Developments to strengthen systems for child protection across Australia

Developments to strengthen systems for child protection across Australia

Dr Sarah Wise

CFCA Paper No. 44 — November 2017

Key messages

Systems for child protection in Australia today are facing significant challenges including insufficient capacity to meet the quantity and complexity of cases into statutory child protection and out-of-home care (OOHC), failure to improve outcomes for children in OOHC and the over-representation of Aboriginal children in statutory child protection and OOHC.

There has been a remarkable degree of reform and change in child protection systems across Australia in recent times. 

While strategies have been adopted in response to specific concerns and the unique context of service delivery in each jurisdiction, there are many parallels between jurisdictions. 

Several jurisdictions are establishing new approaches to build a more robust and coordinated community service system, reconfiguring their OOHC and leaving care systems and investing in Aboriginal service organisations, Aboriginal service practices and Aboriginal workforce capacity.

To see real and lasting change, the principle of collective responsibility for protecting children must extend to system stewardship. When diverse stakeholders learn and solve problems collaboratively they can foster more effective actions and better outcomes for children and families than they could otherwise accomplish.

Child protection systems are multidimensional, complex, continually adapting entities that seek to prevent and respond to protection-related risks. Systems for child protection in Australia today are facing significant challenges. This has created the imperative to go beyond incremental adjustments and aim for transformational change. This paper outlines the latest iteration of changes within Australian child protection systems. It draws on a survey completed by child protection departments across Australia on change and reform planned or underway since July 2010. Change is documented and compared in terms of child protection system principles, goals and components. Considerable changes to systems for protecting children are planned or underway right across Australia. These are being designed and implemented mainly in response to shortcomings identified in independent reviews. They aim to reduce the number of children involved in statutory child protection and out-of-home care (OOHC) and achieve greater permanence and improved outcomes for children who enter OOHC. Addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal children and families in all areas of the statutory child protection system, particularly the high number of Aboriginal children entering OOHC, is an area of particular focus for reform.

Authors and Acknowledgements

About the author

Dr Sarah Wise currently holds a joint appointment within the Department of Social Work at the University of Melbourne and the Berry Street Childhood Institute as the Good Childhood Fellow. Sarah conducts academic research in the early childhood and child protection fields and works to integrate knowledge into service systems and programs designed to support children with vulnerabilities.


The author expresses her appreciation and thanks to the people within government departments for completing the data collection template and reviewing an earlier draft of the paper. The author is also most grateful to Kathryn Goldsworthy, Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies for liaising with government departments and undertaking other logistical and administrative tasks. Great thanks is also due to Professor Ilan Katz of the University of New South Wales Social Policy Research Centre for his critical insights and comments on a draft of this paper.

Featured image: © istockphoto/Kikovic

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 44
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, November 2017.
53 pp.
Suggested citation:

Wise, S. (2017). Developments to strengthen systems for child protection across Australia (CFCA Paper No. 44). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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