Not so Perfect Matches

by PeakCare Qld on 27th September 2011

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A number of concerns have been recently reported to PeakCare by Member Agencies about some “not so perfect” matches of children – very young children in particular - being made with residential services. 

 
Lindsay Wegener, PeakCare’s Executive Director discusses the major implications for organisations in accepting referrals where proper matching processes have not occurred.  These may include an organisation being found to have not attained the required service standards during the independent evaluations undertaken of the organisation’s application for an initial or re-newed licence.   Most importantly, poor matching practices can have a damaging impact on children and young people and be far removed from serving their best interests.   Advice is provided about the steps that should be taken in the event that your service is requested to provide care for a child where inadequate matching has taken place or key matching factors have seemingly not been given due consideration.

A number of concerns have been recently reported to PeakCare by Member Agencies about some “not so perfect” matches of children – very young children well below the age of 12 years in particular - being made with residential services.  
The acceptance of these referrals can have major implications for organisations.  Firstly, it places an organisation in jeopardy of failing to maintain compliance with the service standards associated with the licensing of care services.   Secondly, the organisation may be seen to be not complying with the terms of their “Service Agreement” with the Department of Communities.  Most importantly, poor matching practices can have a damaging impact on the child who is being inappropriately referred as well as the other children and young people who are already living within the residential service.
Key policies of the Department of Communities Policy of the Department of Communities states that “residential care placements are for young people aged 12 to 17... Children younger than 12 years may only be considered for placement if:

  • comprehensive assessment indicates that they have needs best met by residential care; and/or
  • they are one of a sibling group that would benefit from being placed togetherand/or
  • the service model has been explicitly developed and approved for children younger than 12 years, for example Indigenous Community Care and Family Intervention Services (‘Safe Houses’).”

In addition, where use of a residential service is being sought to provide a time-limited “transitional placement” or “emergent accommodation” outside of a grant funding arrangement, the Department’s Policy 602-2 states that the decision to place a child aged 11 years or under in these circumstances must be approved by a Regional Executive Director of the Department (or Duty Executive Officer outside of business hours).  This policy also states that there must be extenuating circumstances that apply in order for this decision to be made, such as it being in a child’s best interests to be placed with siblings.

 

Compliance with the Service Standards

Element 2.1.8 of Standard 2: “Responding to the needs of children, young people and families” requires that organisations have procedures in place “for matching the needs of children and young people requiring out-of-home care with the care environment”.

Element 2.3.9 requires that records are maintained in relation to the matching of children and young people with placements.

It will not be viewed as sufficient by external evaluators for an organisation to argue that their ability to comply with this service standard was negated by a placement decision being imposed upon them by a Placement Service Unit or other Departmental Officer.   An expectation will be held that an organisation providing a residential service will have a clearly stated “matching policy” that incorporates, amongst other things,  a defined target group that does not include children aged less than twelve years (unless the exceptions noted within the Department’s own policy apply).
It will also be fully expected that the organisation operates in compliance with this policy and can produce documented evidence of this compliance.  This includes records of:

  • information that was collected and considered when matching a referred child to the residential service environment
  • the decision-making process entered into, in liaison with the Department, when determining the suitability or otherwise of a referral, and
  • any actions taken to address any issues of concern identified during the matching process that were assessed as sufficient to allow the placement to proceed.

In respect of children less than 12 years of age being placed within a residential service, the organisation’s records should clearly indicate an explanation of the exceptional circumstances that applied to the child’s referral, evidence of a comprehensive assessment having been undertaken indicating that the child’s interests would be best served by a residential placement, and the approval of the appropriately delegated Departmental Officer for the placement to proceed.   
The organisation’s records should also include evidence of any departures from the Department’s policy or procedures having been met with strong representation made by the organisation to the Department’s Regional Director or Regional Executive Director.


Compliance with the Service Agreement between an organisation and the Department of Communities

Presumably, any organisation providing a residential service will have a negotiated Service Agreement in place with the Department of Communities that describes the service’s target group.  It may also be assumed that, in compliance with the Department’s policy, this description of the target group does not include children aged less than 12 years (unless, as noted within the policy, the service model was explicitly developed and approved for children younger than 12 years).
Service Agreements represent the terms and conditions to be adhered to by both parties to the agreement (that is, the funded service provider as well as the Department of Communities).  As such, both parties are obliged to comply with the criteria established within the agreement in relation to the service’s defined target group.
It is noted that, as part of their assessment of an organisation’s attainment of the service standards, external evaluators may examine the consistency of referral acceptances with the service’s target group as stated within their Service Agreement.


The safety and well-being of children and young people

Beyond the requirements for an organisation to achieve compliance with its Service Agreement and maintain the service standards established for the licensing of care services, there are sound reasons for the Department’s policy concerning children who are aged less than 12 years generally not being placed in a residential service with older young people.
Whilst perhaps most obviously these reasons concern the removal of potential for these children to be harmed or intimidated by older young people, the policy is also seeking to ensure that they are placed in other forms of out-of-home care (such as kinship or foster care) that are the most conducive to their healing and recovery from trauma and age-appropriate physical, cultural and emotional care.
If you require further detailed written advice about suitable referral and matching policies or procedures that may be used by your organisation, please feel free to submit an emailed request for this advice to groberts@peakcare.org.au

Lindsay Wegener
Executive Director
PeakCare Queensland
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