In WA we take children into care when their home environment is not safe for them. The risk to them is so great that it should be avoided even at the cost of not having a home-based childhood – even though we know that lack of home support is a serious risk factor for childhood development.

As a society, having made that decision, it is clearly our responsibility to at least make sure this at-risk child does not miss out in any more areas.

That is why the Alliance advocates that children in care should have a physical standard of care at least equal to what a "typical Australian child" expects.

Precisely defining that standard is difficult, but Alliance policy does spell out the key areas that should be considered and defined.

Should a child in care receive braces if their dentist recommends them? We believe 'yes'.

Should a teenager own an iPod? Maybe, depending on the current community standard. And a mobile phone? Perhaps. Should they be able to have money of their own, to acquire possessions of their own choosing? Absolutely.

And funding per child should reflect these "typical Aussie kid" standards.

The reality is that children in care enjoy a far lower standard of living than current community standards and that a very significant increase in per-child funding is needed before we can say that we as a community look after the children we have taken into our direct care as well as we look after our own.

Read more on why the Typical Australian Child Standard is essential to results.

Alliance Policy

The Alliance recommends:

  • Minimum standards of care should be documented and published. Standards should be as objective as possible.
  • Care providers including Government should be regularly assessed against those standards by an independent authority empowered to order changes and closure.

Standards of care should define:

  • Assessment, management plan, case management and ongoing review procedures including timelines and maximum time periods for key steps
  • Procedures for determining treatment and entitlements to treatment
  • Physical conditions of care including personal possessions and entitlements of children in care
  • Rights of children and family to be involved and to have control over their own lives
  • Foster carer qualifications, assessment, training, respite and reimbursement
  • Standards for acceptable placements including multiple placements
  • Minimum qualifications, training and experience standards for all, including case managers and carers
  • Reunification planning
  • Preparation for leaving care including job and life-skills training, placement in employment or training and ongoing personal support past the age of 18.
  • Outcomes review, documentation and reporting

The "Typical Australian Child" standard

The standards suggested here are illustrative; they have not been tested against community standards, but are intended to indicate the depth, detail, areas and issues that should be assessed and included.

Physical environment

  • Shared rooms to be same-sex, no more than two children per room.
  • All children should have their own storage area including hanging space and drawers.
  • Children studying final year high school should have their own room or a private and secure study space where they can leave study materials open and ready for use.
  • Accommodation should include indoor recreation areas (eg, for board games) and outdoor areas (eg, for ball games etc).

Academic

  • Students should have access to a computer and appropriate software when this is typical for their school and classroom. If the computer is shared they should have a secure identity. Students in the final two years of high school should have their own computer.
  • All secondary students should have (filtered) internet access including their own email account.
  • All students should have access to a quiet study area. Students in the final two years of high school should have their own desk or study area.
  • Basic resource books should be available on site.
  • All students should have the choice of membership in their local public library and regular access to borrow, to spend time in the library and to participate in library activities.
  • All students should have an appropriate supervised homework period, where the supervisor is able to give some assistance with homework.
  • Any child in care whose grades are below average or who requests it should be assessed for additional tutoring.
  • Recommendations from teachers for additional tutoring should be met. Tutoring time should be as recommended by teachers or by review, but generally at least once per week. Where a child is receiving tutoring there should be annual reviews of progress and assessment for any disorders.
  • All students should be able to participate in school excursions and extra-curricular activities (including sport) at a level typical for their peers, including fees, equipment, clothing and transport.
  • Children should be given age-appropriate sex education including access to resource materials covering reproduction, sexuality and sexual health.

Recreation

  • Every child should have daily access to a range of recreational options including sports, clubs, hobbies, TV/videos, computers and games, concert, films, magazine subscription and music. Provision should be made for membership and attendance fees, equipment, any consumables and transport.
  • All teenage children should have their own portable iPod or similar.
  • All teenagers should have the option of joining and participating in non-school clubs, hobbies, sports and other activities, subject to appropriate vetting.
  • Every child is entitled to appropriate holidays, which might take the form of foster or group home trips, staying with friends or family (as approved), school camps or other organised activities or peer group activities as appropriate to the child's age.

Social/personal/responsibility/self direction

  • Every child has a right to choice and to control over their own lives, appropriate to their age and conventional standards. Children should be involved in decisions that affect their lives and informed of decisions made which impact on them.
  • Every child has a right to privacy of personal possessions, personal space and relationships, as appropriate to their age.
  • Children should be supported and encouraged to have social contacts outside their care environment, including spending non-school time away from the place of care.
  • Children should be able to attend social events such as concerts, dances and parties as appropriate for their age and peer group.
  • Children should be supported and encouraged to visit friends at their homes and meet with them off-site (eg, events, shopping centres).
  • Children should be supported and encouraged in religious, political, volunteer and cause-related interests of their choice, as appropriate for their age.
  • All children should have pocket money of their own, to spend as they choose. Amounts should be age appropriate and may be linked to reasonable chores.
  • Children aged 15 and over should be supported in looking for and participating in part time work, if they choose.
  • All children should have access to events and people that are appropriate to their cultural background and identity.
  • Children should be able to stay overnight with friends, subject to appropriate vetting and safe conditions.
  • Children should be able to meet with parents, siblings and relatives, as necessary in controlled circumstances.
  • Children in care should be supported and encouraged in forming boyfriend/girlfriend relationships that are age-appropriate.
  • Children in care should be able to participate in an age-appropriate level of unsupervised activities.
  • Children in care have a right to private communications, subject to protection from predatory or threatening approaches.
  • Children in care should have telephone access for talking with friends and family as appropriate to their age level.
  • Children in care have a right to an age-appropriate level of privacy including professional confidentiality of their dealings with case workers, counsellors, doctors and other professionals.

Personal possessions/personal care

  • Children in care have a right to own personal possessions and to choose the type and style of personal possessions and personal care, appropriate to their age and peer group. This includes choice of clothing styles, hair styles and other aspects of personal presentation.
  • Ownership of a personal mobile phone should be encouraged to support peer integration, family contact, social relationships and personal security. Children might pay for or contribute to the costs of this out of pocket money or personal earnings, or be funded up to prepaid call limits.
  • Personal possessions including clothes, iPods, mobile phones, sports gear, hobby equipment should be subject to regular maintenance, update and replacement as appropriate.
  • Children in care should, where possible, be able to own pets.

Trauma care

All children in care have been subjected to severe trauma and this central fact must be recognised. For all of them, the trauma of separation continues. Amazingly, some children recover from the initial trauma substantially on their own resources. The experience of members of the Alliance however is that more than half need ongoing psychological and development support with sessions at least weekly.

Further standards are needed to ensure that trauma related needs are assessed and met, with continuing monitoring and adjustment

Failure to recognise and respond to the effects of trauma on children taken into care places those children at continued risk.

Other special needs

Recommendations and highlighted areas of concern resulting from initial and ongoing assessments should be acted on promptly and fully, including needs-based access to:

  • Tutoring and other academic support
  • Counselling and other psychological support
  • Social skills training
  • Drug rehabilitation
  • Training in personal grooming
  • Health services

Health

Children in care have a right to:

  • Needs-based medical attention for illness.
  • Routine medical checks with referrals (eg, dietician).
  • Routine dental care with dental work to mainstream community standards
  • Routine eye tests with prompt action on assessed needs.

Role models

Access to mentoring or role model programs already operating in the community should be encouraged and supported to counterbalance the absence of positive parental models.

"Home"

The aim of care should be to create a home-style environment for the child.

The concept of "home" includes:

  • Security (eg, of space, possessions, from bullying)
  • Personal, private space/possessions/information/communications
  • Being able to invite friends home
  • Choice, eg of activities, hairstyle, clothing style
  • Control, with children having a realistic involvement in decisions affecting their lives
  • Stability
  • Lasting relationships

In addition to the standards already proposed above, we recommend:

  • No foster home should cater for children from more than two families and one should be the norm.
  • Length of placement should be based on need.
  • No child should have more than two placements.