Advice Leaflet 2: Restrictions on who may provide or arrange voluntary or temporary out-of-home care for children
Various sections of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 restrict who can provide out-of-home care (sections 135-141) and the making of temporary care arrangements (section 151-154) for a child. Recent amendments to the Act that were passed by the NSW Parliament in November 2010 have further restricted who can provide temporary care.
In effect the amendments mean that any parent who asks a distant relative, friend or neighbour to provide care for a child for a number of days will now be unable to do so. All periods of care for a child now have to be provided by a relevant and authorised agency.
The policy of Community Services is not to approve the private placing of a child with relatives, friends or neighbours, even if you think this is in your child's "best interests". The only time Family and Community Services, Community Services division may accept the placement of your child with grandparents or a close relatives i.e brother or sister is if this placement is in a Care Plan that is part of a Children's or Family Court order.
Lessons from practice
Sometimes parents ask Family and Community Services, Community Service division to provide them with respite care for their children, say for two weeks. If Community Services agrees to this they will ask the parents to sign a voluntary care agreement. When parents sign a voluntary care agreement they may assume that at the end of the respite period that the children will automatically be returned to them. This is not always the case.
Family and Community Services, or an authorised agency, may use the respite period to investigate whether or not your children are at 'risk of significant harm' if they are returned after the respite period to their parents. If on investigation Family and Community Services, Community Services division caseworkers decide that the children are at 'risk of significant harm' they may immediately assume care of the children and file an application in the Children's Court for an Emergency Care and Protection Order (ECPO).
It is important for parents who are thinking about asking for a period of respite care to understand that this is not a straightforward decision. Asking Family and Community Services, Community Services or an authorised agency for respite care may result in unintended consequences such as the removal of a child from parental care.
Parents should be careful about asking for respite care.