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Families with children in care/safety of subsequent children

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

26 January 2012

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 Review – Anne Kerslake Hendricks and Katie Stevens, Families Commission, and Safety of Subsequent Children: Maori children and whānau - a review of selected literature – Fiona 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 into CYF’s out-of-home care nearly half had a sibling who had previously been removed.

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.”


StatisticsIn 2010 CYF had a total of 4,238 children in out of home care
Of all the children in care, 52% were of Maori ethnicity, 39% NZ/Pakeha and 6% Pacific.
45% of these children also had siblings who had previously been removed from their parents. (Equates to 6% of the total CYF client base for that year). A similar proportion of subsequent children were removed from families irrespective of ethnicity.
Identifying childrenChildren entering families in which previous children have been removed can be more easily identified when cases are still active with social services.
There is no evidence in the research literature of the effectiveness of alert systems or mandatory reporting in preventing recurrent child abuse and neglect.
Ensure timely interventions occur which respond to the child’s developmental needs, while providing realistic timeframes for parents to address their complex issues and demonstrate change.
Men/male partners are often invisible in the case records of at risk families, risk assessments need to consider their role in the family
NeglectNeglect is identified as a key characteristic when subsequent children are removed from their parents’ care
Neglect can be hard to identify, assess and define therefore better tools and training is needed to complement existing assessment practices.
Adult issues – parenting capacityAdults who abuse or neglect subsequent children are often experiencing significant and complex stress.
When a child is removed their parents and the wider family need interventions that address the underlying reasons for the abusive or neglectful behaviour. This is an opportunity to prevent further harm being inflicted on other children in the family.
Family PlanningProactively providing family planning information and relationship education to parents who have had a child removed could prevent subsequent pregnancies. (There are well known links between unplanned pregnancies and child maltreatment.)
KnowledgeThere is an overall lack of research on how to protect children who come into families in which children have previously been removed.
There is also limited research on how to prevent children being born into families with a history of child removal.
Government initiativesA range of government initiatives are heading in the right direction, including:
Efforts to improve inter-agency information sharing
Education for professionals in the health, social services and justice sectors about indicators of risk, where to go for advice and where to make referrals
Public education, especially targeted at families and communities where abuse has occurred, about indicators of risk and where to go for help.

Copies of the full reports are available by request from the Families Commission or can be downloaded off the Commission’s website from 6am Thursday 26 January 2012.


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