Placement in a secure welfare service - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding placements in secure welfare services (SWS) for high-risk young people.

Introduction

See procedure Secure welfare placement for actions that must be undertaken.

Placement at a SWS may be considered where:

  • a child or young person (aged 10-17 years) is at substantial and immediate risk of harm and the child or young person's freedom of movement within the community needs to be restricted in order to ensure their protection from harm
  • a placement in a secure setting provides the only suitable option for ensuring the child or young person's safety and wellbeing. Lack of adequate accommodation is not by itself a sufficient reason for placing the child in a SWS.

In these circumstances, depending on the legal status of the child or young person, the divisional child protection operations manager (or designated on call manager outside office hours) or the Court may make a decision to place the child or young person at a SWS.

Where the case management is contracted to a community service organisation (CSO), the CSO will be responsible for procedural tasks relating to the SWS placement.

The case planner is ultimately responsible for overseeing the placement of a child or young person at a SWS.

The purpose of SWS is to provide a secure short-term placement option for children or young people aged 10 to 17 years who are at substantial and immediate risk of harm to keep them safe while plans are developed or revised to reduce their risk of harm and return them to the community as soon as possible.

In exceptional circumstances children under the age of 10 years may be admitted to a SWS. This decision requires the approval of the Director, Child Protection in the child’s division, following consultation with the Director, Secure Services, to establish whether there are any relevant issues to consider regarding the current client population of the secure service and if appropriate to assist with reaching the decision, with the Principal Practitioner.

As a SWS placement involves a restriction of a child or young person's liberty, it may only be used where all other placement and support options have been considered and cannot provide adequate protection from significant harm.

Criteria for placement at a SWS

When consideration is being given to placing a child or young person at a SWS:

  • who is on a family reunification order, care by Secretary order or a long-term care order, the Secretary must be satisfied that there is a substantial and immediate risk of harm to the child, or
  • by an interim accommodation order (IAO) or any other court order, the Court must be satisfied that there is a substantial and immediate risk of harm to the child.

The principal objective of the SWS is crisis stabilisation. Placements aim to return a child or young person to a community placement at the earliest possible opportunity.

The following three criteria must be met before authorisation for a placement at a SWS is sought:

  • placement at the SWS is in the child or young person's best interests. This means that explicit consideration of the child or young person's safety and developmental needs demonstrates that placement at the SWS is necessary, and
  • there is substantial and immediate risk of harm to the child or young person and no other available support or placement is adequate to protect the child or young person from significant harm,and
  • contact has been made with the SWS to confirm that a place is available and that the identified needs of the child or young person can be met.

Aboriginal children and young people

As placement at a SWS is a significant decision the Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Service (ACSASS) must be consulted. Where possible this should occur prior to the discussion with the child or young person's care team and prior to relevant authorisation for admission to SWS being sought.

Care team approach

The decision to place a child or young person in SWS is a collaborative one and where possible the implications of the placement should be considered by the child or young person's care team before the decision is made. The child protection practitioner or CSO case manager must advise all members of the child or young person's care team of a SWS placement.

Where a care team has not yet been established, this must be identified at the 48 hour planning meeting and established as a priority.

During the time that a child or young person is placed at a SWS, the child protection practitioner or CSO case manager has the lead responsibility to coordinate with the care team. This involves providing information about the child or young person, the family circumstances and background at the point of admission to the SWS. The child protection practitioner or CSO case manager must keep the care team apprised of the child or young person's progress in the SWS and ensure care team members are informed of arrangements prior to the child or young person returning to a community placement.

Medical treatment

If a child or young person requires immediate medical treatment or mental health assessment, an emergency medical service should be accessed before placement at the SWS. Placement at a SWS may be made following discharge from medical care.

The child protection practitioner or CSO case manager should review available historical and current medical information concerning the child or young person and obtain their Medicare number. This information should be provided to SWS staff at the point of admission. Where admission to a SWS occurs in a crisis, this information should be provided to the SWS at the earliest possible time after admission.

The child protection practitioner or CSO case manager should inform the SWS senior staff of any known or suspected medical condition or medication the child or young person requires, at the point of admission. Information regarding any known or suspected substance misuse (including alcohol) should also be provided.

Each child or young person should receive an initial health screening from the SWS primary health service within 24 hours of admission (12 hours for Aboriginal children and young people).

Personal items

The child protection practitioner or CSO case manager should ensure the child or young person’s medication is transported with the client as well as some clothing (no ‘hoodies’, cords in pants or tops, clothing with lots of pockets or lined jackets). No personal items are to accompany the child or young person with the exception of photographs or books. If these items cannot be arranged before admission, they should be provided as soon as practicable.

After hours admission to SWS

After hours requests for SWS placements are coordinated through the After Hours Child Protection Emergency Service (AHCPES). Where an after hours SWS placement is likely, details should be provided by responsible case managers via a possible contact to AHCPES. These details should include contingency arrangements and consultation advice from ACSASS where relevant.

Duration of placements

Administrative placement of a child or young person subject to a family reunification order, care by Secretary order or a long-term care order in SWS is for the shortest duration required to address the immediate safety issues.

Regardless of the legal status of a child or young person, placement at a SWS may be for a maximum uninterrupted period of 21 days. In exceptional circumstances a placement at a SWS may be extended for a further uninterrupted period not exceeding 21 days. The legal maximum uninterrupted period which a child or young person may remain at a SWS is 42 days.

For children or young people subject to a family reunification order, care by Secretary order or a long-term care order, the proposed length of stay at the SWS should be determined prior to or shortly following admission to the SWS. Any extension of the placement will need to be approved by the child protection operations manager (or a more senior officer).

Conditions attached to interim accommodation orders (IAOs)

Where an IAO is sought to place a client at a SWS, the Child Protection Litigation Office and the manager, SWS should be consulted regarding conditions proposed to be attached to the IAO.

Right of review of a decision to place or exit

A person affected by a decision to place or to not place a child or young person at, or to exit them from a SWS, may request a review of the decision. A person, including a child or young person, may request a review of the length of time a child or young person is proposed to be placed at the SWS.

Child Protection Directors and Assistant Directors are authorised to review case planning decisions including SWS placement decisions. Applications for review regarding children and young people placed at SWS are heard by an officer senior to the one who approved the admission. The request for review should be communicated to the reviewing officer without delay.

A review of a SWS decision should be prioritised, with an outcome determined without avoidable delay and always within two business days of lodgement.

Review timelines should reflect the best interests of the child or young person and the rights to a timely decision of the person seeking the review. See procedure Review of a decision to place at a secure welfare service for actions that must be undertaken.

Children and young people should have their rights explained to them in ways they can properly understand and they should be enabled and assisted to contribute their views and wishes to decision-making processes concerning them. Where necessary an advocate should be appointed to assist them in understanding decision-making processes. A suitable advocate may be a legal representative, but can be any person able to advocate specifically on behalf of the young person.

The reviewer will consider all relevant information including pertinent file and assessment material related to the decision to place the client at the SWS, the purpose of the placement and the proposed exit transition plan. The child or young person's presentation and any observed changes while at the SWS will be considered. The process will include a meeting (or phone conversation) with the child or young person and where relevant, any other person, such as an advocate.

Where a child or young person has been placed at a SWS, they will remain at the SWS while the review is completed or until the determined exit date, whichever is sooner.

Review of court decisions on placement at a SWS

If the court makes an IAO in respect of a child or young person or dismisses an application for an IAO seeking to place the child or young person in SWS, an appeal to the Supreme Court may be possible under s.271 of the CYFA. Those able to make such an appeal are:

  • the child
  • a parent of the child or
  • a protective intervener.

The authorisation for an appeal by child protection rests with the divisional Deputy Secretary following legal advice from the CPLO and consultation with the Assistant Director, Child Protection, Statutory and Forensic Services Branch. Pursuance of an appeal should follow normal line management procedures. See Appeals - advice.

If a child or young person expresses a desire to appeal the decision to place them in SWS, they should be assisted to seek immediate legal advice from a solicitor able to represent them. Parents wishing to appeal should be encouraged to seek legal advice.

Review meetings while the child or young person is at a SWS

48 hour care team planning meeting

See procedure Secure welfare service planning meetings for action that must be undertaken.

A 48 hour planning meeting will be held for every child or young person admitted to a SWS. The meeting will occur without delay and no later than two business days following admission.

The 48 hour meeting will review the purpose and goals of the placement, planning including transition plan interventions, safety, timeframe including anticipated discharge date, roles and responsibilities, visits from support workers, family, significant others, and facilitate any assessments and professional engagement that is required and consultation with a principal practitioner if required.

The child or young person is to meet with the care team or a representative group depending on the best interests of the child and be actively engaged in the planning and goal setting. Approvals for identified visitors and any security requirements associated with approved visitors will be confirmed at this meeting.

Care team weekly review meetings

Where a SWS placement is planned to last longer than seven days, the dates of subsequent review meetings must be arranged at the 48 hour meeting.

Progress reviews of all children or young people placed in SWS will be held within seven days after the 48 hour planning meeting and at subsequent intervals no longer than seven days. These meetings are chaired by the child protection team manager or SWS unit manager and will involve the child or young person's practitioner, case manager and care team including relevant members of the child or young person's family, carers or staff from the child or young person's placement as appropriate, relevant SWS representatives as advised by the SWS Manager, including medical, therapeutic and educational staff and relevant specialist support professionals.

This meeting will review the agreed goals; identify progress, risks and barriers to progress; further develop transition and exit plan; review whether planned professional engagement and family/carer visits have taken place; and plan for continued consultation with a principal practitioner if required.

If the team manager or other care team members cannot attend this meeting, a teleconference should be arranged.

Care team members who were unable to attend should be informed of the outcome of the meeting.

Transition and exit planning meeting

The primary purpose of a transition and exit plan is to facilitate a safe move for the child or young person to their home. Every child or young person exiting SWS should have a written plan to support them once they are discharged, which aims to preventing further admissions to SWS.

It is important to ensure that each service required to support the child or young person upon exit from SWS is represented at each review meeting. The child protection practitioner or CSO case manager should draft the transition and exit plan in partnership with SWS senior staff and in conjunction with the care team. The plan should incorporate the outcome of any assessments undertaken whilst the child or young person has been placed at the SWS.

The child protection practitioner or CSO case manager should ensure that the child or young person has an opportunity to contribute to the formulation of the transition and exit plan. The plan should be shared with the child or young person prior to implementation and their views noted and incorporated into the plan. The child protection practitioner or CSO case manager will ensure that the case planner approves this plan prior to the child or young person exiting the SWS.

Each member of the care team should have a copy of the plan prior to the child or young person's exit from the SWS.

Supervision at court

Arrangements for a child or young person placed at a SWS to attend a court hearing require careful collaborative planning by child protection in consultation with SWS staff and the Secure Welfare Transport Service (SWTS) on a case by case basis.

See procedure Transport between court and a secure welfare service for actions that must be undertaken.

The SWTS primarily provides safe transport and supervision to children and young people placed in SWS after business hours who are required to attend court for a hearing of an IAO. Children and young people are supervised by the SWTS in the Melbourne Children’s Court SWS room whilst awaiting the hearing. SWTS escort the young people back to SWS if an IAO is granted.

The SWTS may also provide assistance to metropolitan offices transferring children or young people on a family reunification order, care by Secretary order or a long-term care order to the SWS where risk assessment indicates the transport can be conducted safely and resources are available.

Considerations for good practice

Guidelines for managers with the power to authorise placements in SWS

The process of administrative authorisation for SWS admissions is relevant to children and young people subject to a family reunification order, care by Secretary order or a long-term care order. All other admissions require an IAO from a court or bail justice.

The delegated manager should satisfy themselves that:

  • the child or young person is at substantial and immediate risk of harm. SWS placement is not appropriate if the risk posed is only to others or to property.
  • the risk is clearly substantiated
  • all other placement and support options have been considered and are unable to provide adequate protection from harm
  • the placement is not being made due only to a lack of adequate accommodation
  • a placement at a SWS forms part of a strategy to ensure that the best interests of the child or young person will be met
  • the child or young person has been consulted (where possible) and their view of the proposed placement at the SWS has been taken into consideration
  • the views of the care team are known and have been considered
  • relevant human rights (right of child to protection and the right to liberty and security) have been considered
  • the correct documentation is available.

Inappropriate referrals to SWS

SWS has no authority to hold a child or young person who is on remand or who is serving a period of detention and is not released on parole. SWS is not to be used for the bailing or detention of children or young people where the risk posed is only to others or to property.

The risk of harm to others or to property does not, on its own, constitute grounds for admission to SWS. Serious incidents involving physical danger to others and criminal offences are to be referred to the police.

In relation to a child or young person exhibiting behaviours indicating possible mental illness, child protection should seek a mental health assessment or a secondary consultation from a Take Two senior clinician. Where serious mental illness is suspected, requiring administration of medication or inpatient admission, referral should be made to a mental health service without delay.

Additional information

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