Issue 89

Family Matters No. 89, 2011

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Protecting children: Evolving systems

National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children; child protection and law reforms; links between child maltreatment and adolescent offending; neurobiological effects of childhood maltreatment; and transitioning from out-of-home care

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Executive Editor: Daryl Higgins

Editorial panel: Michael Alexander, Jennifer Baxter, Ben Edwards, Kelly Hand, Alan Hayes, Rae Kaspiew, Myfanwy McDonald, Robyn Parker, Rhys Price-Robertson, Lixia Qu, Elly Robinson, Carol Soloff, Grace Soriano, Cindy Tarczon, Suzie Vasallo, Ruth Weston

Editor: Lan Wang

Cover art: The Family Matters 89 cover painting is by Mark Warren, Summertime, 2009, acrylic and sand on canvas, 120 × 150 cm. Courtesy of 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace, Queensland.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 89
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2011, 96 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Protecting children: Evolving systems

Daryl Higgins

This article highlights the rapid expansion of child protection systems in Australia since the 1980s, with more than 35,000 children currently in out-of-home care, and notifications to child protection agencies now reaching more than 286,000 annually. It examines the National Framework for Protecting Australia?s Children, which is an initiative of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that draws together state- and territory-based statutory systems and preventative systems offered through non-government organisations, community-based initiatives and government funded programs. The author concludes that protecting children is a collective, community responsibility that needs to continue to evolve and improve our sometimes poorly integrated "systems".

National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children: Perspectives on progress and challenges

Brian Babington

The National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 aims to make a substantial and sustained reduction in Australia's alarming rates of child abuse and neglect. With the first three-year action plan under the National Framework nearing completion, it is timely to ask about the effectiveness of the approach and to consider the challenges ahead. This article suggests that the first two years of the National Framework has been an important scene-setting period that has been marked by growth in political and NGO support and by a useful consolidation of knowledge in areas such as supports for carers and the needs of young people transitioning from the out-of-home care system. There has also been a fostering of innovative practice, especially in the area of early identification of family and child needs. Much remains to be done, however, to complete successfully the first three-year action plan. In relation to the next action plan, greater emphasis needs to be placed on early intervention and prevention efforts, as well as on specific areas, including disability and responding to child sexual abuse. Finally, the National Framework requires meaningful targets, an independent accountability and performance monitoring mechanism and a significant boost in overall resourcing by all levels of government.

Mind(ing) the gap: Law reform recommendations responding to child protection in a federal system

Sara Peel and Rosalind Croucher

The problems of the division of responsibility between the Commonwealth and the states and territories are considerable - and the greatest impact is in relation to children. In 2002, the Family Law Council considered that "there is no greater problem in family law today than the problems of adequately addressing child protection concerns in proceedings under the Family Law". In October 2010, the Australian Law Reform Commission and NSW Law Reform Commission concluded a joint inquiry into the interaction of laws responding to family violence across this federal-state divide. Recurring themes in the inquiry were that families may be involved in proceedings in more than one jurisdiction and are then often bounced between them, and families may fall into the gaps within or between the jurisdictions. This article explores the challenges for responding to family violence in a federal system within the constraints of a law reform body.

The link between child maltreatment and adolescent offending: Systems neglect of adolescents

Judy Cashmore

The link between child maltreatment (abuse and neglect) and adolescent offending is well established and there is now significant evidence that the timing of this maltreatment matters. Young people whose maltreatment is chronic and persists from childhood into adolescence, or that starts in adolescence, are much more likely to be involved in crime and the juvenile justice system than those whose maltreatment is limited to their childhood. This highlights the importance of early intervention - both early in life and early in the pathway. While the message about intervening in the "early years" has quite rightly had considerable influence, adolescents are often neglected and seen as a low priority in terms of child protection and the provision of mental health services. When children and adolescents move from being "troubled" to "troublesome" when they are in out-of-home care and commit offences, their needs are often neglected as they fall through the gap between the child protection and juvenile justice systems - even when they are under the parental responsibility of the Minister. Although abuse and neglect may be closely related to children's offending behaviour, the court and service responses are quite separate.

The neurobiological effects of childhood maltreatment: An often overlooked narrative related to the long-term effects of early childhood trauma?

Jennifer Delima and Graham Vimpani

Brain injury in children as a result of a number of forms of maltreatment -including chemical abuse, neglect and violence - is well documented from early in pregnancy, and its effects may continue to influence aspects of human development well into the third decade of life. This paper reviews some of the recent research that has analysed the outcomes of child maltreatment as seen through the lens of the disciplines of neuroscience, psychopathology, traumatology and related fields. Studies comparing maltreated children with those who have no similar demonstrable maltreatment exposure, demonstrate compelling differences in neuroanatomy and cognitive function (especially affecting the abilities to decide and thoughtfully choose), which suggests that maltreatment may adversely affect long-term outcomes through these effects. Studies demonstrating how neuroplasticity and epigenetics mignt contribute to resilience suggest that appropriately developed remedial programs using this knowledge may provide a means to mitigating some of the effects of child maltreatment.

Childhood trauma and psychosis: An overview of the evidence and directions for clinical interventions

Sarah Bendall, Henry Jackson, Carol Hulbert and Patrick McGorry

There is increasing evidence that childhood trauma is a risk factor for psychosis and that a history of childhood trauma worsens the course and outcome of psychosis in both symptomatic and functioning domains. This paper aims to provide readers with a brief overview of the research into the relationship between childhood trauma and psychosis, and directions for clinical interventions. It details seven of the highest quality studies in the area and concludes from these that there is evidence for a relationship between childhood trauma and psychosis. The development of interventions for people with psychosis who have experienced childhood trauma is in its infancy, but has been built on evidence-based cognitive behavioural interventions in psychosis and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A formulation-based approach is described in this paper, along with a case study.

Effectively preparing young people to transition from out-of-home care: An examination of three recent Australian studies

Philip Mendes, Guy Johnson and Badal Moslehuddin

Young people leaving state out-of-home care form one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society. Compared to most young people, they face particular difficulties in accessing educational, employment, housing and other developmental and transitional opportunities. It is generally accepted that those young people who receive effective support to prepare them for their transition from out-of-home care, including a comprehensive leaving care plan, enjoy better post-care experiences. This article presents the findings of three recent qualitative Australian studies concerning the level of preparation experienced by three different groups of care leavers, and suggest implications for policy and practice reform.

Families' views on a coordinated family support service

Morag McArthur and Lorraine Thomson

Child protection systems in Australia are undergoing a major shift in the way in which services are delivered to vulnerable children and families. The changes are in response to the research evidence showing that where children and families experience multiple and interacting problems in their lives, children's wellbeing and safety can be compromised. Known risk factors for child abuse include, but are not limited to: domestic violence, parental drug and alcohol misuse, poverty and social isolation, children's disability, parental mental health problems and poor family relationships (National Child Protection Clearinghouse, 2008). Families that require multiple services attract a high proportion of social and health resources, which may be overlapping, uncoordinated and therefore costly (Goerge, Smithgall, Seshadri, & Ballard, 2010). Planned collaborative approaches are needed to meet the needs of children and families and for efficiency in service delivery. This paper reports on selected aspects of an evaluation of a program implemented in the ACT that aimed to provide coordinated family support to families who had come into the child protection system or who were at risk of doing so. It focuses on what parents involved in the program said about the program - on the lived experience of the families. The key learning from families was that this approach to family support, through collaborative strengths-based work, coordinated service delivery, and the availability of brokerage money, contributed to a sense of empowerment in the parents.

Maternity leave and reduced future earning capacity

David Baker

In 2011 the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 was enacted in Australia. This new scheme provides 18 weeks of paid leave at the minimum wage to most Australian workers who, since the beginning of 2011 have had a child. The public funding of this leave addresses the previous disparity that saw only four out of ten women of child-bearing age having access to paid maternity leave. While welcome, this payment will not address the longer term wage penalty experienced by women who take leave around childbirth. An analysis of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey found that among new mothers returning to work within 12 months of taking leave, their wage growth was lower in the first three years, compared with the average wage rise received by women reported in the ABS Labour Price Index. A method for measuring this phenomenon in the future should be a part of the government's 2013 review of the Paid Parental Leave scheme.