Child safety conversations: a guide for workers
Better family outcomes
This resource outlines ways of engaging in non-urgent/non-emergency child safety conversations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families via phone or video calls.
General principles for working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families
- Develop partnerships with Aboriginal services and support workers and enable their role in ongoing support
- Engage in a family- and community-centred approach to working towards better family outcomes
- Be aware that raising children is a shared responsibility in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
- Demonstrate understanding of historical and ongoing racial and economic disadvantage that has resulted in mistrust of systems and services, particularly government related, and how this may influence client engagement
- Demonstrate reciprocity and be curious about cultural practices or cultural nuances. Learning happens both ways
- Be aware that Cultural events may impact on a person’s engagement with a service, due to family and community commitments.
The types of telepractice referred to in this guide are programs or services delivered via audio or video call. In some cases, these may be the only option when the family is unable to access an in-person service, such as when they have returned to Country. In other instances, telepractice may provide a welcome alternative to in-person services regardless of the family’s circumstances.
Factors that may indicate better engagement in telepractice include:
- when there is an already established relationship with the family
- where an Aboriginal Support Worker, especially one already known to the family, is available to help with technology
- when the family feels comfortable with and are able to engage in audio or video calls
- when initial screening and assessment indicates that child safety is not urgent.
This resource provides recommendations for those of you who are having, or intend to have, child safety conversations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and families. The recommendations are divided into five areas:
- Set up and early engagement
- When the call begins
- Continuing the conversation
- Video calls
- Ending the conversation
The following considerations are helpful in setting up the call and engaging clients. Where an Aboriginal Support Worker is available, they can help to prepare the client for the session. Minimal time between referral and first appointment is ideal.
- Explain technology requirements for telepractice, and check if the parent/carer has a suitable device that will be available to them at the time of the appointment.
- Contact numbers given by the client may not be current. For example, a smartphone may be shared with or given to other family or community members.
- Have as many alternate contact numbers as possible. Numbers for public phones can be sought and tried as a last resort.
- Check that the client calling you via mobile is a feasible option, as phone credit may be limited. Alternatively, provide credit to the client if this is feasible.
Check phone reception be adequate for the appointment:
- In remote areas, reception in Aboriginal communities is unlikely to be as reliable as in the town centre – some communities will not have access to phone reception at all.
- Land lines in Aboriginal communities may be more reliable than mobile reception, if a land line is a feasible and private option and it is in service.
- There may be limited free public hotspots in many rural/remote areas. Community members may know where the hotspots are – ask around, and then check if the parent/carer can get there.
- If using a public hotspot, advise the client that the connection may not be secure (e.g., forwarding documents or screensharing, or talking about very sensitive issues should be avoided).
Privacy and safety
- Does the client have a private place to engage in a phone conversation?
- Is it easier or better for them to phone you at the time of the appointment (if they have sufficient credit)?
- If it is agreed that you will phone them at a set time/date, can they provide you with any alternate contact numbers that are safe to try, if you cannot get them on the provided number?
When offering a service
- Ensure the environment for the conversation is safe, confidential and involves informed consent regarding the intent and process of the contact (See Responding to risks). Families need a safe space to engage with services.
- Be aware that people living in rural and remote communities are interconnected, therefore confidentiality is crucial to establishing and maintaining respect, integrity and engagement. Others could easily become aware of private information through community members.
- Engage in respectful conversation that addresses and recognises cultural values and traditions. Use cultural brokers/Aboriginal workers where possible, to assist with a yarning style of conversation that will help avoid the perception of an interrogation.
- Be mindful of Men’s Business and Women’s Business and that these must be addressed by a person of the right gender and the right standing in the community.
Adopting a community approach
Acknowledgement of diversity within local Aboriginal communities can support service delivery, as each community has different protocols and cultural practices. Connecting with local services, interagency meetings or community events will help to understand the local community and facilitate relationship building. This can also provide guidance on the extent to which phone/video calls may work as a means of service delivery within a particular community and their cultural practices.
Gaining an understanding of the community context will also allow workers to know when contact with a particular family is or isn’t appropriate, e.g., after a family loss.
If you are actively engaging with community, make sure you are clear about the level of engagement you are proposing (e.g., information sharing, consultation or active participation).
There are two ways that appointment reminders can occur:
- Does the parent/carer have a calendar or other means of recording the date and time of the appointment? Using a phone calendar is ideal if the client uses it. Encourage them to use reminders/alerts for the appointment if a phone calendar is used.
- Alternatively, can the worker set up a reminder system if preferred by the client? For example, ask the client if they would like a reminder text the day before, or on the morning of the appointment, and/or at another time.
Leading up to the appointment, check that the client has enough credit on their device to enable them to confirm or reschedule the appointment if needed.
On the day of the appointment, remind them you’ll be calling in 5 minutes via text. This may work particularly well if the number shown on the client’s phone is unknown or private when you call.
Clients may be living or spending time at a community with limited or no phone service, so appointment reminders may not be received. Having alternate contact numbers may help ( e.g. other family members).
Remember that due to family and/or community commitments, or commitments to Cultural events, a client cancelling an appointment may be necessary, not a sign of disengagement. For example, Sorry Business is an extremely sensitive time, can be a lengthy process and may require extensive travel.
What do I do if a client doesn’t answer the call at the appointment time?
- If an Aboriginal Support Worker is involved, ask them to try to contact the parent/carer
- Send the parent/carer a text
- Try again in 15-30 minutes
- Try again in 1 hour
- If still no answer, do you have an alternate means of contacting them or someone who knows them?
- Can you try emailing the client?
- What is the assessed level of risk associated with the client not answering the call – can you call police, other services if you feel the client may be at serious risk?
- What do you have to do to ensure that your duty of care is met?
Take into account reasons why families are not available, as outlined throughout this guide, e.g. no credit, no reception, unexpected community commitments, phone has been lent to other family members. Your response to a missed appointment may also vary according to level of perceived risk.
Once the call has started ensure the client can hear and see you, and consider introducing yourself by your own cultural identities and share a little about yourself. Be clear and honest about the purpose of engagement with the client and ask for permission/informed consent.
Example questions and considerations
- Check about the private place: Are they in it? Can they move to a quiet space? Who is around them? Are they safe? Do you need to arrange another time to call, if the situation is not suitable? Ask: Is it okay to talk now?
- Ask a few questions to establish the parent/carer’s mood, their willingness to engage and comfort levels with answering questions, and levels of stress, e.g. How has your day been so far? How are you feeling today? What do you have/have you had on today?
- Engage in initial discussions about family and Country to establish rapport, as separation from family and Country may be impacting on the client’s wellbeing, e.g. Where are you from? Who’s your family group?
- Take into account the individual’s personal, historical, spiritual and cultural context as part of assessment, e.g. Did you grow up here? What was it like as a kid?
- Ask about caring roles and family dynamics
- Avoid jargon and keep communication simple and clear
- Avoid use of acronyms (unless client demonstrates that they use them first)
- If possible, make sure that if you expect them to call you, they can expect a familiar worker to answer – familiarity is key to engagement
- If a different worker is carrying a caseload due to leave or other reasons, ensure that the parent/carer is aware of who they are – introduce the new worker and engage in a thorough handover, including the style of engagement and communication preferred by the parent/carer.
Consideration of disabilities and other conditions
There may be disabilities or additional needs that the client and/or their children have that need specific attention when engaging in telepractice, such as hearing problems or language differences. In addition, their environment may make engaging in telepractice more difficult, e.g., if hearing is a problem, can they move to a space with fewer background noises? Check at the beginning of the call if there are any issues such as these that need further consideration and response.
Child safety is difficult to assess generally, let alone by phone. It is often easier to undertake when there is an established relationship with the family. A worker will need to be particularly tuned-in to the underlying messages in what the client is saying. Sometimes these messages may be established by indirect questions that uncover helpful information.
Be mindful of why, when and how you are using questions. Ensure it is limited to what you feel the parent is capable of answering at any one time. Too many questions may feel like an interrogation or feel confronting or judgemental.
Example questions to assess areas of risk
- Food security
What did you have for lunch today? Is your fridge big enough, can you show me?
- Child wellbeing
I hear Aidan in the background, sounds like he’s having a swim?
I just heard Ronelle pass by, can I say hello?
- Money security
How are you coping with all the extra expenses with your new baby?
When is your next shopping/pay day?
Do you have enough money to last?
Have you got other family staying with you at the moment?
You got any worries at the moment?
Have you had a chance to catch up with family/community to go……(onto Country/camping/fishing/hunting/celebrations- whatever activity the family engages in)?
Who have you seen lately?
What did you guys get up to?
Take notes throughout the conversation. If you feel like child safety is a significant risk, move through a risk assessment and follow recommendations. If an in-person follow up is possible, make an appointment as soon as possible.
Video calls may help to get a visual of important factors in child safety. Switching to video calls may be feasible if trust has been established with the family, they have agreed to a video call and feel comfortable with the technology and they have sufficient data available. Be aware of possible data security issues with different video call platforms.
Questions that may help to suggest a video call
- Hey – can I video call with you to see all the family to say hello?
- We’re trying new ways to work with families – can we video call?
- Caught a big fish yesterday – can I show the kids on video call?
If good trust and rapport established:
- Hey, I’m worried about you – can we video call so that I can see you are okay?
Video call refusal
Note the client may have genuine reasons for not wanting to engage in a video call, for example:
- personal reasons, e.g. client feels unprepared physically or emotionally to be viewed; client feels shame/awkward, anxious or fearful a video call would be too intense (e.g. eye contact)
- client doesn’t have the support they feel they need, e.g. family member to help with video technology
- historical reasons, e.g. client has a negative past history with services that have been trusted before and let them down (this may be influenced by generational trauma)
- material reasons, e.g. client does not have data available or a device they feel comfortable using, or a common platform for video calls (e.g. WhatsApp)
- convenience/appropriateness reasons, e.g. others are in the room who are not relevant to the call or children are present who should not hear the conversation for child safety reasons.
The following steps can be taken at the end of the call:
- Thank the client for their time and engagement.
- Check that the client has understood and has agreed to what has been discussed.
- Check if there is anything else they want to tell you or want you to do.
- Outline next steps after the call.
- Engage with an Aboriginal Support Worker or community worker where relevant.
- Send a brief written summary of agreed safety steps, plans and/or support options via text or email.
Acknowledgements and references
This guide was developed by the Parenting Research Centre in collaboration with Wunan’s Aboriginal Support Workers, who work in partnership with Key Assets in the East Kimberley Region of WA. Feedback was also received and incorporated from KARI, Uniting, Karitane and Catholic Care Wilcannia Forbes. We thank all managers and practitioners for their input.
Davy, Cass, Brady, DeVries, Fewquandie, Ingram, Mentha et al., (2016). Facilitating engagement through strong relationships between primary healthcare and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 40(6), 535-541.
NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation (2017). Telehealth consultations with Aboriginal people for pain management. Retrieved 3 March 2021, from: https://www.painaustralia.org.au/static/uploads/files/aci17081-telehealth-consult-guide-f-print-wfjkrbmsexxe.pdf
With thanks to the following
Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies
Life Without Barriers
NSW Department of Communities and Justice
The Smith Family
My Forever Family
COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE
Association of Child Welfare Agencies
Catholic Care Sydney
Catholic Care Wilcannia Forbes
Life Without Barriers
My Forever Family
NSW Department of Communities and Justice
Settlement Services International
The Benevolent Society
The Smith Family