Babysitting and overnight stays: When children or young people are in care
Updated: 20 June 2010
What's Important To Us
When children and young people are in our care, it is important that we support them to have normal, safe interactions with their extended family, friends and local community.
There will always be times when children and young people want to have sleepovers with friends. Responsible parents exercise their judgement in these circumstances to make sure that their children have safe interactions outside the home. Approved caregivers of our children and young people in care are no exception.
They are people that we can trust to make sensible decisions about babysitting and overnight stays with friends and family/whānau. It's part of their job to create safety around the child or young person in their care and it's part of our job to help them in their decision-making in situations when they need advice. This key information suggests some things for social workers to discuss with caregivers to help them in their decision-making and identify times when the social worker will need to be consulted or further assessment is required for out of home stays.
Some things to consider when planning babysitting or overnight stays
Children and young people in care have already had disruption to their primary attachments and routines. When thinking about occasional babysitting, child-minding or overnight stays with friends or family/whānau, it will be important for both the social worker and caregiver to consider the child or young person’s need for security and stability, while at the same time support their ongoing relationships outside the home.
When a child or young person is first placed with a caregiver, a ‘settling in’ period will be needed to allow the caregiver to get to know the child or young person’s personality, their strengths, needs and behaviours and to establish trust and security. Babysitting or an overnight stay is probably better left until infants and younger children have settled and feel secure with their new caregiver. Older children and young people may need less settling in time and be more able to quickly resume overnight stays with friends or family/whānau.
Make sure that routines and contact with family/whānau and friends are noted in the child or young person’s Care Plan and discussed with the caregiver.
When a child or young person comes into care the social worker will need to talk to them about what this will mean to their usual contact arrangements and relationships. This is particularly important for young people who may feel angry and resentful if they think that their freedom and peer relationships are being curtailed.
If babysitting is needed
As part of the caregiver assessment process caregivers will likely have identified appropriate people for babysitting, if it is needed. These will usually be trusted extended family/whānau members or close friends whom the caregiver believes has the skills and maturity to care for the child or young person.
As with any safe family situation, the caregiver will be talking with the babysitter or other adult caring for the child or young person about any special needs or safety issues for the child or young person. While it is important to respect the privacy of the child or young person, the usual caregiver needs to be confident that sufficient information is shared to ensure that the child or young person and babysitter are comfortable and safe with each other.
The key information on ‘Home Alone’ will give you some useful information on children being babysat by a young person and when it is appropriate to leave a young person without a babysitter.
Overnight stay with a friend
Children will want to ‘sleep over’ with a friend and young people often want to ‘hang out’ at the home of a friend. It is important that, as far as it is possible, they enjoy the same relationship and community freedoms and experiences as children and young people who are not in care. The caregiver will likely have already met the parents of the friend and in most cases there will not be a problem for a child or young person to stay overnight with a friend.
Having said that, there are some things that the caregiver will need to feel confident about when a child or young person is staying overnight with a friend:
• who will be supervising and transporting the child
• where the child will be and what they will be doing
• that health or behaviour concerns are known and a plan for concerns has been agreed
• arrangements for the next day
• who else will be in the home.
Remind caregivers about the need to be sensitive in the way that they share necessary information with the parents of a friend of the child or young person in care. Young people are particularly sensitive to how they are perceived and it is important that they do not feel stigmatized by being ‘in care.’
Overnight stay with a family/whānau member
When children or young people are placed with caregivers who are family/whānau, it is reasonable to expect that they will want to spend time or stay overnight with other family/whānau members. If no restriction has been placed by the social worker, the caregiver should exercise their own personal judgment and make the decision they feel is most appropriate and safe.
Care arrangements for longer periods of time
Occasional babysitting, child minding or overnight stays with a friend are different from care for longer periods of time such as:
• a pre-school child attending a day care programme
• respite care arrangements where a child or young person stays elsewhere for longer than a night on a regular basis
• school camps – these often require guardian consent
These are alternative care arrangements which should be discussed with the social worker before the decision and arrangements are made. Some arrangements such as regular respite or a short-term stay with someone during the school holidays require a caregiver assessment to be completed prior to the care arrangement commencing.
Restrictions on contact
Sometimes there are particular reasons why a child or young person cannot be left with a specific person, or stay with someone else overnight. This may be about the safety or wellbeing of the child or young person, or it may be about the safety of others. All known restrictions on contact should be specified in the child or young person’s Care Plan. When circumstances change for any reason, including contact restrictions, the child or young person’s social worker should update the Care Plan in writing and also talk to the caregiver about these changes.
When there is doubt
Caregivers should be advised to check with the child’s social worker or the caregiver social worker if they are unsure about the child or young person staying elsewhere for a few hours, or for an occasional overnight stay with a friend or family/whānau member.
Joining a recreational, sporting or youth activity is normal for children and young people and should be encouraged; however, caregivers should be advised to talk to the child or young person’s social worker about these arrangements just in case additional checks need to be made.