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Notifications are made for a wide range of reasons and are almost always complex in nature. Unborn notifications indicate an individual’s fear for the unborn child of young person; in most cases, the young person is dealing with substance use or is perhaps involved with a substance user, a violent partner or someone else who poses a risk to the safety of the young person and her unborn child. A young person’s unstable or unsafe housing situation also commonly triggers notification.
For most, their own childhood experiences with the system have left negative impressions and so it’s common for young people to feel hostile towards or fearful of, Child Protection, its workers and their intentions. For this reason, the strength of your therapeutic relationships is of paramount importance. You will often be called on to serve as a conduit between your client and Child Protection.
Your involvement in a client’s life will often serve to reduce Child Protection’s concerns and perhaps influence their response to notifications made, or prevent the need for notifications to be made in the first place.
It’s important to help Child Protection understand that a young person should be given the opportunity to learn to parent their child. It’s often forgotten that new parents who experienced the Child Protection system themselves as children were often not parented appropriately and most likely did not grow up with positive role models or solid behavioural examples to follow. Your role is to advocate on behalf of these new young parents so that they are given every opportunity to break the intergenerational Child Protection cycle and to raise their children in a stable environment.
A host of factors can trigger unborn notifications. An observer or someone close to a young expectant mother may perceive her housing situation, her violent partner or high-risk behaviours such as substance use or sex work, or her lack of connection to services such as midwife clinics and/or antenatal services, as putting herself and the unborn baby at considerable risk.
In some instances, you, the worker, may need to make an anonymous notification.
This is only done after careful consideration and consultation with your line manager once it’s evident the young person isn’t adequately connected to services and supports and is still engaged in high-risk behaviours. The involvement of Child Protection provides additional support that will see the client linked with the necessary supports and services that might otherwise remain unconnected without Child Protection’s influence.
Ideally, a young person will be consulted thoroughly and involved in their own notification.
This is done in order to maximise transparency and to help the client understand that Child Protection doesn’t have to be the enemy. Solid therapeutic relationships are key to these kinds of discussions.
Child Protection liaise closely with local hospitals, midwife clinics and in many areas of the country will hold regular meetings with local youth workers too, so that an array of services and systems are communicating with each other. It’s not uncommon for Child Protection to hold off on validating a notification if they know a young person is linked in with a youth support service. Your involvement in a client’s life could mean that Child Protection is content sitting on the sidelines until you deem their involvement necessary and will be guided by your professional judgment. This requires workers to have established positive working relationships with Child Protection services.
Maintaining regular meetings
Requesting a professionals meeting with Child Protection is a useful way of communicating all the information critical to a client’s case. During such a meeting it’s essential that you provide Child Protection with a detailed understanding of your role in a client’s life; that is, your capacity and limitations. For example, if you only see your client monthly that might not be frequent enough to reassure Child Protection, especially during critical times such as the lead into birth etc.
It’s also important that you inform Child Protection of all the services and supports your client is connected with. With a full and detailed picture of a client’s case and an understanding of the client’s care team, Child Protection can make an informed decision about how or if to proceed with any further intervention from their end.
A care team meeting is one that invites all services involved with the young person including child protection to meet and discuss issues, outcomes, progress etc. of the case and to be transparent whilst the young person is present. This is a platform to ensure all services communicate and are aware of what the plans are for the young person. It is important for the young person to direct their care team meetings and ensure their voice is being heard, which may take some coaching and encouragement as their worker.
Again, this is where the strength of your therapeutic relationship pays off – the stronger the trust between you and your client, the more likely it is that they will be open to a care team meeting and willing to participate in a frank discussion about why notification is necessary. While it can be difficult to frame Child Protection’s involvement as positive, it’s helpful to highlight for the client particular doors that the system’s involvement can open, such as access to housing or financial support, respite services or perhaps swifter removal from volatile situations the client might find themselves in etc.
In particularly turbulent situations when a care team meeting isn’t possible, an anonymous notification might be necessary.
And while withholding information from your client is always a last resort and never ideal, anonymous notifications are necessary to protect your therapeutic relationship while preserving your client and their unborn or young child’s safety.
Example case of self-notification
A YSAS worker recalled a case where a young pregnant client took control of her own notification after thorough consultation with her worker. Having highlighted the inevitability of notification due to the client’s high-risk behaviours (substance use, unstable housing, sex working, violent partner), the worker successfully encouraged her client to call Child Protection herself. Together, client and worker practised the phone call and role played the scenario to prepare the client for Child Protection’s questions and to establish and rehearse communicating the client’s desired outcome. The client met with Child Protection in her worker’s office (volunteering your space for meetings is often advisable so that your client feels safe in familiar surrounds) to lay out all the necessary information and assure Child Protection that nothing was being withheld.
At what stage do you notify?
Early unborn notification
Unborn notifications can be made very early in a pregnancy. If it’s clear a client is linked in with youth services and supports, Child Protection might close the case quickly feeling confident in the strength of a young person’s support network.
A young expectant mother might have an unborn notification made before she’s even discussed her options with her worker or with those close to her. Indecision is common among young expectant mothers – up until around 20 weeks many still don’t know if they will proceed with their pregnancy or pursue termination. For this reason, early unborn notifications are often unnecessary as miscarriage or termination are still significant possibilities.
In situations where a client is proceeding with her pregnancy, unborn notifications pave the way for post-birth planning. Establishing a solid plan with the client and Child Protection is essential and best pieced together through meetings with relevant supports and services. If voluntary undertaking is highly likely, be as thorough as possible when preparing the client for the conditions with Child Protection. If each party is on the same page, ideally there will be no surprises once the child is born, which hopefully minimises the client’s stress, fear, anger and/or anxiety.
Thorough consultation and communication between everyone involved and detailed preparation for the client is absolutely key. Try always to conduct these kinds of meetings in a youth-friendly environment where your client is most comfortable.
In the case of malicious notifications (whereby someone who perhaps doesn’t have a detailed understanding of a client’s situation but is legitimately concerned for the client or unborn child’s welfare makes a notification), you can work closely with Child Protection to determine if the notification is sustainable and advocate strongly on your client’s behalf.
The Catch-22 of housing
Housing is more often than not an issue for clients. The catch-22 lies in the fact that housing is difficult to secure while those with children are prioritised. A client may be subject to an unborn notification due to unstable housing but frustratingly there is usually little that can be done to secure housing before the child is born. Your support and guidance through such situations is essential – advocating on behalf of your client and assisting to arrange alternative living arrangements (with friends, parents etc.) is often necessary.
Youth worker and child protection relationship
Strong working relationships with Child Protection workers are important as you’ll likely be in regular contact with them across your caseload of clients. A phone call to introduce yourself early in a client’s case will make future communications with the worker and their team simpler and smoother (a face to face introductory meeting is always ideal where possible).
Child Protection workers deal with heavy and relentless workloads.
They often jump from case to case or are assigned to new positions regularly meaning your client’s Child Protection worker can change from one week to the next. Familiarising yourself with Child Protection workers’ teams and team leaders is also advisable as there will be times (most often urgent) when you can’t contact the relevant worker directly and need instead to speak with their colleague for assistance.
When notifications are necessary, a strong relationship might mean you can request that Child Protection inform you first so that you’re able to deliver the news to your client and minimise their anxieties. This kind of forward planning can help avoid situations where clients receive ill-timed notifications; for example, if Child Protection notifies a client at 4:30pm on a Friday (when youth workers finish for the week at 5pm), it’s highly likely notification will cause severe distress, exacerbated by the client being unable to reach their worker for information, advice and support.
How does your therapeutic relationship influence child protection?
Child Protection workers have immense respect for youth workers’ therapeutic relationships and understand their value when pursuing the best outcome for a young person and their unborn or young child. Accordingly, when Child Protection needs to meet with a young person, they will often be open to letting you have a ‘warm up’ conversation with your client in order to prepare them for the forthcoming meeting.
In some cases, they may also be open to your suggestions when it comes to particularly detailed Child Protection orders.
For example, a Victorian client whose order included that she have counselling as well as seek drug and alcohol support suggested to Child Protection that the young person’s weekly meeting with her youth worker cover these subjects in a way that complied with the order’s conditions. The worker’s aim was to minimise the stress of involving new people in the young person’s case, to consolidate time and travel and to allow the client the comfort of undergoing counselling with someone she knew and trusted.
Sometimes it will fall to you to highlight for the Child Protection worker that particularly detailed orders can place too much of a strain on a young person. Emphasise the difficulty of juggling compliance with the time- and energy-consuming efforts and stress of being a new mother and suggest alternatives or tweaks.
Education and training for child protection workers
Your working relationship might also involve training and education for Child Protection workers to further enhance their understanding of young people’s substance use and the function it has in their lives.
For example, you can educate Child Protection workers on drug use in a way that explains how to view a positive drug test in more shades than simply black and white. A test result may come back positive, however, it may also reveal that a client has, for example, stopped using ice and reduced their use of cannabis.
For inexperienced Child Protection workers, reading drug screening results can be challenging and this often leads to inaccurate readings. In some situations, you will be called on to challenge readings that have come back positive when your client is adamant they have not been substance using. In many cases, positive readings simply show the presence of prescribed medications, however, the Child Protection worker mightn’t be be aware of the difference. Again, thorough communication and consultation is essential to avoid hiccups and unnecessary commotion.
Make yourself known
In order to make yourself known as a young person’s worker, particularly through pregnancy when it’s possible someone else might make an unborn notification (resulting in the client being contacted directly by Child Protection and causing considerable distress), establish relationships with midwives, hospital staff and other services’ points of contact.
Simple things such as taping your business card to your client’s hospital file will help others establish your role in the client’s life so that if and when issues such as notification arise, you’ll likely be contacted and involved in the process.
Some workers may attend antenatal classes or ultrasound appointments with a client and become known to other connections (midwives, hospital staff etc.) through these or similar channels.
Why is constant communication and transparency between parties important?
Communication with Child Protection
A client’s level of risk will determine the frequency of communication between you and Child Protection. Often Child Protection will be satisfied to speak with you and be assured your client is tracking well. If a client’s behaviour falls higher on the risk spectrum (for example, if their substance use is significant), Child Protection might seek to visit them more frequently in addition to contacting you regularly.
In cases where your client has become uncontactable and reduced communication with you dramatically, it’s best to alert Child Protection and keep them informed.
However, best practice would be to first call around your client’s community connections – particularly midwife clinics and/or the client’s hospital – to confirm if she has been seen and if she is keeping her antenatal appointments. Such situations highlight the importance of building solid relationships with hospital staff and establishing trusted connections through varied support services.
Communication with your client
No matter what you and your client are working through, constant and open communication is key. This might also involve communication with the client’s family whereby your role can become that of a mediator. If the client’s family – for example, a young mother’s parents – have made notifications in the past, often the relationship will be fractured as a result.
Assisting your client and her parents to reopen a constructive dialogue will help draw everyone onto the same page and hopefully help to avoid future confrontations or additional notifications.
If you become the parents’ trusted source of information regarding their child, always be sure to preserve the integrity of your therapeutic relationship by informing the client first whenever you plan to engage with her parents (or with her Child Protection worker). Preserving your client’s trust is paramount.
Encourage your client and her family to accept a group meeting with Child Protection present. This can be an invaluable way to ensure all information is out in the open and to allow each party to demonstrate their positive intentions. The fewer misunderstandings and misconceptions, the less likely the client’s family will be to make notifications in the future or to attempt to influence the situation without directly communicating their concerns to their child. Such a meeting is also an exercise in strengthening a client’s communication skills as well as teaching them how to manage high-stress situations, confrontations and anger-inducing conversations.
SERVING AS THE CONDUIT BETWEEN CLIENT AND CHILD PROTECTION
You are in a position to reshape how your client is likely to view Child Protection; for example, emphasise Child Protection’s ability to assist with housing so that the client focuses on positives rather than negatives.
Where strong therapeutic relationships exist, Child Protection is often happy to receive client updates through you, the worker. In these instances, encourage your client to make contact with Child Protection every once in a while to allow them to demonstrate their progress and competence. It’s important to emphasise praise and to frame the suggestion positively so that contacting Child Protection is seen as an opportunity for the client to demonstrate how well they are doing.
In situations where a client is demonstrating particularly impressive progress, suggest a meeting with Child Protection instead of a phone call. Encouraging the client with well-deserved praise will help to gradually shift their feelings towards Child Protection’s involvement from reflexively negative to positive: a chance to prove their competence and to take pride in their progress.
The following experience of a Victorian worker highlights the importance of your advocacy and strong therapeutic relationships.
A worker had arranged a closure meeting between Child Protection and a young expectant mother. Despite assurances that she would be present, the stress and anxiety of the situation overwhelmed the client who did not attend. The worker’s task was to then arrange a new meeting. After thorough consultation with the client that focused not only on allaying her fears and anxieties but also on framing the meeting as a positive opportunity to show Child Protection how in control and on track she was with her pregnancy. Without the worker’s advocacy and efforts to assure and bolster the client, it’s highly likely the meeting would never have taken place and instead removal may have occurred.
Walking the journey with your client
It is an honour and a privilege to accompany a young person through their pregnancy journey. Strong therapeutic relationships blossom and you are often present through hugely significant milestones and events; for example, you might be a constant and reliable presence at clients’ antenatal classes or at their ultrasounds and blood tests.
It’s common for clients’ partners to be precluded from important events, meetings and appointments during the pregnancy due to their own substance use, reluctance or court orders. Sometimes a client will be aware that their partner’s presence at such events or meetings can raise alerts for others; however, their absence can make the client feel like they’re enduring the stress and difficulties of pregnancy alone, hence why your guidance is crucial throughout the client’s journey – often, you are their primary source of stable support.
Your journey with a client might take you all the way through to a second pregnancy, which can often bring old fears and anxieties to the surface as the client dreads Child Protection becoming involved all over again.
However, in many cases, the second pregnancy heralds a new phase of the client’s life; perhaps the violent partner is out of the picture, substance use is no longer a concern, housing is stable and none of the factors that necessitated Child Protection’s involvement with the first child remain an issue. Encourage open communication between your client and Child Protection so the client comes to feel like they are leading the charge and old negative perceptions of the system’s role gradually shift to be viewed in a more positive light.
Familiarise yourself with legal jargon
A worker’s role involves a considerable amount of translating. You’ll be present at important meetings to help absorb, digest and translate the information obtained for your client. The involvement of Child Protection means your client will probably also be dealing a host of legalities pertaining to notification. For this reason, your command of legal jargon and understanding of court proceedings is important as it will enable you to relay complex or confusing information to your client.
Planning for court appearances
Helping a client to plan ahead for court appearances is ideal; however, it’s often the case that there is little time to prepare or scant time to meet with the client’s legal representative. Often, if the client has been through the system, they’ll call on a legal rep they’ve used before but it’s also common for clients to turn up to court without representation and to pick up legal aid or a duty lawyer on the day.
Your relationship and regular communication with Child Protection can reap benefits in these instances; for example, Child Protection might notify you of an impending court appearance well in advance and provide you with their report. This will allow you to prepare with your client and to arrange legal representation. More commonly, however, your client will turn up to court with little or no knowledge of the report’s detail and therefore ill-prepared to contest any of its points. Deferring or adjourning the case is usually the best call in these situations.