Developments to strengthen systems for child protection across Australia

CFCA Paper No. 44 – November 2017

Project methodology

During November 2016, key contacts in agencies with responsibility for statutory child protection in all Australian states/territories and the Commonwealth Department of Social Services (see Table 1) were invited by Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) to complete a data collection survey. The survey included questions related to actual or planned changes to aspects of the child protection system included in Figure 1 since July 2010.

Key contacts were advised that completion of the survey may require input from other government departments that have a role in preventing entry or re-entry of children into the statutory child protection system. Information contained in completed surveys was transposed into a summary table (see Appendix A [PDF, 316.03 KB]). Key contacts were asked to include links to websites wherever possible. These have been included in Appendix A so readers can access further information. Early in 2017 a draft version of Appendix A was circulated to key contacts for verification. Some information was subsequently updated.

Surveys were completed for all states/territories (with the exception of South Australia) and the Commonwealth. At the time of data collection, the Government of South Australia was preparing its response to the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission report, The Life They Deserve (Government of South Australia, 2016a). The response, Child Protection: A Fresh Start (Government of South Australia, 2016b) signals an intent to significantly reform the statutory child protection system and reorient the broader system for protecting children towards a child development system that devotes resources and efforts to preventing child maltreatment. So, while it was not possible to include South Australia in this comparison and discussion, the South Australian system is undergoing significant transformation.

Table 1: State/territory department responsible for statutory child protection1
State/Territory Name of Department Acronym
New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services FACS
Western Australia Department of Child Protection and Family Support DCPFS
Australian Capital Territory Child and Youth Protection Services CYPS
Queensland Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services DCCSDS
Northern Territory Territory Families1 DCF
Tasmania Department of Health and Human Services DHHS
Victoria Department of Health and Human Services DHHS

Examining system components, goals and principles

The survey collected information about changes within eight system components or “building blocks” (structures, functions and capacities) that have either been included in earlier child protection system models (e.g., Forbes, Luu, Oswald, & Tutnjevic, 2011; Wulczyn et al., 2010) or described in relevant work on child protection systems change (Allen Consulting Group, 2009; Delaney & Quigley, 2014; Fox et al., 2015; Munro, 2010; NZ Productivity Commission, 2015; Shergold, 2013). The system components examined were system rules, decision-making, feedback, knowledge and evidence, service components, service connections, workforce and service providers.

The survey also collected information about system principles and system goals. System components interact with each another to affect system outcomes, or goals for children and families (UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children, & World Vision, 2013a). Principles define and underpin the overall orientation to protecting children.

Further, the survey took a broad view of the people, agencies and sectors that were inside the child protection system. Child protection was conceptualised as both a sector and inter-sectoral, incorporating prevention as a key characteristic and requiring integration with a range of different sectors and coordination between many actors in the system (e.g., civil society, NGOs, state services).

A child protection system model representing system components, system actors, principles and goals was developed specifically for the survey (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Child protection system framework.

Figure 1: Child protection system framework

It is also important to recognise that this paper intentionally compares jurisdictions in terms of change and reform that has occurred between July 2010 and November 2016 and does not provide a detailed description of system components, goals and principles at a particular point in time. For example, this time frame may not capture several changes introduced in NSW in 2009–10 following the Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in New South Wales in 2008 (“Wood Royal Commission Report”; State of New South Wales, 2008) nor will it reflect their position of development on several system aspects.

1 Territory Families was established by the Northern Territory Government on 12 September 2016. Prior to this the Department of Children and Families was responsible for child protection functions.