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

CFCA Paper No. 21 – May 2014


Family problems have a tendency to come in packages that, all too often, and all too regrettably, can have abiding effects on children. Those who provide children's services increasingly recognise the complexity of the forces within families that make children vulnerable, and that threaten their safety, security and wellbeing. Serious maltreatment, abuse and neglect and, in the worst instances, child death, can be the result. Parental mental health problems, misuse of alcohol, dependency on illicit drugs, homelessness, problem gambling, family violence and other difficulties, either together or in some combination, can lead to circumstances high in stress and strain that place children at serious risk of harm. Professionals in community services see the results daily, and the wider community increasingly says, "Enough is enough".

Adult-focused services that treat problems of mental health, addiction, homelessness or family violence, and their sequelae, have traditionally and understandably started with a focus on identifying the most pressing of the problems that adults present at their door. The expertise in these services may be focused on addressing a particular area of need, and while understandable, specialisations too often become siloes. However, most professionals realise that the world is not that neatly arranged when it comes to dealing with the complexities of problems, especially those with such complex social origins, influences and impacts.

Faced with that complexity, the needs of children may be neither seen nor heard. In fact, in the hurly burly of busy services, awareness of the extent to which parents' problems affect children may not be high. The Second Action Plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 emphasises the importance of addressing this gap in Australia's child and family service systems. The Child Aware Approaches initiative is seen as a key plank in the strategic commitment to early intervention and prevention. Intervening early to address problems before they become entrenched or, better still, mobilising effective prevention initiatives before problems can emerge is increasingly seen as preferable to attempting to redress harm long after the fact.

This report, The Good Practice Guide to Child Aware Approaches: Keeping Children Safe and Well, by Cathryn Hunter and Rhys Price-Robertson, provides a very valuable foundation for advancing this important strategic policy initiative. Defining Child Aware Approaches, advancing understanding of their importance, and unpacking the key principles underpinning them provides a valuable resource for those who will design, manage and deliver child aware approaches across a range of adult-, child- and family-focused service and support settings.

I am very pleased that staff members of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, guided by the expertise within the Child Aware Approaches Reference Group, were able to contribute to advancing this vital area of policy and practice. I congratulate the authors on an excellent piece of work and look forward to the many positive benefits that will flow from a clearer commitment to child awareness across the relevant sectors.

Professor Alan Hayes AM

Australian Institute of Family Studies

February 2014