Kinship care assessment - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding assessments of kinship carers.

Introduction

See the procedure Kinship care and for tasks that must be undertaken.

Where an out-of-home care placement is required, s. 167(2), CYFA indicates that kinship care is the explicitly preferred option before any other placement option is pursued.

Kinship care involves relatives or members of a child's social network being approved to provide accommodation and care. Kinship care is targeted at children aged 0-18 years subject to intervention by child protection and assessed as requiring out-of-home care. The placement is supervised and supported according to the child's level of assessed need either by child protection practitioners or in some instances by community service organisations (CSO).

The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle requires that preference be given to Aboriginal extended family or relatives, where this is not possible other extended family or relatives are the next preferred care option for an Aboriginal child.  Consulting with ACSASS will assist in identifying Aboriginal extended family or relatives. See Assessing kinship care for Aboriginal children - advice.

The kinship connection more easily enables the maintenance of the child’s family and community ties and cultural identity.

Kinship care has many advantages in that the pre-existing relationship usually allows for a less traumatic experience of child protection involvement for the child and their family. There may also be situations where the potential carer has an unrealised connection to the child. For example, the carer may not have met the child but shares a family history, culture and identity.

Kinship care also has potential disadvantages in that there may be tensions and hostilities within the family network that pose ongoing or new risks for the child. This may provide a challenge for kinship carers to negotiate, and they may not have experience in coping with the particular needs of the child being placed with them. Despite carers' best intentions, kinship placements sometimes break down because carers do not have the necessary skills and supports.

To the fullest extent possible, parents and the child (if age appropriate) should be actively involved in identifying and selecting an appropriate kinship carer unless the choice would place the child at further risk. If there has been significant substantiated harm, the wishes of the parents regarding placement of the child with an extended family member should not take precedence over what is considered to be in the best interests of the child. It is important to consider whether an undisclosed placement is required.

A family-led decision making (FLDM) meeting is a recommended way for kinship care assessments to be discussed and considered. See Family-led decision-making program guidelines.

Assessment

Assessment of kinship carers is undertaken by the child protection practitioner, and is different to foster care assessment in that it takes account of distinctive issues:

  • the pre-existing relationship between the child, family and the carer
  • the carer is being assessed to care for a specific child
  • the carers are usually identified by the child or their family
  • the expectations of carers and standards accepted may be different from those for carers who are unknown to the child.

Objectives of assessment

The objectives of a kinship caregiver assessment are:

  • to gather relevant information to approve or reject the caregivers
  • to identify any risk factors within the household
  • to make an informed decision about the potential strengths and weaknesses of the placement
  • to identify who the primary carer will be
  • to identify any necessary supports to ensure the success of the placement.

Kinship care placements may be either planned or emergency. Regardless of the reason for the placement an assessment of the carers must be undertaken. If the placement is an emergency a preliminary assessment must be undertaken. A preliminary assessment is the first step to establishing that a placement for a child is appropriate for them. It should ascertain the placement is safe and suitable, and that the kinship carer(s) with support can meet the immediate needs of the child or young person. The information gathered in the preliminary assessment is recorded in the 'Kinship carer assessment report template (Part A)' available in Kinship care - forms.

Preliminary assessment

Prior to any kinship care placement being made the carer must be assessed and approved by the child protection.

At the minimum this requires satisfactory completion of:

  • national police history checks on the potential carers and all other household members aged 18 years or older who reside in the house or sleep there overnight. See procedure Undertaking national police history checks for tasks that must be undertaken.
  • a check of CRIS in order to ascertain information relating to the prospective carer and household members as carers of a child
  • checks on the suitability and fitness of the proposed carer to care for the child
  • discussion with the carer, facilitated by an ACSASS worker in the case of an Aboriginal child, about whether the child will be safe living with them, and whether they are willing to cooperate with the department to help the child and their parents
  • where child is under two years of age, discussion of SIDS factors. See procedure SIDS safe sleeping assessment for tasks that must be undertaken.

Where a child is to be placed with a suitable person subject to an interim accommodation order, the prescribed criteria that the Secretary must have regard to in preparing a report (whether oral or written) for the Children's Court on the person's suitability are:

  • the criminal records and history of the person
  • the previous history of the person as a carer of children
  • the capacity of the person to promote a child's safety, wellbeing and development
  • any criminal records and criminal history of the usual members of the person's household.

Comprehensive assessment

Where it is identified that a placement is likely to be longer than three weeks, the 'Kinship carer assessment report template (Part B)' (available in Kinship care - forms) is to be provided to the carer to fill in those questions that they can readily answer. The child protection practitioner is then to meet with the carer to complete the form and to explore any potential issues. This assessment should involve more than one visit and include the key members of the carer family and household - all adults and older children.The comprehensive assessment should focus on the kinship carer(s) ability to meet the ongoing needs of the child and to engage in long-term planning for this child.

When the assessment is complete, the child protection practitioner then analyses the information gathered and makes the final recommendation about the suitability of the placement. This assessment process is to be completed within six weeks of the commencement of the placement, with the preliminary assessment as its basis. The comprehensive assessment should focus on the kinship carer(s) ability to meet the ongoing needs of the child and to engage in long-term planning for this child.

The kinship carers must be advised that unless the Children’s Court decides a placement is undisclosed following an application by children protection, or under a care by Secretary order or long-term care order, the case planner assesses it is in the best interests of the child to withhold the address information from parents, a parent will be advised of the whereabouts of the child.

Reference checks

In addition to this assessment by the child protection practitioner, it is useful in some cases to undertake a reference check. The potential carers would be asked to nominate two personal referees who are then contacted by telephone by the child protection practitioner. Any issues raised or identified should be followed up with the carer.

Kinship care assessment form Part C (12 month placement review)

A formal 12-month review of long term kinship care arrangements for a child in a kinship placement is undertaken by child protection, or the contracted CSO, and should be linked to the child’s care plan. If the permanency objective in the case plan is permanent care the assessment of a kinship care placement for transition to permanent care will involve child protection working collaboratively with a CSO or adoption and permanent care team to determine who is best equipped to carry out the preparation, assessment and transition for permanent care. The information gathered for this review should be recorded on the 'Kinship carer assessment report template (Part C)', available in Kinship care - forms.

Kinship placements not instigated by child protection

A family may instigate an informal kinship placement for a child for a range of reasons. A child or young person may also identify their own kinship placement through their family or peer networks. When a report is made where a pre-existing kinship placement has already been arranged, the child protection practitioner must check CRIS to ascertain any previous history of the carer or other household members (this must also include residents who may be residing on the property for example in a caravan). If a case involving a pre-existing kinship placement proceeds to investigation and assessment the kinship carer must be assessed using the kinship carer assessment report, including police history checks, with a view to being approved as carer for that child.

Approval process

Kinship carers and financial and other supports required for the placement are usually assessed by child protection practitioners and approved by a team manager (as case planner). The assessment should be fully recorded and indicate who was involved and whether the assessment is preliminary or comprehensive.

The approval should indicate who has been approved, for which type of placement and what the procedure will be if circumstances change, for example if the placement becomes long-term.

The approved caregiver will be required to sign a caregiver agreement which will advise them what they have been approved for, their role and responsibilities as a caregiver, in relation to implementing the case plan and the extent of authority they have to make decisions in relation to the child.

Case management

For kinship care placements the case management responsibility remains with the child protection practitioner within the existing case management structure, unless contracted to a CSO. This includes ensuring the placement is adequately monitored and supported.

Where the case has been contracted to a CSO, it is their role to undertake case management responsibilities. Case management tasks are as follows:

Preparing the child for placement

In emergency placements and placements determined by the Court, it is important that the child is prepared to the extent that time allows. See Preparing a child for placement.

Supervision and support

Supervision and support in kinship care placements is different to that in other home-based care where caseworkers are allocated. See Support of kinship carers - advice.

The case manager holds responsibility to ensure that long-term kinship care arrangements for a child or young person are reviewed within 12 months along with the case plan for as long as the child or young person remains a client of child protection.

Case planning

Kinship care placements arise through case planning decisions or court decisions. Once initiated these placements follow case planning process and reviews to which specific  procedures apply. A case plan review is required every 12 months or when a significant change occurs. A significant change includes a change of permanency objective, placement or other significant decisions concerning the child.  It also includes the identification of additional protective concerns.

Termination or transfer of placement

Where there is a planned termination or transfer of placement, or planned reunification, there should be adequate preparation for the change in the child's life. See Placement changes - advice.

Case closure

When a decision is made to close a case, the child in kinship care may have already returned home, moved to another placement or independent living, or may be remaining in the kinship placement.

There should be due regard to the permanency objective and where a child cannot return home, arrangements should be made to formalise the kinship placement, where appropriate through the Children’s Court or Family Law orders.

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