Seeking safe solutions and developing good plans
Updated: 21 June 2017
What's Important To Us
All children deserve to live in an environment where they are loved and cared for, and where they have the opportunity to be the best person they can be. It is important to us that, wherever possible, children are able to stay with their families and that we do what we can to support these placements. Sometimes this isn’t able to happen, so our job is to then to look within the wider family/whānau to find a new family that the child can become a part of. Whatever the outcome for a child, their safety is our paramount concern.
In seeking safe solutions for children, good assessment and planning is the key to achieving a positive outcome. Developing good plans can be a timely exercise, but comprehensive and clear planning from the very beginning of our involvement with a child will likely result in improved safety and stability for them at a much earlier stage in their lives.
This key information outlines how we can utilise good planning to create safe solutions for children.
Encourage and assist the participation of children and young people in planning
Children and young people have the right to participate in all planning and decision-making about matters in their lives and express their views, and it is the role of their social worker to make sure this happens and that their views are taken into account. Not only is participation their right, it also recognises the potential of children and young people to enrich decision-making processes and to be citizens of the world and agents of change. They need to see that their voice has power, not just now but as a force that they can continue using in adulthood.
Show interest in what they have to say, be an active listener, reflect back what they have communicated, make participation an enjoyable experience, and do not pass judgement on what they say – those are their views and while they may be different from yours, this doesn’t mean they’re not valid (Kirby, Lanyon, Cronin & Sinclair, 2003).
See the key information Keeping our focus on mokopuna for more information on ways to encourage participation, including how to engage with particular groups of children and young people.
Get family together early
Families (both immediate and extended) have the right to be involved in their children’s lives and be part of the decision-making around what should happen for them. Research indicates that families, when given the opportunity, can develop rich and diverse plans to support their children (Thoennes, 2003), and that family-led plans have the potential to provide greater stability for children (Wheeler & Johnson, 2003).
Bringing family together early on and involving them in decisions about their children empowers them, encourages them to take ownership of their issues, and increases their investment in the plan for the child. Even if we are planning to hold a family group conference in the near future, there is no reason why we can’t hold one or more family/whānau hui beforehand to talk through ideas and start the planning process. We need to take every opportunity available to us to create the best possible plans for the children we are involved with. Holding whānau hui can be a daunting prospect, so talk to your supervisor about your worries and perhaps arrange some coaching or co-facilitating until you feel comfortable taking the lead.
Forward-thinking and realistic plans
Sometimes the concerns for a child will be such that immediate action is needed to secure their safety. Even in these situations, we still need to put our mind to thinking about what our next steps will be, and what the ongoing and future needs of the child will be. It may be useful to create plans which have separate sections for immediate needs, medium-term needs, and long-term needs. Alternatively, the plan may just cover immediate needs but will stipulate another time and day when everyone will come together to formulate a plan for meeting the child’s medium and long-term needs. However the plans are worked out, it is important not to lose momentum, to keep moving forward, and to always anticipate future needs so that long-term safety and security can be assured.
Plans also need to be realistic and achievable. There is little point developing a plan that has too many tasks or impossible timeframes – it just won’t be met and will only set families up for failure. On the other hand, it is reasonable to have some expectations about what needs to be achieved and by when. A child should not have to wait for months at a time for their whānau to complete tasks which could have realistically been completed in a matter of weeks. Determining appropriate timeframes should be based on a thorough understanding of the family’s strengths and vulnerabilities, their ability and motivation to change, knowledge of treating similar needs, and the family’s own input regarding the length of time it will take for them complete their tasks (DePanfilis & Salus, 1992).
Develop the plan with the family, using their knowledge, skills and expertise. Ensure that the child and their family are clear about the goals and timeframes of the plan, and that the plan is written in language they can understand. Set specific goals to meet the child’s need for ‘belonging’ so that they know how long they have to wait for a permanent living arrangement and what you will be doing to make this goal a reality. Remember, a goal of ‘safe, secure care’ is not sufficient – it needs to specify with whom, how and when the goal will be achieved.
Ensuring the safety of the child needs to be at the forefront of every decision that is made about them. Keeping these decisions child-centred will increase the chances of stability and security for the child in the future. If a child’s plan includes tasks for adults, be clear about exactly how the completion of these tasks will make the child safe. It can be easy to get caught up in adult issues and focus on their needs instead of the child’s, particularly when children can’t speak for themselves.
In order to best meet the needs of a child, we also need to support the people caring for this child, whether these are the parents, family members or non-whānau caregivers. It is important that we know and understand the needs of the caregiver so that they have all the support they need to do the best caregiving they can (Dubowitz & DePanfilis, 2000). Regular and attentive communication with the caregiver will help ensure that needs are addressed before a situation becomes critical and there is a risk of the placement breaking down.
Planning with other agencies
The children and families we work with often have needs that are multi-faceted, and they may require input and support from a variety of professionals, groups and agencies. Interagency collaboration is vital and has multiple benefits for these children and families including improved accessibility to services, reduced fragmentation of services and greater efficiency (Rossi, Gilmartin & Dayton, 1982). Working with other agencies also ensures that everyone is working on the same page when it comes to the child’s plan, and highlights any gaps or duplication of work. The team of collaborators can also serve as a mutual support group, particularly with cases that are complex and demanding (Maluccio, Fein & Olmstead, 1986).
In all of our work, we need to ensure that we are involving all of the agencies that know the family in our planning and decision-making. This could mean setting up regular meetings with each other, or perhaps one person taking the lead in gathering information from these agencies separately and then feeding back to the wider group by way of letter or report.
Review current plans
We need to regularly review our plans to ensure they are continuing to meet the needs of the child, and that we are not being swayed or put off track by other issues. Questions to consider as part of this review may include:
- How and to what extent have risk factors increased or diminished since the plan was created?
- How and to what extent have protective factors increased or diminished since the plan was created?
- How has the level of risk for the child and the probability of future harm changed since the plan was created?
- What are the likely outcomes for the child now?
- What does the progress of the plan indicate about the likelihood of change within the family? (White & Harris, 2004)
See Key Information: Planning and reviewing for information about the importance of monitoring and reviewing plans.
Whānau are always involved when a child’s plan needs to be reviewed, and often the best way of doing this is to arrange a whānau hui. Bring together the parents and extended whānau to consider how well the child is doing, whether or not Oranga Tamariki should remain involved with the child and their family and what this involvement should look like (Cleaver, Cawson, Gorin & Walker, 2009). If the child is part of a sibling group, remember to look at what is happening for each individual child.
Family meetings offer the opportunity for lots of different perspectives and opinions to be shared. Strong facilitation is essential in terms of keeping the meeting on track while also making sure that each person is given the chance to have their say without interruption or judgement. If you suspect a family meeting has the potential to be particularly heated, arrange for someone other than yourself to facilitate it – this allows you to keep your ‘social work’ hat firmly on and prevents you from getting distracted by issues to do with the actual running of the meeting.
There may be points in your involvement with a family where you need to share unwelcome news, such as that insufficient progress has been made for the child to return home to the parents and a placement with permanent caregivers will be needed.
Ideally you will have shared this information with the child’s parents first before letting the wider whānau group know – working with the child’s family in a transparent and open way means there will be no surprises. This gives the parents opportunity to consider the information, perhaps share with the family prior to the meeting and enable them to come up with options in preparation for the meeting.
Such news will likely be distressing to the family so give them time to express their feelings before looking at what needs to happen next in order for their child to have all of their needs, including safety, met.
Cleaver, H., Cawson, P., Gorin, S., & Walker, S. (2009). Safeguarding Children: A Shared Responsibility. UK: John Wiley & Sons.
Dubowitz, H. & DePanfilis, D. (eds.) (2000). Handbook for Child Protection Practice. California, USA: Sage Publications.
DePanfilis, D. & Salus, M.K. (1992). Child Protective Services: A Guide for Caseworkers. USA: Department for Health and Human Services.
Kirby, P., Lanyon, C., Cronin, K. & Sinclair, R. (2003). Building a Culture of Participation: Involving Children and Young People in Policy, Service Planning, Delivery and Evaluation. London: National Children’s Bureau and PK Research Consultancy Ltd.
Maluccio, A.N., Fein, E., & Olmstead, K.A. (1986). Permanency Planning for Children: Concepts and Methods. New York, USA: Tavistock Publishers.
Rossi, R.J., Gilmartin, K.J. & Dayton, C.W. (1982). Agencies Working Together: A Guide to Coordinating and Planning. California, USA: Sage Publications.
Thoennes, N. (2003). Family group decision making in Colorado. Protecting Children, 18(1&2), pp. 74-80.
Wheeler, C.E. & Johnson, S. (2003). Evaluating family group decision making: The Santa Clara example. Protecting Children, 18(1&2), pp. 65-69.
White, V. & Harris, J. (eds.) (2004). Developing Good Practice in Children’s Services. London, USA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.