Permanent care placements are made under legal orders and agreements to provide vulnerable children with a safe and supportive family environment.
Sometimes, for different reasons, children are no longer able to live with their birth families.
Children placed in permanent care come through Child protection services. Unlike adoption, it is not a voluntary placement. The department makes decisions about the safety of children, and for a few this sometimes means they are unable to return home to their birth parents or other relatives. In these cases the decision is made for permanent care.
Permanent care isn't foster care, which is a temporary arrangement that aims to reunite children with their birth parents. For some children, this isn’t possible. In these instances, the child would spend some time in foster care before eventually being placed with a permanent care family.
Permanent care gives these children a stable environment in which to grow up. However, more than this, it gives them relationships for life, which are permanent, secure and nurturing. It legally comes about when a permanent care order is made by the Children’s Court, granting custody and guardianship to the permanent family. Legally this means that as a permanent care parent you’ll be responsible for day-to-day care of the child and also long term decisions about things like education, changes in residence, health and employment. In all other ways, it means you’ll be the child’s parents into the future, loving them, caring about them, giving them opportunities and, most of all, providing them with enduring relationships.
You would have financial responsibility for the child but financial assistance is available to help with some expenses. The permanent care order doesn’t automatically affect the child’s name, birth certificate or inheritance rights, although change of name is possible. The permanent care order expires when the child turns 18 years of age but the close relationships established between permanent parents and children last a lifetime.
Who are the children needing families?
There are children of all ages who are unable to live with their own family and need a permanent family. Children with special needs may come from disrupted backgrounds; they may belong to a sibling group who needs to be placed together, or they may have physical and/or intellectual disabilities. These children need families who can make a difference to their lives and help them grow and develop to their potential, despite their difficult early years or disability. There is also an infant adoption program but the number of infants available for placement is very limited.
Children from disrupted backgrounds
Families are needed to care for children of all ages from disrupted backgrounds. Often these children have had many moves and care givers. Children often develop ways of coping with these experiences, including unusually mature or immature behaviour, withdrawal, learning difficulties and challenging behaviours. Because of previous disappointments, children may behave in ways which test the new parent's commitment, doubting that the new family is permanent. Care giving families often comment that it takes a great deal of love, understanding and time to gain the trust of the child and for the child to feel secure in the family.
Children with disabilities or health problems
Some children available for placement have additional needs as the result of disability or developmental delay. They may have a disability such as Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida or Cerebral Palsy, or the cause of the delay or disability may not be known. Medical treatment or therapy programs are often required. Some children may have health complications as a result of family medical or psychiatric history, drug or alcohol use during pregnancy, prematurity or a difficult birth. Families need to be able to live with the possibility of future problems and be prepared to be involved in ongoing therapy programs. While developmental gains are taken for granted in other children, they are big achievements for these children and bring rewards and joy in the child's progress.
Contact with birth family
In most cases children will have contact with members of their birth family after they join your family. This can seem challenging at first, but it is very important for the child that comes into your family. It is very important for all children to know and understand their origins as this forms part of their identity.
Contact will be carefully controlled and supervised. Contact can be as simple as the provision of photos and information and/ or visits. Arrangements are organized and supported by a worker from the permanent care team. At first visits will be held in neutral places, usually for a couple of hours or so. Your worker will attend these visits with you and the child’s birth family to help build relationships between you all, until you and the birth family feel comfortable about managing the arrangements yourselves.
If children have no contact with their birth family, you'll need to help them understand their background and help them deal with their feelings as they grow up and wonder about their backgrounds. These issues will be covered in great detail in the information sessions.
Permanent care services provide a stable and secure family life for children who, for various reasons cannot live with their own family. Permanent care presents many challenges and rewards for the new family. Helping a child feel part of a supportive and stable family environment can be rewarding for all family members.