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

CFCA Paper No. 21 – May 2014

D. Child Aware Approaches are collaborative

Recently, there has been an increased awareness that a siloed service system (one in which organisations work alone) may not be as effective in working with families with multiple and complex needs as one in which services work collaboratively (McDonald & Rosier, 2011). As already noted, there has also been a growth in understanding the potential interconnectedness of parental problems and children's wellbeing (Scott, 2009). Due to the interconnectedness and complexity of these issues, there is a need for both adult and children's services to work together to ensure the best service outcomes for clients and the continued safety and wellbeing of their children.

The term "collaboration" is commonly used to refer to highly varied ideas and endeavours (Winkworth & White, 2011). At its most intensive, collaboration involves dense interdependent connections, high trust, frequent communication, tactical information sharing, systems change, collective resources, negotiated shared goals, shared power between organisations, commitment and accountability to the network first and then to community and parent organisation, long-term relational time frames, and high risk for high reward (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth [ARACY], 2013). Collaboration can involve a range of different activities including cross-training of staff, multi-agency working groups, common financial arrangements (e.g., cost-sharing of services), sharing administrative data and joint case management (McDonald & Rosier, 2011). This level of partnership may not be required in most cases, but at a minimum, organisations working with parents or children should cooperate or coordinate with other organisations to ensure that both parents and children are receiving the support and assistance they need.

Principle 9: Develop and maintain connections between adult-focused services and child- and family-focused services

Practice considerations

  • Is your client in contact with any other services? Are you aware of these services? Are you in contact with them?
  • At a minimum, does your organisation have a referral pathway with child- and family- focused organisations that can offer more specialised services as required?
  • Have you developed information-sharing protocols with other organisations?
  • Do you have a process for obtaining informed consent from your client if sharing of information between agencies is required?

Further resources

Child Aware Approaches in action…

Collaboration between child- and adult-focused services
Organisation Berry Street Northern Family and Domestic Violence Service
Project Hume Strengthening Risk Management Project *
What did they do?

The Hume Strengthening Risk Management Project was based upon the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) model that had been used successfully in the UK. In this model, information is shared between agencies in order to protect women and children at high risk of serious harm or death.

The Hume Project involved the creation of a risk assessment and management panel (RAMP), which was a locally based forum where new ways of working collaboratively were tested across multiple agencies and sectors. Services involved included a range of adult services (e.g., housing, mental health, Corrections Victoria), as well children's services (e.g., Child Protection, Hume Maternal Child and Health) (O'Halloran & Toone, 2013).

Importantly, the voices of clients - both children and women - were represented at the forum. Women referred to the Hume Project and RAMP had been assessed as having the highest level of risk, known as "requires immediate protection". At this level of risk, there were factors identified that indicated further serious violence was imminent and immediate action was required to prevent this from occurring. Risk assessment also included risks towards children.

The aim of the RAMP was to share information regarding family violence and child protection concerns and to use that information to create an action plan whereby each agency could identify how best to support the family.

How are they child-aware? The project highlights the importance of collaboration between both children's and adult services. This formalised collaboration aimed to ensure that a complete picture of each family's situation was gathered and services could work towards the best outcomes for these highly vulnerable families. Importantly, the voices of women and their children were also included in collaborative processes.
Who is it for? Practitioners working in adult-focused services, but also relevant to those working with children and families
Further information Further information on Berry Street's family violence services is available at: <www.berrystreet.org.au/FamilyViolence>.

Note: * Information about this project was presented at the Child Aware Conference 2013; however the project was not funded under the Child Aware Approaches initiative.

Keeping mothers and children safe after separation
Organisation Women's Legal Service (WLS)
Training package Safe After Separation: Addressing Abuse of Children on Contact
What is it?

WLS developed and trialled an 11-module training package on "abuse on contact" for practitioners who work with women and children who have experienced family or domestic violence (WLS, 2013).

"Abuse on contact" is defined as "harm that occurs when the victims of domestic or family violence/abuse, are subject to, or exposed to ongoing violence and/or abuse after separation as a result of the legal requirement to comply with Family Law Court orders, parenting plans or other agreements that allow or promote contact between the children and the perpetrator of the violence" (WLS & Talera Counselling Centre, 2013a, p. 1).

The training package included modules focusing on the effects of domestic violence on women, assessment of risk, and the effects of violence on children.

How is the program child-aware? The program aimed to increase the safety of women and children after separation. It focused on one of the key risk factors for child abuse and neglect: family and domestic violence. The package is child and family sensitive, addressing risks and effects of violence on women and children. WLS used a collaborative approach during the development of the package. They consulted with a range of community and government agencies (e.g., community-based domestic violence services, Indigenous agencies, child and youth mental health services), which allowed for a range of feedback that was used to shape the package.
Who is it for? Practitioners who work with women and children who have experienced family and domestic violence or post-separation abuse.
Practice inspiration

For practitioners working with children who may have been exposed to family violence or abuse on contact, Module 6: Intervention With Children Affected by Abuse on Contact, has a section on assessment that includes a range of useful topics to consider:

Assessment of child and current situation

A careful assessment of a range of factors for the child needs to be undertaken initially to determine risks and safety, targets for intervention, and at which levels to intervene. The following are some of the issues that need to be considered, questions to be asked and areas to be assessed in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of each child and their unique circumstances. In addition to information that would usually be sought in working therapeutically with children (for instance, age/developmental stage, presenting behavioural issues, school performance, peer relationships, relationships with other adults, coping strategies, family dynamics, social support), other topics worth exploring include:

  • What stage of the separation process is the family at?
  • What agreements, parenting orders, court orders or domestic violence orders are in place, if any? What are the conditions and which people are named on any domestic violence orders?
  • What types of abuse was the child exposed to or did they experience directly?
  • What safety plans are in place and are there any immediate dangers?
  • Is there a current police or Child Protection investigation?
  • What were pre-separation dynamics and relationships between the father and child? This may give clues to how this relationship will continue in a post-separation context. For example, a favoured child may align with the father, an older sibling with a caretaking role may protect younger children on contact and assume responsibility for abuse, or a child who was targeted or scapegoated may refuse to go on contact or become even more "naughty".
  • Does the safe parent believe that the child is safe on contact?
  • If contact is occurring, what do contact handovers look like (for example, are they attending a contact centre, or handing over in a McDonald's carpark; is violence occurring on handover either towards the mother or children)? (WLS & Talera Counselling Centre, 2013b, p. 5)
Further information The Safe After Separation training package is available by contacting WLS at: <www.wlsq.org.au/contact-us>
Collaborating for parental wellbeing
Organisation Anglicare WA
What did they do? Anglicare WA developed a screening tool and service directory for referrals of at-risk clients transitioning to parenthood.
How did they do it? Anglicare WA, working in alliance with Melbourne-based Drummond Street Services, developed several child-aware resources for services that are the first point of contact for people transitioning to parenthood in the areas of Rockingham and Kwinana (Anglicare WA, 2013). A Parent Wellbeing website was developed, which featured an early intervention screening tool, The Parent Wellbeing Checklist, designed to be used by practitioners to identify risk factors and make appropriate referrals, helping to prevent child abuse and neglect. Anglicare WA also developed and trialled a psycho-educational group program for at-risk people transitioning to parenthood. Training was provided to professionals in the facilitation of the groups and also in the use of the checklist.
How is it child-aware? The project facilitated interagency collaboration by establishing a referral network to help in the prevention of child abuse and neglect by assisting practitioners to identify risk factors. After completing the parent wellbeing checklist, at-risk parents were referred to relevant and appropriate programs via a Parent Wellbeing Service Directory also offered through the website.
Practice inspiration

Tip sheets were developed and featured on the website for at-risk parents transitioning to parenthood, including a focus on alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, mental health and early intervention. The early intervention tip sheet, included below, is a good example of encouraging at-risk parents to think about their relationship with their partner and seek help early if necessary:

Early intervention

Parenting can be a challenge at times, and this can place great stress on your relationship with your partner. Picking up signs of relationship stress early can help you to resolve conflicts before they become a big issue.

Have you or your partner:

  • stopped engaging in joint activities?
  • had recurring arguments which are never resolved?
  • been feeling of dissatisfied and unhappy?
  • been neglecting or neglected by your partner?
  • noticed a loss of feeling? (do you no longer say that you love each other?)
  • become emotionally or sexually involved with someone outside of your relationship?
  • felt increasingly tired and struggled to meet responsibilities at work?
  • been arguing about parenting?

If you have noticed any of these early warning signs, you should seek professional help. Relationship Counsellors and Dispute Resolution Practitioners can help you to resolve any problems that have the potential to become serious.

The sooner that you act on issues the better.

(The early intervention tip sheet can be accessed at: <www.anglicarewa.org.au/resources/parent-wellbeing/tip-sheets.aspx>.)

Further information Further information on these Anglicare WA resources is available free of charge at: <www.anglicarewa.org.au/resources/parent-wellbeing/default.aspx>.