Child Placement Principle in action

QAT_CentreofExcellence_Prevention
Prevention
QAT_CentreofExcellence_Placement
Placement
QAT_CentreofExcellence_Partnership
Partnership
QAT_CentreofExcellence_Participation
Participation
QAT_CentreofExcellence_Connection
Connection

Organisation

The beginning of the story

The HALT Collective emerged in response to a deep concern regarding the ongoing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people living in the Brisbane region in the child protection system.

“We must always remember that the day Child Safety rocks up at your door is the worst day of your life”

In early 2018, motivated by how best to address this concern, and as a means to better understanding how to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children safe, keep families and communities together, and put a stop to the damaging effects of separation, the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs (‘the Department’) decided to engage a group of local Elders.  This included the Community Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, North Brisbane Elders, Inala Elders and Cooee Elders.
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Vision and values

Once established, the HALT Collective defined itself as a collaborative Brisbane district community-led response to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in the child protection system.

The name ‘HALT’ was chosen since the notion of slowing down the intake process was core to the work of the HALT Collective.

 

Definition of HALT (verb): not continue or develop any further; stop moving, or stop someone moving.

 

For the Collective, HALT also pointed to the aim of stopping Aboriginal and / or Torres Strait Islander children and young people entering the tertiary child protection system.

 

“It is a massive investment of everyone’s time but everyone gets it… the vision”

 

The HALT Collective is bound by a set of shared values:

  • Upholding the five core elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle
  • Understanding the best interests of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child can only be properly determined with the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Appreciating that responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children sits with more than one person or entity in community
  • Understanding that early intervention is critical to heal and strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to care for their children and ensure they thrive.

 

Accordingly, since the early development and establishment of the HALT Collective, the aim has remained the same; to slow down the intake process and place trusting, collaborative relationships with partners, improved information sharing and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural lens at the heart of actions and decision making.

Membership and Structure

 

HALT success is built on cooperation and good people. It has empowered services and strengthened families”

 

Membership

The HALT Collective membership includes the following Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS)
  • Kurbingui
  • Kummara
  • Kummara-Infinity
  • IUIH – Birthing in our Communities (BIOC)

 

Other core members include:

  • Brisbane Regional Intake Service – Senior Practitioner (Facilitator)
  • Brisbane Regional Intake Service – Child Safety Officers
  • Department of Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs Cultural Practice Advisors
  • Department of Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs, Senior Service Support Officer

 

Suggested members and occasional invitees include (but may not be limited to):

  • Murri School (Acacia Ridge)
  • Yulu-Burri-Ba
  • Health Indigenous Liaison Officer
  • Education Indigenous Liaison Officer
  • Police Indigenous Liaison Officer
  • Housing Indigenous Liaison Officer
  • Youth Justice.

 

Meeting Structure

The structure and features of HALT Collective meetings are:

  • Weekly for 2 – 3 hours, though meetings often go for longer when the details and number of cases requires additional time
  • A Welcome or Acknowledgement to Country takes place prior to any meeting commencing
  • At least two core member agencies need to be present for a meeting to proceed
  • Prior to COVID-19 restriction, meetings were held at each agency’s location, on a rotating roster – during the pandemic they were – at times – held via tele-conference
  • Core members are expected to be motivated and committed to attendance and participation
  • An apology and sending a proxy is required for those unable to attend a meeting;
  • A contribution to agenda items and discussion themes for meetings is required as is completing follow-up actions
  • A referral list of family names and a brief summary is distributed 24 hours prior to each meeting, allowing services to withdraw from discussions if a conflict of interest is identified
  • Confidentiality is strictly maintained within information sharing provisions of the Child Protection Act 1999

“Members of the Collective are encouraged to leave their spears and shields at the door and come in as one”

 

Trauma Informed – Safety, Empowerment, Truth, Integrity, Honesty, Collaborative, Power Sharing

The HALT Collective meetings are characterised by the agreement drawn up by the members. This includes acknowledging different ideas and perspectives as well as a commitment to reaching agreement prior to proceeding with recommendations by the group.

 

The discussions take place in a safe space that promotes questions and cultural learnings and is defined by members being respectful, generous with airspace, supportive and taking a strengths-based approach. Communication is open, honest, professional and importantly, is trauma-informed. Understanding intergenerational trauma is critical to the success of the HALT Collective, and members take serious how the decisions of today can / will contribute to the trauma story of a family.

 

“We recognise that families are always affected by intergenerational trauma and we always have in our mind giving families the chance to change and ask ourselves: what impact will notification have on this child or family? How do you hold a family while the process takes place for notification? You have to have respect for intergenerational trauma and hold that story”

 

Through the information sharing that takes place across the different agencies and services that have multiple contacts with families, previously unknown or unavailable information becomes known and available. This has enabled a better focus on strengths rather than just deficits and highlights what families have overcome and the challenges ahead and therefore enacting what the Elders has previously discussed. It is this information that has proven to be a significant influence on the HALT Collective’s ability to make the best decision on behalf of the family and child/children being discussed.

 

Indeed, as one HALT Collective member suggested, “it is worrying to think how decisions were made and with what information prior to establishing the HALT Collective… and then the impact of these decisions on families”.

 

Finally, through the ongoing engagement of Elders, and with their wisdom embedded within the practice, the vision and success of the HALT Collective has been maintained.

Outcomes achieved

Since the first meeting of the HALT Collective, more than 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families have been discussed. The positive outcomes of the establishment of the HALT Collective are both tangible and concrete, while others are less tangible but likely deliver long-term, sustainable outcomes.

 

The success indicators of HALT that were identified included that First Nations children referred to HALT are better supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community based organisations and that information shared by HALT members will support a less intrusive level of statutory intervention.

 

An examination of the HALT data from 2021 alone highlights 277 unique First Nations children subject to an Intake and Assessment (I&A) were presented to HALT. In only 11 cases (4%) was the outcome Ongoing Intervention. Importantly:

  • The number of First Nations children subject to Ongoing Intervention within 12 months of being presented at HALT was 13.7%
  • The number of First Nations children subject to Ongoing Intervention that were not presented at HALT was 21.4%[1]

 

That is, for children subject to an I&A and not presented to HALT there is slightly higher than 1 in 5 likelihood the outcome will be Ongoing Intervention. For children subject to an I&A and presented to HALT the likelihood is reduced to almost 1 in 8. This is both a tangible and statistically significant outcome.

 

These results are recognised by the partners as important statistical outcomes. However, all partners agree that the less tangible, or less easily measurable outcomes are just as important. These include families now having more confidence and trust in a system that they have felt has historically been punitive and felt alien to their world, community, family and the complexities they face.

 

Increased Voice and Participation

While even within the HALT Collective, decisions are (currently) made in the absence of the family’s voice, families report feeling that they have increased representation and understanding and enhanced cultural safety. What is clear, without the relationships that enable information sharing, a decision most likely will have been made for/about a family without all available – and sometimes critical – information being factored in, since different parts of the Collective have different information based on different service contact with the family.

 

This appears to be the result of a valuing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and wisdom across the Collective, and a willingness to trust this wisdom as a basis on which to make decisions. Having this family-centred practice is at the heart of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and as such in adopting this cultural lens the HALT collective have moved to using this wisdom as the heart of decision making.

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Upholding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle

This is a case study of promising practice, rather than best practice. It has been developed to assist other agencies working in the child protection space in other jurisdictions. Specifically, it aims to assist those who might want to understand how a more culturally safe practice, aligned with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle and its core elements, can be developed but adapting some of the successes and challenges to their own contexts.

 

The HALT Collective specifically aims to address over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in the child protection system. It seeks to do this in a way that upholds and is aligned with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle by:

 

  • Ensuring culture underpins and is integral to safety and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and is embedded in policy and practice
  • Recognising and protecting the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, family members and communities in child welfare matters; and
  • Increasing the level of self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in child welfare matters.

 

Across the five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, the HALT Collective offers evidence of how agencies can activate these elements for best impact. SNAICC (2019) further identifies research that demonstrates that family support services are most impactful when programs incorporate cultural knowledge and are focused on the strengths of families.

 


Prevention

SNAICC (2019) argue the first element of the ATSICPP is the most critically important for minimising child protection involvement and since it aims to protect children’s rights to grow up in family, community and culture by redressing causes of child protection intervention. The HALT Collective upholds this principle in that it clearly recognises the primary role of parents and family in the care and wellbeing of a child and a child’s right to enjoy culture with community. There is acknowledgement and commitment by the State to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to support family and community to care for children.

 

The Collective works to ensure referrals to family support services on notification to a child protection agency and restricts removal of child to only instances in which there is an “unacceptable risk of harm” or as a “last resort” or similar and recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations’ (ACCOs) roles to provide family support services.

 

As a practice framework at intake the HALT Collective recognises the innate value and continuing strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and that many issues affecting families are connected to the legacy of intergenerational trauma caused by experiences of colonisation, including forced child removal. HALT Collective responses aim to engage deeply with processes of individual and community healing. In this the wealth of cultural knowledge and connection that makes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families best placed to lead and inform responses to the child welfare issues is affirmed.

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Lessons learnt

While the focus of this case study has been on the practice, the HALT Collective has learnt some important lessons along the way.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander way

  • A culturally safe intake process for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families must be guided by local Elders. Their wisdom and knowledge and understanding of their communities must inform all aspects of practice and decision-making
  • Maintaining the involvement of Elders maintains success – no-one knows more about community and the families that make up those communities than the Elders
  • Slowing down is imperative to success as it enables all of the right information to be gathered including the right cultural knowledge to be present, this has been central to the success of HALT. Working quickly might give a short-term outcome but result in negative and long-term consequences. In this the safety of the child is never compromised but is central within a slower process.

 

“Acting too quickly with only part of the story known can lead to very bad outcomes for our children but we know acting too slowly while we get the full story might increase the risk [for the child]. But the safety of the child is never compromised and actually that risk is mitigated more rigorously through HALT because there is collective rather than single accountability

  • Placing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community lens over decision-making leads to improved outcomes for families and within the child protection system

“If you are going to put a cultural lens over the process then you have to elevate Cultural Practice Advisor who need to be culturally safe as they transition from supporting clients to be part of the decision-making”


Relationship, partnership, trust and collaboration

  • Ensuring there is an environment that values and guarantees cooperation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family welfare organisations – who as noted previously have often been placed in competition with each other for funding – builds a stronger service sector for families;
  • Collaboration is the key, since Child Safety have the history, but the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have the connection. The trust community organisations have with their clients, families and communities must not be compromised and all stakeholders must be committed to this. Once this trust is breached there is little, and no-one left for families to trust

“Trust is the most important thing. It’s the glue that holds us and the decisions we make together. You need trust from the executive to give the authorising environment and trust between organisations that have traditionally been pitted against each other. And then there is the trust that has to be build where it has never existed between government and families”

  • Relationships must be based on trust and shared, rather than shifted, risk. Relationships and trust have to be established before the work begins and then will likely be strengthened along the way.
  • Without the right people and organisations at the table the full context, complexities and picture cannot be known, and decisions will once again be made with limited and limiting knowledge.


Impact on other work

  • The process and practice succeed best when it is organic and dynamic rather than strategic and rigid, where stakeholders are willing to learn and adapt within the legislative framework
  • The workload for the group can be high and there needs to be recognition of the time required and effect on organisations resourcing other parts of their work
  • In the first instance, the success and strength a collective can maintain commitment to attend meetings and support families and communities, but without adequate resourcing difficult choices will be forced on members to the detriment of programs and / or collective outcomes

 

Finally, organisational commitment is more important than personal or individual commitment if there is to be sustainable change. The HALT Collective is proactively working to ensure processes are so embedded it survives beyond the good ideas and intentions of those who first believed there was a better way.

What is the future of the HALT Collective?

The HALT Collective is the beginning of a process that is seeking to bring greater self-determination to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families entering or at risk of entering the child protection system.

 

Members aspire to greater self-determination developing over time since the Department still ultimately make the key decisions. Currently Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family welfare organisations do not have access to all the available information and RIS-CSOs are still self-selecting what gets referred to the HALT Collective. Ultimately, members would like to see more RIS-CSOs bringing in referrals.

 

In the future an even stronger role for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family welfare organisations within the Collective is anticipated if full self-determination is to be achieved. There are more conversations ahead to understand how this can happen in practice and how the voice of families being discussed can be added to the decision-making process.

 

Further, it is hoped that in the future there will be more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in the space, and that through their participation in the HALT Collective, non-Indigenous workers deepen their cultural understanding and experience, which in turn enhances their skills, knowledge and capacity to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

 

The value of collective decision making is clearly demonstrated by this case study. However, both the effort of collaboration and partnership is resource intensive and the ongoing commitment and work with family’s needs additional resources to grow. The current data shows that not every First Nations child can be triaged through HALT and for this to occur more resources should be considered given that the results indicate significant capacity to divert Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from the child protection system.

 

Finally, it is clear that the wisdom of the Elders will continue to guide the HALT Collective.

Key messages

  • Family Centred Practice has resulted in changed experiences of families.
  • Valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural wisdom and knowledge and practices should be the primary means to make decisions including collective gathering of information, paying attention to Elders, valuing cultural identity and connection for children.
  • It is critical to understand the impacts of intergenerational trauma and how this is deeply personal for each family, but to also acknowledge that as a result families also have a story of strength and resilience that can be built upon.
  • Trauma informed practice in an applied sense – built into how information is shared – means empowerment for families, means context includes the stories of survival of overwhelming histories and the possibilities of change. How these stories and possibilities for change are understood and received is critical to securing positive outcomes for children and families.
  • The value of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, applied to the level of active efforts, requires time, shared wisdom, collective effort and ongoing building of relationship to ensure that the key principles can be maintained. In doing this, more children (over 98%) are actually being diverted from the Child Protection System and this is central to reducing over-representation now and into the future.
  • Taking time to build and transform relationships between the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations has been central to success. Working at establishing strong and effective partnerships is an ongoing process, but the profound depth of trust and relationships that have resulted are critical to driving the outcomes. Ongoing support to build, maintain and support relationships is important to invest in.