The term ‘gate-keeping’ describes a mechanism that blocks the entry of children to, and ensures their exit from institutional care.
The mechanism will be based on the fundamental premise that no decisions regarding the placement of any child into any form of care will be made without a thorough and professional assessment of the child having been carried out by a trained social worker. This assessment will then inform any further decisions concerning the child’s future. Any conclusions from this assessment will be based solely on the best interests of the individual child and not in the interests of any particular system.
The gate-keeping system therefore can be described as a filter which ensures that children are not separated from their families unless it is genuinely in their best interests (i.e. for reasons of child protection). The consequence of a functioning gate-keeping system will be a reduction in the number of children entering residential care institutions and many being referred instead to community services.
EveryChild, UAFA’s partner, has worked with government partners in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to develop gate-keeping mechanisms. In the absence of specific legal regulation, as is the case currently in Azerbaijan at this time, the initial success of a gate-keeping system will rely heavily on the commitment of a range of professionals to make it work.
In order to achieve effective gate-keeping it will be necessary to establish the four basic elements of gate-keeping (based on Bilson and Harwin 2003):
- Decision-making about individual children based on assessment and review
- A range of targeted services based on an assessment of needs in the local community
- A social work agency responsible for coordinating assessments, allocating and planning services
- Information systems on children receiving services to monitor the project implementation
Who does gate-keeping involve?
Gate-keeping is part of a new comprehensive system to protect and support children. It affects all main stakeholders:
- Current problem of institutionalised children
- Provision of support for families with children in difficulties
- Provision of a system to deal with children who have been harmed or are at risk of serious harm due to their parent’s actions or neglect
- Development of a flexible system that funds local NGOs to provide community-based services
- Human bridge between problems and solutions such as targeted social assistance benefits, day centres etc.
- A formal agreement that no child from the pilot areas will be provided with specialist services (including institutional placement) except on the basis of an assessment of the child’s needs. UAFA recommends that this agreement is authorised by the Head of Executive Committee in the pilot areas
- An assessment of the needs of children in difficulty from the pilot areas including children from these areas who are already in institutional care. This will form the basis for an action plan to develop a range of local services
- The establishment and preparation of a local social work team to carry out assessments and provide services
- The establishment and preparation of an independent gate-keeping commission
- An information system to monitor and as a basis for evaluating the operation of the new system
The trial of such a system requires the following:
a) Referral due to Problem
Anyone may refer a child to the social work team if they believe he or she is in difficulty. Where an official body (e.g. Commission of Minors, SOBES) is made aware of a child in difficulties whose needs cannot be met by the normal community based services available, they should refer the child to the Social Work team. Any application for a child to be placed in an institution, including transfers between institutions, must be notified to and investigated by the Social Work team.
b) Initial Investigation
The Social Work team will speedily carry out an initial investigation to determine if there is a need for emergency action such as finding accommodation for a child to protect him or her from harm. At this stage if there is no problem or there is one that can be solved with short term support (advice, referral for voluntary support, help with getting legal documents, provision of targeted social assistance or other benefits, etc.) any short term support can be provided and the referral can be closed.
Figure 1 Proposed Gate-keeping system
c) Complex Assessment
If the problem requires further action, a more detailed assessment is coordinated by the Social Work team. The social worker will undertake a social assessment and will coordinate the involvement of professionals from other disciplines to contribute to a multidisciplinary assessment. Following this assessment the child may require short term support as outlined above or longer term community based support, in which case a plan for the child will be made and any necessary services will be purchased, provided or contracted with local service providers. If support for the child requires placement outside of the family, a referral will be made to the Gate-Keeping Commission.
d) Gate-keeping Commission
A case discussion will be held at a meeting of the Commission where there will be an opportunity for the social worker, parent or family member and the child (if appropriate) to participate. The Commission can then recommend to the relevant authority (Commission of Minors, Ministry etc.) a particular placement for the child, identify community based services or request that the social worker undertake further investigations.
e) Review of Children in Institutions or other placement outside the family
The situations of children placed outside the family will be regularly reviewed. The aim of the review is to consider what support is required to return the child to family care, to family type care (foster care, guardianship or adoption) or, in the case of an older child, to independent living. It will produce a care plan to promote the child’s education, health and well-being. Where a care plan is considering continuing placement in an institution or long stay in out of home care this should be referred to the gate-keeping commission.