Protection system

Child welfare system staff need urgent reform

Australia’s child protection crisis has for too long resulted in too many children being taken into care, with many not receive the timely help and care they and their families need.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 11 times more likely to be in care. Children from culturally diverse families and children and parents with disabilities are also overrepresented in the system. Children often enter child welfare systems for many reasons, including neglect due to poverty. Families need support to care for their children safely, rather than having their children taken away.

Our National studypublished by the Institute for Child Welfare Studies, found that this problem is compounded by poor workforce planning. The need for child protection services has increased, but the current workforce is ill-equipped and unable to respond.

Reform is urgently needed to reshape the system and its workforce towards more services that prevent problems from appearing in the first place, rather than a system geared towards suppression. Such a reform would help children stay safe with their families.



Read more: The broken child welfare system is the real problem behind our youth justice crisis


A preventive approach

Our study examined a wide range of publicly available data to investigate trends, issues and emerging needs of the child protection workforce and the educational profile of the workforce.

We approached this research from a public health perspective, where the priority is prevention and early intervention.

We wanted to assess the readiness of this workforce to implement the principles set out in the National Framework for the Protection of Australian Children 2009-2020a policy document adopted by state and federal governments at the 2009 meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

These principles envision a system where services and key stakeholders – such as teachers, health workers and community service workers – are funded to work with children and families to reduce vulnerability and prevent maltreatment. and child neglect.

The research also identified ways to invest in supporting parents to address early issues that might otherwise become a child protection issue.

The prevention and support services workforce in the child welfare system is poorly defined and poorly resourced.
Shutterstock

If early intervention approaches prove insufficient, more intensive services exist to support the most vulnerable families to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect. Second, the official state child protection response (sometimes referred to as the “tertiary level” of the broader child protection system) should only occur if support services are unable to to manage or reduce the risk of child abuse.

Even when someone tells a national child protection authority about a child’s safety, he and his family don’t always get the help they need. Security issues keep coming up. Removal of children may be necessary in some cases. But removal often does not guarantee the safety and well-being of children.

We need early, specialized support that is truly helpful for children and families, culturally appropriate and meaningful. It is by far the most effective way to address child abuse and neglect and promote the safety and well-being of children, while minimizing referrals.

To achieve this goal, labor reform is necessary.

A question of resources

The prevention and support services workforce in the child welfare system is poorly defined and poorly resourced.

Many of these workers – teachers, early childhood educators, nurses, general practitioners – lack the qualifications or skills to recognize and assess risks of harm and provide the necessary support.

These inherent problems in prevention and support increase the pressure on child protection systems.

Most funding and resources go to the more severe end of child protection systems, but high levels of staff turnover continue, negatively affecting service quality and consistency.

Main conclusions of our report.
Trends and needs of the Australian child protection workforce: an exploratory study

Workforce Diversification

Our analysis highlighted that workers in child protection systems are overstretched but still have to deal with complex situations. They often lack training or skills and have limited experience to draw on.

The numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers, culturally diverse workers and disabled workers do not match the disproportionate representation of these groups within child welfare systems.

Those who are in the child welfare system tend not to be in leadership positions and are less likely to make decisions.

Educational programs essential to child welfare – such as social work, psychology and social services – are not meeting the growing demand for workers.

What would make a difference?

Investment priorities must change. Funding should be directed to prevention and support services for vulnerable children and their families, rather than the part of the system that deals with removals. We need to respond to people’s needs early and reduce pressure on child protection systems.

Preventative child protection staff (including teachers, early childhood educators, nurses, GPs and other community service workers) need to be better staffed and supported. These actors must be able to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to identify and respond to risk factors.

Better professional development for all workers in the child protection sector is urgently needed.

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in child support and protection services must be increased in a way that recognizes their knowledge, expertise and value in keeping children safe. More government funding and support for First Nations-led organizations like SNAICC (Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care) could potentially help with this.

There is also a need for more culturally diverse workers and people with disabilities.

Higher education providers and child protection sectors should work together to plan for ongoing demand and future needs for child protection services.



Read more: First Nations children continue to be abducted at disproportionate rates. Cultural assumptions about parenthood need to change