Authorising carers - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding the process for authorising carers to make certain decisions.

Introduction

See procedure Authorising carers for tasks that must be undertaken.

Where a child is in out-of-home care as the result of a protection order or an interim accommodation order that child protection is responsible for administrating, child protection is able to authorise the carer to make certain decisions about specified issues in relation to a child in their care.

As with all practice, the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration. Authorisations need to be consistent with the current court order, departmental policies, the case plan and any care and placement plan for the child.

The type of court order and the permanency objective for the child, as well as the type of placement will affect the specific issues about which a carer is authorised to make decisions.

It is in the best interests of children in out-of-home care to feel that they belong, and to experience care as safe and comfortable. Authorising carers assists with normalising the experience of children in out-of-home care and supports children's access to similar care and opportunities available to other children.

Parents of children in out-of-home care need to be provided with accurate information about how decisions about their child will be made, and that their child’s carer will be making decisions about specified issues during the placement in relation to their child.

Where the permanency objective is for parents to resume care of their child, they should be engaged to the fullest extent possible in making case planning decisions in relation to their child.

Legislative authority

Sections 175A and 175B of the CYFA enable the Secretary to specify issues relating to a child in out-of-home care about which a carer may be authorised to make decisions. This power may only be exercised by case planners (team managers and above).

A carer who is authorised under these provisions may make a decision about a specified issue in relation to the child in their care without consulting child protection.

Where a child’s parents retain some parental responsibility, that is, where the child is subject to an interim accommodation order, family reunification order or therapeutic treatment (placement) order, the issues specified must not include major long-term issues.

A major long-term issue in relation to a child means an issue about the care, wellbeing and development of the child that is of a long-term nature, including an issue of that nature about the child’s:

  • education (both current and future)
  • religious and cultural upbringing
  • health
  • name.

Types of decisions

Care decisions

Carers make many decisions every day, for example, about the clothes a child will wear, their routine and so on. These are day-to-day care decisions and carers have both the right and the responsibility to make them in the child’s best interests. Carers do not require authorisation to make care decisions in relation to the child.

Decisions of a short-term nature

There will be times when routine decisions that are not of a long-term nature need to be made for a child. Consent to participate in an activity may be required, or routine medical care may need to be arranged. Carers may be authorised by the child’s case planner to make these kinds of decisions about specified issues to support the care provided to the child. These may include some instances where a consent form requires the signature of a parent or guardian. Examples include, whether a child attends a school excursion, social or sporting activities or has a tooth filled by the dentist and so on.

Decisions of a long-term nature

Under an interim accommodation order to out-of-home care or a family reunification order, the case planner is not able to authorise the carer to make decisions about issues of a long-term nature. Parental consent is still required, except where specified by the court or where the department has specific legal authority (such as in relation to medical consent). Where the Secretary has parental responsibility for the child, to the exclusion of all others, the carer may be authorised by the case planner to make certain decisions about specified issues of a long-term nature. Authorisations of this nature are most likely to be appropriate where a child is in the care of an intended long-term or permanent carer. Such authorisation would not be appropriate where, in exceptional circumstances, the permanency objective is family reunification under a care by Secretary order.

Financial decisions

The authorisation of a carer to make certain decisions does not affect financial arrangements in relation to children in out-of-home care. Current procedures regarding financial support for home-based carers, or for meeting the costs of care for children in residential placements, still apply.

Home-based carers receive a care allowance, inclusive of an education and medical expenses allowance, and for school age children, an education assistance allowance. These contribute to meeting the expenses associated with providing home-based care as a volunteer carer. They assist with the day-to-day costs connected with providing care including paying for the educational and health needs of the child and recreational activities and entertainment. Home-based carers may also be eligible for financial support from other sources and should be referred to the Financial support guide for home-based carers.

Many of the decisions a carer is likely to be authorised to make will fall within the scope of the financial support routinely available to the carer. Carers are free to decide how to spend the allowances they receive towards the cost of caring for the child.

Where a carer believes a cost is beyond the scope of the care allowances they receive for the child, the carer may wish to request supplementary placement support funding (through accessing client expenses). Approval is required prior to committing to such additional expenditure.

It is important to remind carers that, if they are seeking financial reimbursement from the department for something they consider is not covered by the allowances they receive, they will need to seek approval in advance via their agency or the child protection practitioner before committing to the expense. Such requests need to be dealt with promptly to meet the child’s need for good quality care.

Timing

Early in a placement, the child protection practitioner is to discuss decision-making arrangements with the carer, to the extent necessary, given the nature of the placement and the circumstances of the child. An experienced foster carer, trained in and familiar with authorisation, may already have a sound understanding of the process and discussion of anything particular to the child may be sufficient. A new kinship carer will likely need more thorough discussion of this aspect of care.

For foster or residential care, a care team will be formed to support the placement. The care team should consider decision-making arrangements within two weeks, in the context of developing the care and placement plan.

For kinship placements, this discussion should begin in the context of completing the preliminary assessment (Kinship Care Assessment Form A) within the first week. A decision about authorisation of the carer(s) should be made within six weeks in the context of completing the comprehensive assessment (Kinship Care Assessment Form B) in conjunction with the carer. See procedure Kinship care for tasks that must be undertaken.

Making an authorisation

Authorisations are made on a case by case basis by the case planner and where relevant with the out-of-home care agency. A separate authorisation is required for each child. This may occur as part of the process of developing the initial case plan or at any point in the case planning cycle. The Authorising carers checklist will assist with working through the process.

Careful consideration of the child’s individual needs and the lifestyle of the carer will assist with authorisation being effective in supporting a positive experience of care for a child. Where the permanency objective is family reunification, or the  child is subject to an IAO, the parents’ views will also be an important consideration.

A new authorisation will be required if the placement changes or a new order is made. An authorisation remains in force while the child resides with the carer named, for the duration of the court order, unless revoked.

Authorisation documents

It is crucial that the details of the child, carer and court order are recorded accurately in the instrument of authorisation. A copy of the court order, excluding conditions, is to be attached to the authorisation.

All involved need to be well informed. Child protection practitioners are to provide, and discuss the content of, relevant information sheets with carers, children (where age-appropriate), parents and placement agency staff.

The following documents are to be used when authorising carers to make decisions about children in their care.

  • Instrument of authorisation (available in Authorising carers - forms):
    • interim accommodation order, family reunification order, therapeutic treatment (placement) order)
    • care by Secretary order or long-term care order
  • Letter templates (available in Authorising carers - forms):
    • carer – with copy to placement manager where relevant
    • parent
  • Information sheets (available in Authorising carers information sheets):
    • carer – children on care by Secretary order or long term care order
    • carer – children on interim accommodation order, family reunification order or therapeutic treatment placement orders
    • young person
    • parent
    • education and child care services

Where the child will be enrolled in child care, kindergarten or school, the carer will need a second signed instrument of authorisation they can give to the relevant facility for their records. Additional copies may be provided if needed. Where a placement provider is involved, the placement manager is to be provided with a copy of the documentation provided to the carer.

Identifying issues to specify

The child protection practitioner, in consultation with the carer, and where relevant the placement agency (through the care team), is responsible for making a recommendation to the case planner, regarding the specific issues about which the carer should be authorised to make decisions, and preparing the relevant paperwork (two copies of the instrument of authorisation, and relevant letters and attachments) for consideration by the case planner.

The recommendation will be informed by the practitioner’s assessment of the carer’s capacity to make decisions in relation to the particular child, taking into account:

  • the type of order
  • the type of placement
  • the permanency objective
  • other aspects of the case and care plans
  • the child’s needs
  • the circumstances of the carer.

Under an interim accommodation order, family reunification order or therapeutic treatment placement order, major long-term issues must not be specified. Issues of a short-term nature likely to be suitable include:

  • routine medical and dental care
  • school activities, excursions and work experience
  • school camps within Victoria
  • activities – sports, cultural and social clubs within Victoria
  • social events and overnight stays within Victoria
  • haircuts to maintain current style in healthy condition.

Other issues of a short-term nature may also be specified.

  • Where the placement is near an interstate border, if the carer regularly crosses the border as part of their usual routine, it is likely that authorising interstate movement consistent with the carer’s needs will be appropriate.
  • Where a child has a chronic medical condition with an established treatment plan, authorising the carer to arrange treatment consistent with that plan may assist.

Where the Secretary has exclusive parental responsibility for the child (care by Secretary order or long term care order), and the permanency objective is adoption, permanent or long term out of home care, in addition to the above, the range of issues that may be suitable will include:

  • haircuts (without qualification)
  • years 11 and 12 subject choices.

Other issues of a long-term nature may also be relevant, depending on the child’s circumstances. For example, where a child is transitioning from primary to secondary school, the case plan may specify which school the child is to attend, and the carer may be authorised to enrol the child in that school, normalising the child’s experience of going through the enrolment process. Where a child is living with an intended long-term or permanent carer, a broader range of long-term issues may be considered.

See below for additional information regarding particular issues.

Signing the authorisation

The case planner (usually the team manager) is responsible for determining which issues to specify and for signing the instrument of authorisation and relevant letters.

The case planner is required to confirm that all documentation is correct.

Informing the carer and others of the authorisation

The child protection practitioner should provide the carer with a carer’s authorisation letter and two copies of the standard authorisation instrument as soon as possible after this has been completed by the child protection case planner. The carer may provide the second copy to the child’s day care, kindergarten or school.

Parents of children in out-of-home care are to be provided with information when their child enters care regarding the authorisation of carers generally and the issues specified when authorisation occurs.

When the child protection practitioner is notifying all relevant professionals and agencies of any changes to the child’s placement or court order, it will  help to inform them of changes to the authorisation at the same time. This includes any future agencies that may support a carer, for example, if they change their foster care agency.

Revoking an authorisation

An authorisation may be revoked by the child’s case planner (team manager or above) if necessary. The carer, and anyone (usually child care, kinder or school) provided with a copy of the authorisation that has been revoked is to be advised in writing.

Other issues

Childhood immunisations

Immunisations set out in the current Department of Health and Human Services immunisation schedule are considered routine medical care. If for a medical reason a child cannot safely be immunised, a specific exclusion should be noted in the instrument of authorisation by adding ‘excluding immunisations’ to the issue of routine medical and dental care.

Haircuts

Although seemingly a simple issue, decisions about haircuts may require sensitive handling – they can be an area of tension or distress when a child is in out-of-home care. There is not likely to be any issue with maintaining an existing style, and good care would include a child’s hair being in a healthy condition. Carers should generally be authorised to this extent.

Issues may arise where the child, or the carer, wishes to change an existing hair style significantly. The child’s or young person’s views should always be considered, and may often hold most weight. Unless the permanency objective is long-term out of home care or permanent care, parents’ views will also be relevant. In some cultures, haircuts have particular meaning, so changes inconsistent with the child’s culture of origin will need careful consideration. A baby’s first haircut may be very significant to parents and should usually be discussed with them in advance. Timing can be a factor, so a radical change when a child has recently entered care, or is soon to return to their parents, may have more potential to cause friction.

Activities and overnight stays

Refer to relevant guidelines to assist carers with reaching decisions about participation in activities, and overnight stays. See advice Participating in activities - advice and procedure Overnight stays for tasks that must be undertaken.

High-risk activities

Where involvement in high-risk activities may arise as an issue during a placement, given the child, their age and interests, or the interests of the carer, it is wise to establish a case planning position in advance. 

If this has not occurred, and an activity, excursion or camp involves a high-risk activity, (such as horse riding, rock climbing, abseiling or water skiing, and so on) the carer is expected to discuss the matter with the child’s care team or case manager before providing consent.

Photographs

Consent forms for a school activity, sporting event or community activity may include a specific option for agreeing to the child’s photograph to be taken, for a class photo or for publication in a school newsletter or newspaper or similar.

A carer may consent to such photographs provided that:

  • there is no risk to the child from their location being revealed. (If the placement is undisclosed, consent should not be given); and
  • this will not lead to identification of the child as being involved with the Children’s Court. Be mindful that mention of the child’s care arrangement, such as foster care or kinship care, could lead to such identification. It is an offence to publish details that could lead to the identification of a person as being involved with Children’s Court proceedings.

Child protection practitioners may need to assist carers with understanding the restrictions regarding identification of a person as being involved with Children’s Court proceedings. Also, carers should be alerted if there would be a risk posed to the child (or carer) should the child’s whereabouts become known, to equip carers to make such decisions.

Indemnity and immunity clauses on consent forms

Consent forms for an activity sometimes include an indemnity or immunity clause intended to apply should the child be harmed while participating. Carers may sign such forms, however are advised to consult with the child’s case manager via their agency where appropriate.

Where a child protection practitioner is consulted about such forms, legal advice may be sought if required.

The risk associated with participating in the activity need to be weighed and considered carefully against the benefits to the child of participating to determine whether it is in the child’s best interests to sign the indemnity statement on the form. Careful consideration should be given to:

  • the level of risk associated with the activity and the safety arrangements in place
  • whether the activity is appropriate for the child
  • whether there can be negotiation regarding the clause (the clause can be questioned, and the organiser may accept it being deleted)
  • what a good parent would do in the circumstances.

Non-routine medical care

Existing arrangements for approving medical examinations and treatment apply, except where specified in a carer authorisation. Follow procedure Consent for medical examination and treatment.

Interstate travel

Where a need for interstate travel or movement is anticipated, an authorisation that specifies the nature of the travel may be made. This may be appropriate where, for example, a carer regularly holidays across the border, or where it is known that a school camp for the child’s year level will be interstate, or that arrangements may need to be made at short notice to travel interstate for a funeral.

Examples of possible wording on the authorisation may include:

  • Interstate travel for the purposes of <insert purpose> on<insert duration and frequency>
  • Consent for school camp in  <insert state or territory> on <insert date/duration>
  • Interstate movement for the purpose of involvement in the local community in <insert state or territory>.

Existing arrangements for interstate travel apply, except where specified. Refer to Interstate and international travel - advice.

Respite care

Where a child needs to spend an extended period in respite care (for example, should a carer be hospitalised) it may be appropriate to arrange authorisation for the respite carer for the duration of the child’s stay.

Authorisation in residential care

The authorised carer in a residential care placement is to be the house or unit supervisor, that is, the most senior residential care staff member, who has overall responsibility for providing for the care of the children or young people in the house or unit.

Reviewable decision

As with other case planning and administrative decisions, parents, the child, and possibly carers may request an internal review of a decision. See procedure Internal review for tasks that must be undertaken.

Considerations for good practice

The intention of authorising carers to make decisions is to normalise the child’s experience of being in out-of-home care as far as possible. This is likely to be achieved by enabling the carer to make as many decisions as possible, in a way that is consistent with our duty of care to the child and without undermining the authority of the Court, or the rights of parents when the child is under an interim accommodation order, family reunification order or therapeutic treatment placement order.

Where a carer is authorised, decisions are likely to be timely and will not so easily draw attention to the fact that the child is in out-of-home care. This will minimise any disadvantage, embarrassment or stigmatisation that may otherwise be experienced by children in out-of-home care. Your approach to this practice needs to be consistent with these intentions.

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