole general foster carer assessment manual at least once every 12 months;

(b) ensure that the currency of the general foster carer assessment manual as a whole is always clearly indicated throughout the document; and

(c ) ensure that the non-government agency providers of out-of-home care are provided with, or have access to, a current version of the general foster carer assessment manual at all times.

Page 53
Recommendation 8: The Committee notes the complexities of relative care (as discussed in paragraphs 3.75 to 3.77 of this Report) but recommends that the Department for Community Development ensure that, as far as practicable, the same level of scrutiny and safeguards are applied to both general foster carer and relative carer assessments.

Page 54
Recommendation 9: The Committee recommends that, where a child or young person is placed with, and remains in the care of, a relative carer prior to the carer’s full registration, the Department for Community Development uses every effort to ensure that:

(a) the screening of the relative carer is completed as soon as practicable after the child or young person is first placed with the relative carer; and

(b) the carer’s full assessment is completed as quickly as practicable, and, in any event, in less than 90 days after the child or young person is first placed with the relative carer.

Page 64
Recommendation 10: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development investigate the possibility of requiring carers registered with the Department to complete a minimum of two training modules every 12 months as a condition of their annual renewal of registration.

Page 64
Recommendation 11: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development investigate the possibility of providing training to any person who is residing with a departmental carer while that carer is providing foster care.

Page 69
Recommendation 12: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development’s Standards Monitoring Unit and the Advocate for Children in Care monitor the Department’s compliance with the care plan requirements under the Children and Community Services Act 2004 and the Department’s internal policies.

Page 72
Recommendation 13: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development consider establishing a Carer Support Worker position in every District Office in the State.

Page 72
Recommendation 14: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development review the benchmark ratio of one carer support officer for every 50 carers within 12 months after the Department has completed its planned increase in permanent support staff positions.

Page 83
Recommendation 15: The Committee recommends that the Government consider facilitating a broader community discussion and debate on fostering in the context of volunteering.

Page 92
Recommendation 16: The Committee recommends that the Government continue to allocate additional resources for supporting families and for reducing the demand for out-of-home care.

Page 96
Recommendation 17: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development consider:

(a) offering the Start-Up Training more frequently; and

(b) prohibiting new Field Workers from undertaking certain aspects of their duties until they have received the full Start-Up Training.

Page 101
Recommendation 18: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development ensure that managers or Team Leaders brief every new Field Worker who is contracted for three months or less on the Department’s philosophies and policies.

Page 102
Recommendation 19: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development develop a strategy to ensure that all of its workers are appropriately trained in cultural awareness.

Page 115
Recommendation 20: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development develop a plan to better attract and retain Field Workers.

Page 153
Recommendation 21: The Committee recommends that the Advocate for Children in Care be assisted by staff who have a wide range of specialised skills and experiences.

Page 157
Recommendation 22: The Committee recommends that:

(a) the Department for Community Development consider ways in which its policies, procedures and practices in identifying abuse in care can be clarified and streamlined for its workers; and

(b) in this process, the Department give due consideration to the views and suggestions of its workers.

Page 163
Recommendation 23: The Committee recommends that, before making a decision affecting a child or young person in care, the Department for Community Development take due consideration of the views and suggestions of any government or non-government agency involved with the care of that child or young person.

Page 166
Recommendation 24: The Committee recommends that the Department for Community Development investigate the possibility of non-government agencies providing Indigenous placement services in regional areas with high Indigenous populations.

Page 167
Recommendation 25: The majority of the Committee (Hon Robyn McSweeney and Hon Giz Watson MLCs) recommends that an independent review of the Department for Community Development’s response to the Committee’s recommendations and the recommendations of the report by Ms Gwenn Murray, A duty of care to children and young people in Western Australia - Report on the quality assurance and review of substantiated allegations of abuse in care - 1 April 2004 to 12 September 2005, be conducted within two years.