Gatekeeping and assessments to determine the most suitable care for each child
In Week 2 we considered the importance of thorough assessments so that any decision-making can be based on evidence of a child’s individual needs, characteristics, circumstances and wishes. These assessments are not only important for determining whether alternative care is necessary, but also for helping meet the “suitability” principle by ensuring the most suitable form of care for each individual child is provided when required.
The decision as to which care setting would best respond to each child demands the careful consideration of a variety of factors. Therefore, decision-making should be carried out under a recognised and systematic procedure - as part of the “gatekeeping” process - that allows for the assessment of all aspects of a child’s life including risks and family circumstances.
In this regard, the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children calls for decisions to ‘be based on rigorous assessment, planning and review, through established structures and mechanisms, and should be carried out on a case-by-case basis, by suitably qualified professionals in a multidisciplinary team, wherever possible.’
When analysing any information gathered during an assessment process, we stress again that the first consideration should be whether or not a child can safely remain with their parents, or with extended family, and what support is needed to make this happen. If, however, the child is deemed to be at risk of significant harm or, for some other justifiable reason, it is in their best interest to be temporarily placed in alternative care, the most suitable care setting should be chosen that fully corresponds to the child’s rights and best interests.
The following are a few factors to be considered when making care decisions:
- The type of placement that may be required: is there an unforeseen emergency, is it a planned short- or medium-term placement, or should the placement be designed to prepare for a longer care setting for the child outside the parental home?
- Siblings should not be separated unless there is a clear risk of abuse or other justification in the best interests of the child;
- If a placement is necessary, the location should be as close as possible to the child’s usual place of residence - if safe to do so - in order to facilitate contact and reintegration with their family and to minimise disruption to education and, cultural and social life.
Multi- sector participation in decision-making
It is important that someone is assigned responsibility to oversee the collation of all the assessment information. The task of analysing it and making decisions, however, should if possible be shared with different people who know, or are responsible for, the child. This should include the child themselves and their family.
An example of multi-disciplinary decision making teams include those in Moldova where local authorities have developed Gatekeeping Panels comprised of representatives from different professional sectors. They work together to reach the best decisions possible. You can read more about this model on page 18 of the publication Making Decisions for the Better Care of Children.
For further information on ways to apply the “suitability” principle and determination of the most appropriate form of care you can go to page 23 and pages 67 to 70 of the handbook Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’. The texts in the ‘See Also’ section below were used when creating this week’s materials - you can consult them for more information on the topic.