Reducing vulnerability: a better approach to child protection

Reducing vulnerability: a better approach to child protection

Media release — 10 December 2008

Enhancing prevention and early intervention services is key to reducing the vulnerability of children, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The current child protection systems are in need of a re-think, more resources and better coordination across all levels of government and services, the Institute says in a paper reviewing the systems.

Institute General Manager of Research Dr Daryl Higgins says the current systems have seen a big increase in the number of notifications to authorities – but with relatively few cases becoming substantiated – resulting in large numbers of families being drawn into the state/territory statutory child protection system.

“The result of this increase is that resources are being devoted almost entirely to investigation and assessment with a lack of resources for prevention and treatment. This means families with highlevel needs, but unsubstantiated abuse, wind up receiving little or no service to help them,” said Dr Daryl Higgins.

“High levels of statutory child protection activity might be justifiable if it benefited children. Unfortunately there is evidence that involvement can have significant adverse effects on kids who come in contact with the system. It can be extremely traumatic, especially when there is no sustained intervention or support for families and children,” he said.

Dr Higgins’ article - written with Professor Ilan Katz of the University of New South Wales – is published in the current edition of the Institute’s journal Family Matters. It reports that:

  • Less than 1 in 5 notifications (18.9%) to child protection departments across Australia are substantiated.
  • The majority of these cases are not “malicious complaints” but involve families with support needs that do not meet current criteria for sustained support.
  • Children in out-of-home care are often at risk of poor outcomes and are sometimes subject to further abuse.
  • Intensive intervention to help families over long periods is seldom offered.

While Dr Higgins says there has been a shift towards preventative, family-focused support and better filtering of cases, much more needs to be done.

“We need improved service integration, a shift away from the current forensically-driven, managerial approach and a significant injection of resources into services for children and families at all levels of need,“ Dr Higgins said.

“It’s no good having a focus on throughput and checklists rather than understanding the complex needs of families and then scapegoating individual caseworkers when things go wrong because of systemic flaws. We need to move to a better, more family-focused system and we need the support of professionals and policy makers across jurisdictions, ” he said.

Dr Higgins argues better state laws are needed to clarify the grounds for intervention; alongside changes to government funded child welfare services: policy updates regarding reporting; and workforce development to better recruit, train and keep child protection personnel.

Family Matters, no. 80, 2008 - table of contents and abstracts

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