Gatekeeping is a formal process of assessing the best form of care for a child. It can be led by government and judicial processes, professional social workers and child protection services, community organizations, or residential care institutions. The process of gatekeeping involves proper assessment of the child’s development, capacity, and situation and matching the particular response intervention or placement to the needs of the individual child. Gatekeeping can occur at any point in the decision-making process, including when a child is referred for being at risk of separation, after separation has occurred, or whenever a child is transferred from one type of care to another. Ideally gatekeeping results in placement with safe, stable, and loving family care.
When a child is identified as at risk of separation, trained, competent, and authorized personnel should assess the situation of the child and their family and determine what their needs are and the least invasive form of support that can be offered. Gatekeeping is especially critical to assessing all family care options and preventing unnecessary or inappropriate placement in formal residential care. Once a child has been separated from parental care, gatekeeping helps assess whether reunification is possible and appropriate, and if not, what form of alternative care is best given an individual child’s particular situation. It is also used to assess the best family options once a child has entered into formal residential care. In cases where a child is legally available for adoption, several layers of gatekeeping are needed given the permanency of the placement.
Children’s participation is a vital element in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. Children and youth are important partners in identifying their own needs and participating in solutions focused on their strengths. Meaningful participation engages children and youth as full partners in ways appropriate to their age and maturity.