Evolving our child protection system

Evolving our child protection system

Media release — 13 December 2011

Australia’s child protection systems are continuing to evolve beyond statutory child protection systems to better prevent, detect and respond to child abuse, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Institute Deputy Director (Research), Dr Daryl Higgins said the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children that is now in place draws together state and territory-based statutory authorities and preventative systems offered through non-government organisations, community-based initiatives and government-funded programs.

“The framework draws on the lessons of the last 20 years and will drive changes into the future,” he said.

In an article published today in the Institute’s journal Family Matters, Dr Higgins said child protection systems needed to keep moving beyond intervening to remove children at risk of serious harm to also provide appropriate levels of care and to treat the psychological distress created by children’s experiences of abuse and neglect.

Dr Higgins said that the number of children taken into care had risen sharply in the past two decades in Australia.

“Compared to 20 years ago, we see almost three times as many children residing in out-of-home care, and there are seven times as many notifications of concerns about children’s safety,” he said.

“Some of this growth is due to the progressive introduction of mandatory reporting in all states and territories, and the increased focus and capacity of systems to respond to more types of harm including children’s emotional abuse, neglect and exposure to domestic violence.”

Dr Higgins said better service coordination and better integration of the care and justice systems were needed.

“Many of the young people that we bring into the statutory child protection system are also the same young people that we deal with in the juvenile justice system. However, these two systems operate from very different philosophical and judicial principles, ” he said.

“There is also a need for more information sharing between the child protection agencies and family courts in cases involving children’s safety.

“This is particularly important for vulnerable children whose parents have separated and cannot reach agreement in relation to their child’s living arrangements and who are at risk of maltreatment.

“Another challenge is to provide services in a coordinated way so that vulnerable families don’t have to struggle to become experts in navigating the system, expected to ‘pick and choose’ the services they might need.

“Instead, providing support services to families in a coordinated way may be more effective so that the right mix of services can be ‘wrapped around’ families.”

Dr Higgins said child protection systems also needed to develop to better respond to young people transitioning from out-of-home care services to independent living.

“This is a critical time for young people who now need to be self-reliant but who may still require support with finance, decision-making, living skills, relationships and maintaining their emotional wellbeing,” he said.

“Services need to be better coordinated and to stay in place for longer. Just like other young people leaving the family home, young people exiting care need to continue to receive support as they transition to adulthood.”

Dr Higgins said protecting children is a collective community responsibility.

“Child protection needs to be much more than a statutory system for intervening to remove children at risk of serious harm. We need to continue to evolve our systems for prevention, detection and response to the harms and understanding the ways in which trauma affects young people’s brain development, behaviour and life choices.”

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