Options other then Care and Protection Orders
When a child enters a guardianship of the Secretary of the Department of Health, the child’s previous guardians have a duty to financially maintain a child who is in the custody or under the guardianship of the Secretary. The court may make a contribution order.
Upon receipt of an application for an assessment order or a care and protection order, the court may make, in addition to or instead of making that order, a restraint order or an interim restraint order against a person.
Voluntary Care Agreements
A voluntary care agreement is an agreement between the person who looks after the child, most often the natural parent, and Child Protection. A voluntary care agreement allows staff in Child Protection to be responsible for the day-to-day care of a child/children for an agreed period of time. An agreement does not transfer guardianship.
There are conditions set down for starting and for ending voluntary care agreements. The agreement must be in writing and signed by both a Child Protection staff member and the person who normally has the care of the child. If it involves a young person (defined as a 16 or 17 year old) the young person must also sign the agreement. If it involves a child under 16 years of age, staff in Child Protection must consult with the child if the child is able to understand what is happening.
The child/young person must consent to the agreement or an extension of the agreement, unless Child Protection believes that they are unable to understand, or give informed consent to, the agreement. An agreement can be for a period of three months or less. If necessary, the length of the original agreement can be extended, however it cannot be continued beyond a total of three months. In exceptional circumstances there may need to be an additional new voluntary care agreement drawn up after the original agreement has been terminated.
Ending an Agreement
Orders under this Act, or any other enactment which deals with the care of the child, can end a care agreement. Another way a care agreement can be ended is when Child Protection staff, the child’s guardians and the young person agree to its conclusion. For this to happen, Child Protection staff must be satisfied that proper arrangements have been made for the care of the child or young person.
An agreement can also end when the young person makes such a request in writing and Child Protection is satisfied that proper arrangements exist for the care of the young person. An agreement is used if a child’s caregiver (guardian) is, or will be, unable temporarily to provide the necessary day-to-day care and supervision for the child. Voluntary care agreements should not be considered where there is reasonable belief that the child is at risk of abuse or neglect.
Where there are significant care and protection concerns, a family meeting (family group conference) can be called either by Child Protection or by the court. The purpose of a conference is to bring families, professionals and others together to share information and make decisions about children at risk of harm and neglect.
The outcome of a family group conference should be a clear decision on how the child will be kept safe, how decisions about the child will be made in the future, what resources are needed to make this happen and where these resources will come from. The family is assisted to develop a plan that will keep the child safe in the future as well as looking after the child’s health and well-being.
This plan has to be approved by Child Protection before it can be implemented. Occasionally, Family Group Conferences may be reconvened to review initial decisions and make further recommendations in respect of those arrangements.
Convening a Family Group Conference
A Family Group Conference may come about from a recommendation made by Child Protection, by an Advisory Panel or may be ordered by the court. The child, family and Child Protection select an independent facilitator who sets up the meeting and makes sure that there is a clear understanding among participants of both the process and purpose.
During the Family Group Conference, the facilitator must, if necessary, allow the family members to meet privately to discuss matters and work out what they want to do. Other participants (including advocates for the child and the family, community service organisation representatives, Child Protection, social workers and other invited professionals) may attend at different times to present information and offer advice.
The child’s guardians and other family members should all agree on the final decision. If an agreement cannot be met or the outcome is not acceptable to Child Protection then the conference may be reconvened or action may be taken to seek care and protection orders.
At the end of the Family Group Conference the facilitator must provide a report including the time, date, and place of the Conference, who participated and what decisions were made. A copy of this report should be provided to all who took part, including the child, the child’s advocate, the guardians of the child, any other person that the facilitator considers appropriate and, depending on how the conference was convened, the court and/or Child Protection.