The good practice guide to Child Aware Approaches: Keeping children safe and well

CFCA Paper No. 21 – May 2014

B. Child Aware Approaches are child-inclusive

Child-inclusive approaches keep issues of child safety and wellbeing at the centre of policy and practice. "Child-centred" and "child-focused" are terms that are also used in children's services to denote similar ideas about focusing on protecting or promoting children's safety and wellbeing and ensuring that they are heard in situations that directly affect them. As adult-focused services are "centred" on the adult, the term "child-inclusive" may be more appropriate in this context. "Child-inclusive" denotes a service and practitioner who will identify a client as a parent and then incorporate into all aspects of their service or practice a consideration of the child's needs, safety and wellbeing.

Winkworth and McArthur (2006) uncovered four themes that provide an overarching framework for child-centred approaches. These themes are applicable to child-inclusive adult services and highlight the importance of:

  • recognising critical time frames in childhood and adolescence, including assisting children and young people as early as possible, both in the life of the child and the life of the problem;
  • taking into account the developmental needs of children and young people in all practice contexts;
  • providing children and young people with appropriate opportunities to participate in decisions that affect them; and
  • promoting a collaborative approach to influencing children's multiple environments (family and home, school, community and society) as well as the interactions among these environments (pp. 13-14).

Child-inclusive approaches require that organisations: acknowledge children's needs at each stage of their development, recognise each child's unique perspectives and experiences, and provide children with appropriate opportunities to participate in decisions that affect them.

Principle 3: Understand and apply knowledge of children's needs at each stage of their physical, cognitive, emotional and social development

Practice considerations

  • Can you think of ways to increase the extent to which knowledge of child development informs your organisation's intake, assessment, decision-making and planning processes?
  • Does your organisation offer training for its staff in child development?
  • Is the physical environment at your organisation one where children feel safe and comfortable, and where adults feel comfortable bringing their children?

Principle 4: Recognise and be sensitive to each child's unique perspective and experience

Practice considerations

  • Thinking of your client's child: What do they know about their parent's problem? What are they worried about? Are they blaming themselves or taking responsibility for their parent's problem?
  • Has the child experienced trauma? Is this influencing their experience or perception of the current family situation?
  • Do you know the main people in the child's life who provide consistent support and care? Is there anyone who does this?
  • Does the child have any physical, cognitive and/or mental health issues that are affecting their ability to understand or cope with the family situation?

Principle 5: Include children as active participants in decisions that affect them

Practice considerations

  • Has your organisation considered the different ways in which the views and voices of children can be considered in its policies and procedures?
  • Does your organisation provide information in a format that is relevant to children? Do you have separate documentation specifically written for children? Have you considered the use of multimedia, social media or other technologies to help facilitate increased participation?
  • Do children involved with your service know who to contact in case of emergencies or if they need more information? Are they informed of any legal and/or administrative decisions that may affect them?

Principle 6: Promote child-safe environments

Practice considerations

  • What are the organisation's expectations of a code of conduct, level of skill, training/recruitment processes, and supervision when working with children, including children from different cultural groups?
  • Does your organisation have policies and procedures in place regarding working with children?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring the safety of children?
  • What process will be followed if someone raises a concern regarding inappropriate behaviour towards a child?

Further resources

Programs, training and other resources

  • The Institute of Child Protection at the Australian Catholic University has created the Kids Central Toolkit. The toolkit aims to provide organisations working with children the information and tools that will enable them to use child-centred approaches in their work. They also provide training and workshops: <www.acu.edu.au/about_acu/faculties,_institutes_and_centres/centres/institute_of_child_protection_studies/kids_central_toolkit>.
  • The Victorian Department of Human Services offers a range of resources focusing on child development and trauma: <www.dhs.vic.gov.au/for-service-providers/children,-youth-and-families/child-protection/specialist-practice-resources-for-child-protection-workers/child-development-and-trauma-specialist-practice-resource>.
  • The Australian Council for Children and Youth Organisation's Safeguarding Children is a child-safe accreditation program run by the Australian Childhood Foundation: <www.safeguardingchildren.com.au>.
  • Child Wise has published 12 Steps to Building Child Safe Organisations and conducts regular child-safe training, such as Choose with Care and cybersafety programs: <www.childwise.net>.

Further reading

  • An in-depth discussion of the principles involved in being child-centred: Winkworth, G., & McArthur, M. (2006). Being "child centred" in child protection. What does it mean? Children Australia, 31(4), 13-21.
  • An overview of the innovative use of technology in service delivery to families which may provide ideas for increasing the involvement of children with services: Knight, K., & Hunter, C. (2013). Using technology in service delivery to families, children and young people (CFCA Paper No. 17). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from <www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/pubs/papers/a145634>.
  • A resource to assist those working in organisational settings to safeguard the children and young people they are responsible for: Erooga, M. (2012). Creating safer organisations: Practical steps to prevent the abuse of children by those working with them. West Sussex: Wiley.
  • A child-safe presentation: Higgins, D. (2013, 1 October). Child-safe environments: Lessons from research about protecting children from abuse in organisational settings. Paper presented at the ACWA Breakfast Briefing.
  • A child-safe presentation: Higgins, D. (2013, 10 April). Child-safe sports environments: Lessons from research about the context for protecting children from abuse (PDF 597 KB). Paper presented to the Australian Sports Commission forum, Capacity Building in Sports Organisations: Our Sporting Future. Retrieved from <www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/papers/2013/higgins20130410/slides.pdf>.

Child Aware Approaches in action …

Creating a child-aware organisation
Organisation UnitingCare Wesley Country SA (UCWCSA)
What did they do? UCWCSA created a child-aware organisation
How did they do it?

UCWCSA is a not-for-profit organisation providing a range of services to adults, children and families living in rural South Australia.

UCWCSA embarked on a journey to become a child-aware organisation. They decided to implement Child Aware Approaches in addition to the Child Safe Environment training that all staff undertook. The aim of the project was to encourage children to flourish, rather than just survive a crisis, and allow them to be the best they can be.

UCWCSA formed a Child Aware Reference Group to provide expert advice and guidance, appointed a Child Aware Program Manager to coordinate child-aware activities, and assigned seventeen Child Aware "Champions" to ensure that the project maintained its focus and momentum.

During the first six months of the program many staff took part in child-aware training that focused on children's social and emotional development, the effects of trauma on child development, and implications for service delivery. The training evolved and was refined over time to ensure continuous quality improvement.

Further to this, UCWCSA also created a rubric, or evaluation tool, that highlighted what a child-aware organisation should look like and how the organisation could measure itself against this. The rubric assesses policies and procedures, child focus within programs, and leadership. The aim is to audit the rubric periodically to ensure continuous quality improvement.

One of the challenges that UCWCSA faced in its journey to become child-aware was to keep the momentum going once the initial project and training had been completed. After twelve months the organisation felt the need to re-energise their commitment to Child Aware Approaches, so they instigated a project to uncover examples of where child-aware practice had made a positive difference to children and families. These "good news" stories could then be shared within the organisation to highlight the benefits of being child-aware in practice and to help staff maintain their commitment to Child Aware Approaches.

The Child Aware Approach has become embedded in UCWCSA as a core competency for all service delivery staff. The organisation believes that this fits well with its strengths-based organisational model and with its aim to break the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage. By maintaining a focus on children and their needs, either as clients or as children of clients, UCWCSA hopes to prevent them from becoming future adult clients.

Practice inspiration

UCWCSA (2012) created a simple and useful three-step "tick box" of items for all staff to consider in every situation:

  • Is there a child or children involved in this situation?
  • If so, how does my decision today affect this child/children?
  • Is there any way I can change my decision today, to not only care for this child's or children's wellbeing and safety, but also to encourage this child to flourish? (p. 12)
Educating practitioners on working with child sexual assault
Organisation Bravehearts Inc.
Training package Bravehearts Practitioner Workshop: Working With Child Sexual Assault
What is it?

From an existing face-to-face child sexual assault training module for practitioners who work directly with or plan to work with children and families in this specialist area, Bravehearts developed and trialled a 10-module e-training package (see Bravehearts, 2013).

The e-training package included modules focusing on: trauma and effects; offenders and those who commit harm; guidelines on normal sexual development and inappropriate sexual behaviour; dealing with disclosures; approaches to counselling, assessment and intervention; and teaching children protective behaviours. The online training module had an assessment package to measure learning outcomes and reinforce teaching messages. All participants were provided with a professional certificate of attendance and were eligible for 12 professional development points.

How is the program child-aware?

The program focused on assisting professionals to work effectively by gaining specialist knowledge in the area of child sexual assault. The education component highlighted the types of risk factors that may intersect with child sexual assault, such as substance abuse, family violence and mental illness. The education module, based on current research and best practice, included role-play videos for use in therapeutic sessions, and three guest speaker videos from specialist fields. The education program was family sensitive, recognising the need to consider the effects on families of children who have been sexually assaulted, including education on vicarious trauma.

The program development had a collaborative approach, with a built-in assessment module that offered the potential for participants to be included in the Bravehearts Certified Practitioner Database for future referral.

Who is it for? The Practitioner Workshop was designed for health care professionals who worked with or provided therapeutic support to children and young people who had been affected or were at risk of child sexual assault. Practitioners such as psychologists, counsellors, social workers and guidance officers are examples of professionals who work with children and families who could benefit from the training.
Practice inspiration

The Bravehearts Practitioner Workshop provided an optional assessment module as part of the education package. The assessment module provided instant feedback on the practitioners' progress and allowed them two opportunities to attempt completion. An automated certificate of attainment was produced that noted participants' completion mark and listed the specified active professional development undertaken. Those participants who achieved above a certain grade were automatically eligible to be included in the Bravehearts National Certified Participant Database, which was used as an internal tool for referral by the Crisis, Counselling and Advocacy teams within the Bravehearts organisation.

This online education and assessment program was ideal for rural and remote practitioners who had limited opportunities to attend group training programs. The program was able to enhance existing skill sets, or provide education to practitioners new to this area of work. Importantly, all participating practitioners had the opportunity to hone their skills within their daily practice as well as becoming connected to a professional referral service as a child sexual assault practitioner.

Further information Information regarding the Bravehearts online education tool and the face-to face training option is provided on their website. The program is available for a fee through the website: <www.bravehearts.org.au/pages/practitionerworkshop.php>.
Child-inclusive professional development
Organisation Women's Health Goulburn North East
Resource Trauma and Young Children: A Caring Approach
What is it?

Women's Health Goulburn North East project managed partner organisations to design a suite of professional development activities and training resources to build awareness of young children and their families who are experiencing trauma, and better equip early childhood educators to meet their needs (Women's Health Goulburn North East, 2013).

Objectives of the project were to provide early childhood educators with access to the expertise of international, national and local experts in the effects of child trauma on learning and development, and to establish a shared understanding of best practice.

The project activities included:

  • running an awareness-raising conference and briefing session for 134 early childhood educators on the effects of trauma on young children;
  • Toolbox Talks (3 × 20 minutes) introducing issues associated with caring for children with trauma, including a module on "risk factor identification for young children with trauma";
  • professional development modules (3 × 6 hours) developing strategies for working with young children with trauma and their families, including modules on "developing and implementing strategies" and "risks, resiliency, support and care";
  • training on applying the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework Practice Principles (8 × 6 hours), including "family-centred practice" and "respectful relationships and responsive engagement";
  • self-paced learning package of 15 modules for educators, including DVD presentations from experts in the field and modules focusing on applying practice principles, such as "partnerships with professionals when working with young children with trauma";
  • a literature review; and
  • production of a DVD for the wider community to raise awareness about how to provide healthy environments for children.
How is it child-aware? This child-inclusive professional development resource was designed to better prepare early childhood educators to provide a positive environment for children with trauma. The project aimed to provide a suite of professional development activities and training resources to assist early childhood educators to identify and respond proactively to children experiencing trauma and also their families.
Practice inspiration

Women's Health Goulburn North East project managed the delivery of these professional development modules. Examples of slides from Toolbox Talk 3: Using Relationship-Based Practice When Working With Young Children With Trauma demonstrate some helpful techniques and concepts for educators to include in their practice to further enhance their child-inclusive approach:

I see you need help with ...Structure and consistency 

Further information

Professional development and training modules are available online free of charge for individual learning: <www.whealth.com.au/work_trauma_and_young_children.html>.

Further information on this project is available, free of charge, in the Trauma and Young Children final report (PDF 1.1 MB): <www.whealth.com.au/documents/publications/whp_Trauma_and_young_children_final_report.pdf>.

Examining the use of evidence-based practice in the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect
Organisations Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health and Parenting Research Centre
Project Approaches Targeting Outcomes for Children Exposed to Trauma Arising From Abuse and Neglect: Evidence, Practice and Implications
What is it?

The project aimed to identify evidence-based approaches for children exposed to trauma through abuse and neglect, and clarify the degree to which evidence-based approaches were being used within child and family service organisations to target outcomes in children who had been exposed to traumatic events (Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, 2014). Its three main objectives were to: identify and rate the evidence for approaches used in the prevention and treatment of children exposed to trauma through abuse and neglect; identify awareness of and approaches used across a sample of child and family services sector practitioners; and identify factors influencing the uptake of evidence-based approaches in this child and family service sector.

The aims were met by conducting three activities. Firstly, a rapid evidence assessment of approaches targeting child and family outcomes (including principles, frameworks, models, interventions, therapies, practices, programs, services or systems of care) was undertaken, resulting in 96 approaches being identified, evaluated and categorised according to level of support. Secondly, an online practitioner survey of 293 child and family service workers who had worked with children exposed to trauma through abuse and neglect was conducted. Thirdly, individual consultations were held with nine organisational leaders and senior managers in the child and family services sector from both government and non-government organisations. Based on these research findings, five key recommendations were generated for policy makers and service providers to consider.

How is it child-aware? This child-inclusive and family-sensitive project aimed to understand how practitioners working in the child and family sectors were using evidence-based approaches to inform their work with children and families who have been exposed to traumatic life events such as abuse and neglect.
Practice inspiration

Five key recommendations for policy makers and service providers in the child and family services sector came out of the research (Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, 2014):

  • Recommendation 1. Improve awareness of accepted definitions of trauma and related concepts, and of evidence and related concepts.
  • Recommendation 2. Increase awareness, adoption and effective implementation of evidence-based approaches shown to improve outcomes associated with trauma exposure through abuse and neglect.
  • Recommendation 3. Increase use of quality assurance and quality improvement processes within child and family service organisations to allow for ongoing, built-in evaluations of service delivery.
  • Recommendation 4. Increase independent evaluations of new or emerging approaches that are being implemented within child and family service organisations that target outcomes associated with trauma exposure.
  • Recommendation 5. Increase the development and evaluation of approaches with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families (pp. 6-9).
Who is it for? Policy makers and service providers in the child and family services sector; researchers
Further information This resource is available free of charge at: <www.acpmh.unimelb.edu.au/resources>.