26 January 2012

Families with children in care – and the safety of subsequent children

Improved inter-agency information sharing and staying connected to vulnerable families for the long term, are two of the key strategies identified in Families Commission studies that looked at the issue of subsequent children in families where previous children have been removed because of abuse.

The two studies, Safety of Subsequent Children International Literature ReviewAnne Kerslake Hendricks and Katie Stevens, Families Commission, and Safety of Subsequent Children: Maori children and whānau - a review of selected literatureFiona Cram, Katoa Ltd,were a response to a request from Hon Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Development, who asked the Commission to tell her what could be done “to prevent additional children coming into these families and being put at risk while the parents are still addressing their complex issues”.

Chief Commissioner, Carl Davidson says the issue is critical because of all the children placed in CYF's out-of-home care, nearly half had a sibling who had previously been removed by CYF..

The Commission found there was not a lot of research about what could be done to prevent subsequent children coming into vulnerable families. However, it combined what research there was with knowledge gained through consultation with a wide range of expert practitioners to make a number of suggestions about what principles of practice are promising. Improved information sharing between agencies, improved reporting processes, consideration of mandatory reporting, complementary interventions rather than single focus programmes, culturally appropriate services, and long-term more intensive follow-up were identified as key ingredients of any system to reduce child abuse within families and whānau.

The Commission’s research also discusses: whether families or whānau that have had children previously removed should be monitored on an ongoing basis; the provision of sustained support to help prevent additional children coming into a family that is still vulnerable; and the importance of ensuring agencies and authorities are aware, early, if other children are expected.

“Children entering families in which previous children have been removed are more easily identifiable when cases are still active with social services,” Mr Davidson says. “Intensive support can then be wrapped around families or whānau to ensure the best possible outcomes for all. This means a long-term commitment to walk alongside them to achieve sustainable change and keep track of how the family is doing.”

Mr Davidson says issues such as mandatory reporting, monitoring of children and families, and the degree to which we as a nation think the state should be involved in families’ lives, are all raised by the Commission’s studies.

“These are crucial, and yes, sometimes controversial questions. But, for the sake of our children, they must not be shied away from. They need to be tackled with openness, integrity and with the welfare of children uppermost. The Green Paper on Vulnerable Children is currently open for submissions and the Families Commission believes it presents an excellent opportunity to inform these issues through a process that will have real influence on how we protect and care for children in this country.”

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