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Safe Home Visiting Practice Guide
This Practice Guide outlines practical advice to Child and Family Support System (CFSS) practitioners to support them to work safely with families in their home environments. This includes guidance about preparing for a home visit, managing challenging behaviours and risks and responding to critical incidents in the home. Guidance is also provided about safely visiting families in other community locations outside of the home.
The family home is the main service setting used by CFSS practitioners to provide intensive, targeted support to families to help them to develop and embed new skills and build capacity to care safely for their children. Working with families in their own homes can create opportunities to:
- support families to learn and practice new ways of interacting and doing things in the real-life context of their own family environment
- support families to develop practical skills and household routines that support the needs of their children
- enable practitioners to more effectively mentor and coach families
- enable practitioners to have a deeper insight into family dynamics, family strengths, safety concerns and what life is like for a child in that household
- involve extended family members in service delivery
- make services more accessible and enable families to access support in a non-threatening and informal setting.
- violence or threats from family members or others, including neighbours
- exposure to hazardous substances in the home or severe domestic squalor
- presence of animals (sometimes unrestrained and potentially aggressive) and pest infestations
- exposure to infectious diseases (refer to Home visits by South Australian Government employees for guidance about mandated processes for home visits to reduce the transmission of COVID-19)
- working in spaces that may be confined, poorly ventilated, hot, cold, dark, light or noisy
- lack of a safe entrances or exits to or from the home
- presence of multiple or unknown people in the home, who may be a safety threat
- exposure to experiences that impact a practitioner’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. This may include triggering responses to their own experiences of trauma (refer to vicarious trauma practice guide and staff wellbeing policy).
Working with families at home can also present challenges and risks to practitioners, such as:
Practitioners must take practical steps to thoroughly prepare for home visits to ensure they make the most of the opportunities of working with families in their home environments and can respond to any risks or dangers that may arise.
When preparing for a home visit, it is important to be mindful that many families may be reluctant to have new workers or services in their home. A family may feel threatened, fear judgements being made about their home and family and be worried that this could result in statutory child protection intervention. It is important that practitioners take the time to develop a relationship that is based on mutual trust. This requires practitioners to be persistent and patient. At the beginning, this may require using many different methods to connect with the family, such as visiting the home at different times and on multiple occasions, making phone calls, sending text messages and letters and leaving notes. Sometimes a home visit may take place on the front veranda until this trust has been developed. Refer to Assertive Engagement Practice Guide for strategies to support practitioners in the CFSS to respectfully, creatively but assertively engage and connect with families.
In some situations, particularly in the early stages of engagement, a practitioner may meet with a family in other places that the family feels safe and comfortable, rather than the family home. This may include a community setting (such as a local park, playground, educational or health care setting). When meeting in a community setting, it is also important for practitioners to be alert to signs of risk and be prepared to respond to safety risks or danger.
Aboriginal children and families
It is important to be mindful that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families may have a fear or mistrust of having a new worker or service in their home. This fear and mistrust stems from both historical and ongoing impact of colonisation, dispossession, genocide, forced removal policies (Stolen Generations) and practices such as segregation and assimilation on Aboriginal communities. The resulting intergenerational trauma, racism and colonisation continues to impact Aboriginal individuals, families and communities.
Having some knowledge of the underlying causes of presenting issues and the family, community and cultural context will help you in your approach to the family. Prior to arranging a home visit with a family, a cultural consultation with a culturally appropriate Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person should occur to to assist you with this understanding, and to guide your approach to arranging a home visit, and the response to the child safety issues. Cultural consultation can occur with SFS staff, with the family’s wider Aboriginal kinship systems such as cultural authorities/decision makers, community elders, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs), Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) or Aboriginal staff in other organisations who know the family. Undertaking these consultations and adhering to recommendations ensures self-determination and Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making is valued.
When working with Aboriginal children and their families it is important to understand that cultural safety may need to be established and a relationship formed before home visits can occur. In the first instance, this may look like:
- a level of trust needing to be established with a family before they feel comfortable to invite a practitioner into their home due to past experiences with ‘welfare.’ In these cases, a home visit may take place on the front veranda until this trust has been developed.
- seeking permission to enter a family’s home or rooms within the home, so a family feels like they have control over their space and their privacy.
- being flexible and initially meeting the family in different locations where cultural safety is already occurring and where they already feel comfortable and supported (such as on country, at a local park, a cultural centre or at an Aboriginal health centre).
- home-visiting taking place at the house of the cultural authority/decision maker.
It can also help to ask the family if they would like to have a support person of their choosing at home visits. This may include an individual family’s cultural authority/decision makers, kinship connections, community members, elders, Aboriginal staff members or Aboriginal service providers.
Good communication is essential to building and developing a relationship of mutual trust with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities (Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care 2010, Working and walking together: supporting family relationship services to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and organisations, page 59).
If you are speaking with an Aboriginal person whose first language is not English, it is also important to seek advice about appropriate communication protocols and use of interpreters to ensure that language barriers do not compromise the quality of service. Keep in mind Aboriginal ways of communication when conducting home visits.
Most important things are reducing power imbalances and creating cultural safety.
For additional information refer to the Practice Resource: Aboriginal Cultural Lenses of Practice which has been to be developed to provide a guide all CFSS staff in their practice with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse children and families
When working with culturally and linguistically diverse clients, refugees and new arrivals, it is important that practitioners have an understanding of how the migration experience and settlement process may impact on their engagement with services.
Consideration should also be given to culturally appropriate practice. This includes having an understanding of religious traditions and practices that may need to be considered in determining when and where visits are held. Understanding of respectful engagement for culturally and linguistically diverse families, inclusive of gender appropriate discussion and where and who can participate in discussions (such as family decision makers).
Some families may not feel comfortable having practitioners working in their home. This may be caused by:
- a fear or suspicion of authorities and government officials based on pre-migration experiences
- a reluctance to seek support because of the stigma associated with seeking help from outside of the family/community group
- a fear of jeopardising the person or family’s residency status in Australia
- a previous experience of culturally insensitive interventions by professionals
- cultural differences around power and gender.
Before arranging a home visit, consultation should occur with cultural consultants, workers or other organisations who have worked effectively with the family to gain knowledge of the cultural context in which child safety concerns are raised and to help guide the approach to arranging a home visit. This is important to ensure that any cultural protocols are observed while working with the family in their home. Where possible a worker from the community or someone with cultural authority should accompany workers on home visits, particularly in the early stages of engagement.
Effective communication recognises that different approaches and strategies may be required, as well as sensitivity to the role of both verbal and non-verbal cues, to communicate successfully with families.
If English is not a parent’s first language, it is important to consider providing additional time or adopting a more flexible approach to support their participation. A practitioner may need an interpreter to ensure that there is clarity in all discussions, and that a family’s wishes are heard and understood, and that decisions and processes are made clear. Careful selection of interpreters is important to uphold client confidentiality. Due to strong linkages in culturally and linguistically diverse communities in South Australia, some local interpreters may be from the family’s local community or within their own family, which could result in reprisal from the community. Tele-interpreters could be utilised in these circumstances.
It is important to ask the client if they would prefer a practitioner who is of the same cultural background as themselves (if the service has a worker from that background); their choice should not be assumed, simply based on their cultural background. (Sawrikar, P, and Katz, I 2008).
Managers, Supervisors and Senior Staff are responsible for:
- Supporting staff to undertake safe home visits and observe safe work practices
- Supporting staff to explore workable solutions to ensure safety whilst continuing service provision
- Ensuring all staff undertaking home visits are utilising practice guidance for safe home visiting
- Providing local level orientation and mentoring to facilitate safe home visiting
- Providing appropriate advice and guidance when concerns are raised about the safety of conducting home visits with a family
- Ensuring cultural consultations are available and regularly utilised by practitioners to ensure that cultural protocols are observed while working with families in their homes
- Reporting any critical client incidents consistent with the DHS Managing Critical Client Incidents Policy and Guidelines
- Ensuring staff understand and comply with the DHS Managing Critical Client Incidents Policy and Guidelines
- Ensuring clinical governance for practitioners to support self-reflection, build cultural fitness and responsiveness and practice with cultural humility.
Practitioners are responsible for:
- Documenting home visiting schedule in shared office calendar
- Documenting case notes of all agency engagement with a client, including any home visit safety issues
- Participating in cultural consultations to support engagement with families in ways that are appropriate and respectful of culture
- Reporting any critical incidents to their line manager and completing MySafety reports as required
- Working collaboratively with the family, team members and partner agencies to identify ways to support safe home visiting with clients.
1. Arranging the home visit
Assess risk and prepare for the visit
To prepare for the home visit:
- Review all available information and assess risk. Thoroughly review the referral and any additional background information about the family. Understand the purpose of involvement with a family, what the home visit is to achieve and whether you have all the information needed before the visit. Consider any worker safety issues identified in the triage intake referral form and C3MS and assess whether there are any risks involved with undertaking a home visit, such as:
- the family’s history (including any history of violence or drug, alcohol or other substance misuse, known affiliations with unsafe people)
- the family’s living circumstances (including who may be living in the home, or regularly frequenting the home or animals in or around the premises that could present a risk)
- whether there are any known major behavioural issues for the child or parent/family member.
The suitability of home visiting will be assessed on an ongoing basis. If the situation changes or new information is received a new risk assessment must be completed.
- Consider the family’s cultural background. Be sensitive to the family’s cultural background and consult with relevant cultural experts (including other services or professionals that have worked with the family) to ensure that any cultural protocols are observed while working with the family in their home. Having an understanding or a willingness to understand cultural protocols can support positive engagement with a family (see Cultural Considerations on pages 3–5).
- Arrange a joint home visit. When meeting a family for the first time, arrange a joint home visit with a colleague, interagency partner or someone who is already known to the family (such as a community leader). If the situation is known to be unsafe and it is assessed that the risk is high, a joint home visit may need to be scheduled with SAPOL or DCP. Before the visit, plan how the visit will run and what to do if you feel threatened.
- Schedule the home visit (including travel time) during business hours (9am–5pm). Make appointments in advance and at suitable times for the family where possible. Home visits should not be scheduled outside of business hours or take place on the way to or from work without approval of a supervisor.
- Consider an alternative meeting place. If it is assessed that the risk is too high to undertake a home visit, consider meeting the family in a different location where they feel comfortable (such as a children’s centre, local park or cultural centre). When meeting in a community setting, it is still important for practitioners to be thoroughly prepared to ensure that they are able to respond to any risks or dangers that arise.
- Contact the family before you visit. Contact the family to remind them of your visit and to let them know what to expect. Ask the family if they would like to have a support person present. If the time is no longer suitable for the family, find a new time to visit the family. New appointments should be rescheduled to take place as soon as possible to ensure that families gain access to timely services to strengthen family functioning and reduce risk/harm to the child/children that may lead to child protection intervention. At times, practitioners may also need to be assertive in their engagement and may need to schedule unplanned visits, without the opportunity for prior contact with the family (see Assertive Engagement Practice Guide).
2. Monitoring staff movements at home visits
Checking out and checking in
To ensure that your office is aware of your home visiting schedule and can take action if you do not report back after a visit, you should:
- Record details of the home visit in a shared work email calendar. This should record the client’s name, the address of the home being visited and clearly list all travel time (to and from visits). Calendars should be shared with all team members and supervisors to ensure details can be viewed if additional support is required. Teams may also find it useful to record details of home visits on a shared office whiteboard (this can be helpful if there are technical problems with the online system).
- Notify your office of any delay in your return to the office: If the visit has gone longer than expected or you are not going to be returning to the office after the visit, let your office know as soon as it is practicable.
If a practitioner does not report back to the office after a visit, a supervisor should:
- Attempt to contact the practitioner. If a practitioner does not make contact with their supervisor (or alternative contact) within 20 minutes of the intended return to the office, the supervisor will attempt to contact the practitioner. If unsuccessful, the supervisor will attempt again in 10 minutes.
- Explore other options to verify the practitioner’s safety. If still unsuccessful, organise a SAPOL welfare check immediately. The response needs to reflect the level of risk that has been identified.
3. Attending the home visit
Wear appropriate clothing and carry personal items
- Wear appropriate attire. Choose appropriate clothing and footwear (flat/fully closed/non-slip) that maintains safety and movement. Be sensitive to the family’s cultural background and consult with relevant cultural experts about what is considered culturally appropriate clothing and cultural protocols that should observed while working with the family in their home.
DHS staff should not remove shoes while in the family home. In situations where cultural protocols or preferences exist about the removal of shoes before entering a home, DHS staff can arrange for disposable shoe covers to be obtained through DHS administration. Shoe covers should be kept in all DHS vehicles. It is acknowledged that while this is acceptable to some families it may not be acceptable to others. The family’s requirement of shoe removal should be identified during the risk assessment process and the family should be advised of DHS’s shoe wearing requirement prior to the visit.
- Ensure your ID badge is visible.
- Carry a well-charged mobile phone at all times. Ensure the mobile phone is programmed with a list of emergency numbers, including your supervisor and at least one other worker in your team, the Child Abuse Report Line (131 478), Emergency Services (000) and Police Assistance (131 444).
Getting there – transport safety
- Use a reliable vehicle. Ensure the vehicle is well maintained, has sufficient petrol and first aid equipment. All DHS practitioners must use a DHS government vehicle and hold a current Australian driver’s license. Ensure all personal equipment and belongings are stored securely in the vehicle boot or out of plain sight, for example, glovebox or console storage.
- Know the travel route. Plan your journey, to help reduce travel times and avoid being rushed.
- Park vehicle on the street so that an easy exit is available: Do not park in a driveway, in cul-de-sacs or in no-through roads and turn your vehicle around to face the exit on your arrival.
Upon arrival at a client home visit, take precautions when approaching the home
When visiting a family’s home for the first time, or when a family is known/suspected of living in an unsafe environment, take precautions.
- observe the home and surrounding area before entering (be aware of dogs and listen for angry voices or multiple vehicles)
- check gate latches and use pathways to be familiar with the layout of the premises in case a quick exit is necessary
- stand to one side of front door to listen for dogs and / or raised voices before knocking or ringing the doorbell
- clearly state your name and the reason for visiting and show your ID badge
- only enter an unknown house if the client comes to the front door and invites you inside (do not respond to a call such as ‘come in, it’s open’ unless you know that the client is unable to come to the door due to physical limitations)
- prior to entering the home ask who is in the home today. If known perpetrators or unknown persons are in the home, consider alternative options such as rescheduling the visit or meeting on the front verandah
- do not enter the house if you can hear physical fighting, observe or suspect there are risks to your safety from household members’ intoxication, or feel threatened or are uncomfortable about approaching a house for any other reason. If there is concern for the welfare of a child or family member, immediately contact the police and/or ambulance and then contact your supervisor to discuss the situation with your supervisor.
- recognise that you are a visitor and that families may feel fearful of your judgements about their home and family
- be aware of house layout and your exit routes
- be aware of the presence of others. Ask whether there are other people at home
- request that any animals be outside and/or restrained
- keep your keys and mobile phone on you
- try to position yourself in an area that is easily accessible to the exit.
- be alert to signs of risk. Look for, and be aware of, the location of potentially dangerous objects (such as guns, knives, ornamental swords, makeshift weapons, items that could be used to inflict harm, and so on). Refer to ‘do not proceed with the visit if there is any signal of potential danger’ for guidance about terminating the visit.
- adopt standard precautions for preventing and controlling infections. Refer to Home visits by South Australian Government employees for guidance about mandated processes and recommendations for home visits to reduce the transmission of COVID-19
- consider a shortened home visit if you are unable to engage effectively because of drug/alcohol use and make alternate arrangements. If a parent is under the influence of drugs or alcohol their legal consent to participate with a service cannot be sought.
- request a smoke-free environment. It is not acceptable for a client or family member to actively smoke while a CFSS practitioner is present. If smoke is present, you may choose to proceed outside the home or cease the visit and make alternate arrangements. If a decision is made to continue inside, consider asking the client to open doors/windows or conduct the visit in an area of the home with better ventilation.
During a home visit, take precautions during the visit
Do not proceed with the visit if there is any signal of potential danger
If at any time there is any indication that your safety may be compromised or you become uncomfortable within the setting, terminate the visit.
Take the following action:
- advise the client that you are ceasing the visit and leave immediately
- upon your return to the car, lock the vehicle doors and drive to a safe location
- contact your supervisor, or if urgent, the police and then your supervisor to inform them of the situation and to seek assistance
- if you are unable to leave the premises, and it is not safe to state the situation over the phone, then use an agreed safe word to alert your supervisor via a phone call or text. Your supervisor will attempt to maintain phone contact and ascertain where you are without you having to state directly, for example, “Are you still at the client’s house?” The Supervisor will contact the police.
If you are followed after leaving a home visit, contact police immediately.
4. Managing an incident at a home visit
Take action to manage an incident
- Take measures to minimise any adverse impact. When an incident or near miss occurs, CFSS practitioners must take all necessary and possible measures to minimise any adverse impact upon themselves and where applicable, the children or family members at the home being visited.
- Ensure there is no longer any danger present. If there is concern for the welfare of a child or family member, immediately contact the police and/or ambulance and then your supervisor.
Seek medical treatment for yourself if required.
Request a debriefing, support and/or ongoing counselling if required.
- Report incidents. All incidents that occur during a home visit must be reported to your supervisor within 24 hours of the incident. DHS staff are responsible for reporting incidents on MySafety. In the event of a critical incident, the critical incidents procedure must be complied with. This may include:
- Reporting an alleged offence to South Australian Police (SAPOL)
- Reporting suspected abuse or neglect of a child to the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL)
- Reporting incidents on DHS MySafety system
- Sharing information in accordance with the Information Sharing Guidelines for Promoting Safety and Wellbeing
- Reporting notifiable work-related injuries, fatalities, or dangerous occurrence to SafeWork SA
- Reporting all coronial matters consistent with legislation and the DHS Coronial Policy.
- Reporting to the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner (HCSCC).
Practitioners should record accurate and timely case notes of their engagement with a family at home visits. This should include:
- any home visit safety issues
- a record of the client’s preferred contact style and any specific considerations (such as a need for interpreter or literacy needs), this can assist is a practitioner is on leave or if another practitioner takes over primary case management
- non-attendance, either by the practitioner or family, at scheduled and agreed home visits.
Cortis, Natasha and Katz, Ilan and Patulny, Roger, Engaging Hard-to-Reach Families and Children (2009). FaHCSIA Occasional Paper No. 26
Department of Human Services, Case Management Framework, Safer Family Services, 2020
Flaxman, Saul and Muir, Kristy and Oprea, Ioana, Indigenous Families and Children: Coordination and Provision of Services (June 1, 2009). FaHCSIA Occasional Paper No. 23.
Hackworth, N.J., Matthews, J., Westrupp, E.M. et al. What Influences Parental Engagement in Early Intervention? Parent, Program and Community Predictors of Enrolment, Retention and Involvement. Prev Sci 19, 880–893 (2018)
Harvey, E., Harman-Smith, Y., and Brinkman, S. (2020). Assertive Engagement Review: A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Use of Assertive Engagement Strategies. Child Health, Development, and Education Team, Telethon Kids Institute. Adelaide, South Australia.
Robinson, E., Scott, D., Meredith, V., Nair, L., & Higgins, D. (2012). Good and innovative practice in service delivery to vulnerable and is advantaged families and children. Melbourne, VIC.
Sawrikar, P., & Katz, I. (2008). Enhancing family and relationship service accessibility and delivery to culturally and linguistically diverse families in Australia. Melbourne, Victoria: Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (2016) Stronger safer together: a reflective practice resource and toolkit for services providing intensive and targeted support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Hawthorn, Victoria
Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (2010). Working and walking together: supporting family relationship services to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and organisations, North Fitzroy, Victoria