Join the conversation – ‘A community that values its children will cherish their parents’: Family inclusion in child protection systems

Join the conversation – ‘A community that values its children will cherish their parents’: Family inclusion in child protection systems

24 October 2018
Family in a therapy session.

This webinar discussed research on international family inclusion initiatives in child welfare and how they can be applied in Australia.

Please post your comments and questions below.

This webinar presented findings from a Churchill Fellowship project completed in 2018 that explored best practice and research evidence on family inclusion initiatives in the USA, Canada, Norway and the UK. The webinar challenged dichotomised thinking about parents and children in child protection, and argued for a reconceptualisation of family inclusion that recognises and addresses the social context of child removal. It also discussed the evidence base for practical innovations in family-inclusive practice in three areas, including parent-to-parent peer work, a greater focus on carer and parent relationships, and parent leadership.

A full recording of this webinar is available on our YouTube Channel.

The audio, transcript and presentation slides are also available.

Related resources

 Featured image: GettyImages_FatCamera

Comments

Is the NY model that you're describing available across the city/state? Or is it localized, eg only if you happen to contact Bronx defenders you get this model?
Jackie
NYC adopted the multi-disciplinary institutional legal service provider model some time ago and my understanding is that it is in place across the city. There are providers in each major borough. The Bronx defenders Office in the Bronx, the Centre for Family Representation in Manhattan and Queens and the Brooklyn Defenders Office in Brooklyn. They all have similar models of family defence but they are not exactly the same. If you google any of these organisations you can find out what they do in more detail. A key advantage of this system is that family members get a lawyer who specialises in this work as well as peer and social work support.
Jessica Cocks
What were the structures supporting recruitment and the development of peer workers? Was there a focus on ‘consistency’ or did each peer worker bring their own approach?
Jackie
There are a range of structures in place depending on the peer program. Some places required their peers to have achieved reunification with their children, while others did not and highly valued having peers who had experienced the permanent removal of children to closed adoption or to other arrangements. Generally speaking, programs recruited peers who had successfully navigated the child welfare system one way or the other and then indicated an interest in peer work or were recommended for peer work by one of the people working with them. Many peers were in recovery from substance addiction and found the approach and support in the recovery movement helpful. All peer programs offered training and support of peers and both group and individual supervision arrangements.
Jessica Cocks
What were the legislative frameworks in the places you went? I.e. in Victoria and elsewhere in Australia we're seeing amendments in the name of permanency that meant the clock is ticking on reunification. Seems that the 1–2 year timeframe we have is the antithesis of the long term family inclusion work you describe.
Jackie
The systems overseas can be very punitive with tight timeframes. Although timeframes can create tensions and problems, and our system is far from perfect, there is a lot of capacity in the Australian system, including Victoria, to practice inclusively and build a family inclusive system. Peer work and a focus on relational permanence will help. For example, there is no requirement to exclude family if reunification does not occur. There is also no absolute requirement to exclude the possibility of reunification post 1–2 year timeframes if this is in the best interests of children as it may be for older children who do not want or need an alternate long term family and in a range of other circumstances. We all know many children do eventually go home. One of the benefits of an inclusive approach is that it is relational – not driven primarily by rules and procedures that may not be in the interests of children. In my view, family inclusive practices and processes will increase the numbers of children who stay home and go home but they will just as importantly contribute to relational permanence for children who remain permanently in care – including permanent care orders, guardianship, etc.
Jessica Cocks
How did you see lawyers and courts engaging with/promoting family inclusion approaches?
Jackie
I didn’t have time in this session to explore the important role of lawyers in any detail. However, they have a very important role to play including as a preventative measure. The NYC legal service model is currently being evaluated and early signs are positive. Data collected by the legal agencies themselves suggest that specialised legal services delivered as part of a multidisciplinary team, including lawyers, social workers and parent advocates, is leading to shorter stays in care and higher rates of reunification. These models are able to incorporate the 6 elements of family inclusive practice very nicely, especially because they directly confront and ameliorate power imbalances. The legal system is a crucial part of building family inclusion and we have a lot of opportunities to innovate in this space in Australia, including partnering with legal colleagues.
Jessica Cocks
How were the parent led organisations you saw funded if not government? Philanthropic?
Jackie
They can be funded by government but they were not run by government. For example, in Oregon a NGO called Morrison Family Services provides peer work to parents who are caught up with the Oregon child protection system. Some were funded by government departments similar to our Attorney-Generals and others by government departments similar to our statutory child protection authorities. Others were supported by philanthropic sources.
Jessica Cocks
Do you see the innovations you talk about applying both to legal aid services as well as child protection agencies and funded CSOs (e.g. Anglicare)?
Jackie
Absolutely. In my view, the community sector needs to be providing leadership in family inclusion as we have more capacity to maintain leadership and champion family inclusion initiatives over time and through the difficult times. Legal aid and legal services are a big part of the solution. I also feel the university sector and researchers/academics/educators are important. Life Without Barriers is working closely with the University of Newcastle Law School and Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter to develop, trial and evaluate a peer work program here in the Hunter Valley, for example. A great way for the community and tertiary education sectors to lead change is to support parent and family leadership and help grow parent and family leadership in our communities.
Jessica Cocks
Thanks for the presentation. Can you talk about any training requirements and/or supports for parent peer workers?
Sandra
Great question with a long answer that I can’t really address properly here. It is crucial to provide induction, training and support to peer workers in a range of ways in your organisation especially the following areas: • Induction training – how the care and protection system works and how they fit in • Interpersonal skills • Secondary trauma • Professional relationships • Teamwork and supervision expectations • Your practice model. For example, in Life Without Barriers we would induct and train peer workers into our CARE model. Peer workers may also need training in areas like motivational interviewing, parenting programs and group work processes depending on what they are doing. No matter what training is provided it is important that it is supported by supervision, including through connection to other parents, reflective practice and regular opportunities to refresh. I would recommend that agencies form partnerships with parent-led organisations who can help them design peer work programs, provide advice and properly support peer workers. Peer workers I met with highly valued having a pipeline or link to systemic change. For example, in Washington State, peer workers were linked structurally to the Washington State Parent Ally Committee which lobbied for child welfare reform. This meant peer workers could raise problems they encountered on the frontline with a team who would then raise these issues for lobbying purposes. Please contact me if you want to discuss in more detail.
Jessica Cocks
Thank you Jessica. Any comments about Foster Parenting and supporting them in their statutory role in this peer worker option? As placement breakdown has huge impact on children and families.
Pari
I didn’t meet with any foster carers who had interacted closely with peer workers. However, I did meet with peer workers and agency staff who delivered training and support to foster carers. This co-facilitated approach (with parent trainers as partners in the training delivery – not just popping in and out) was seen as very beneficial to building carer’s abilities to work more closely and respectfully with family. Family inclusion has the potential to build relational permanency and expand children’s networks of support. We know from other evidence that when children have good quality contact with their families they have greater stability in care and when children have stability in care and when their foster carers have good relationship with their parents they are more likely to be safely and securely reunified. Carers are a crucial and central part of building family inclusion and relational permanency, and carer/parent work is an area ripe for innovation in Australia. One way to build relationships from the beginning is to ensure that foster carers and parents meet as early as possible, preferably within a day or so of a child moving into a carers home. My report has more information about how carers can play a role in family inclusion and reunification in practical ways.
Jessica Cocks
Are peer workers remunerated?
Toni
All the programs I met with paid their peer workers, although sometimes they only paid a stipend – to reimburse expenses. I would strongly advocate that peer workers be properly paid and on the team.
Jessica Cocks
Thank you for a great presentation. You mentioned ‘Dave’, a Peer worker who described himself as ‘neutral’. Could you say more about that?
SiewChin
Thanks for the question. Dave saw himself in the ‘grey area’ in a position of relative neutrality when compared to the contested positions that he saw parents and agencies taking. His role was to build a bridge to enable parents and caseworkers to form relationships. Dave didn’t see himself as a holder of the truth or resolution. He also didn’t see himself as any form of heroic figure or a rescuer. His role was to help parents navigate the system while they also processed their grief and loss by coaching, translating, advocating. Being neutral didn’t mean that Dave didn’t have opinions and that he didn’t encourage parents or remind them of their obligations or of serious concerns. But he wanted them to experience their own success and to take responsibility for the changes they could make. It also helped him to maintain good relationships with parents over time – he was not there to judge. He did take a strong encouraging role and advocated for families. Dave relied heavily on his shared lived experience to build relationships and provide advice. There is a link to a video of Dave talking about his role here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boAa0LuEUvw
Jessica Cocks
What proportion of carers whom you observed engaged with peers were professional as opposed to volunteer carers?
SiewChin
I only met with voluntary carers receiving an allowance to pay for children’s costs – as are the vast majority here in Australia. I didn’t actually meet with any parent peer programs that were working consistently with carers, except through their involvement in training.
Jessica Cocks
Do you have examples of peer support in remote areas where there may not be someone local to provide support?
Cecelia
No, I didn’t come across this in the more highly populated countries I visited but I think it’s a very important issues to raise, so thank you. Phone, web services may provide some solutions here, but overall I think peer work is highly relational and best provided at least some of the time in person.
Jessica Cocks
If it is being proposed that we look beyond a conflicting rights viewpoint, how do we continue to navigate the child protection systems in our relevant states where the views of the family are in direct contrast with the child's views or where being inclusive of the child will, by default, conflict with the views of the parents or the broader family? Especially since legislation enshrines the best interests of the child as being paramount?
Pamela
Thank you for asking this question. I think we need to move beyond a dichotomised or default understanding of children’s rights vs parents’ rights and the ongoing assumption that we need to choose between either including families or upholding children’s rights. Family inclusion is not about giving or even maintaining parents’ rights over their children. Family inclusion is a children’s rights approach especially children’s rights to see, know and have relationships with their families. In your question you seem to be describing people having different views from each other. It is normal and reasonable for parents to have views and opinions about their children and what their children need and these views may differ from ours. Sometimes parents or other family will hold views that, if followed through, will result in harm to children and in that case we should not support them. Being family inclusive doesn’t mean parents get what they want or what they think is best. However, being family inclusive does mean an ongoing process of listening, exploring and forming better relationships between and among all stakeholders, especially families and children. This is much better done in a context where power relationships are more equal and by applying the other elements I have described. It’s important that the system focus on children’s best interests and make them paramount, but we also need to remember that what is in children’s interests is often highly contested. The system and the law, and we child welfare workers, don’t always succeed in putting children’s needs first, despite our very best intentions. Family inclusion and the 6 elements and three innovations I have described are consistent with a legislative framework that requires children’s safety and wellbeing to be our paramount concern. I would argue they make it far more likely that children’s interests will be paramount.
Jessica Cocks
Are the parent partners employed to fill these roles?
Stephen
Yes.
Jessica Cocks
What is the process used in the US to recruit Parent Advocate/Peer Support; and how might that be adapted in the Australian context?
John
Parents were recruited in a range of ways including word of mouth and as ‘graduates’ from reunification and other programs. They tended to be recommended by peer workers or by other people they had worked with in the system and there were systems in place to encourage and facilitate these recommendations. I think these approaches could be applied in Australia. Some longstanding programs used more conventional recruitment methods at times.
Jessica Cocks

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