Re-imaging child protection to child and family strengthening

News, Prevention & Strengthening | Posted June 10, 2022
Re-imaging child protection to child and family strengthening

by Dr Lisa J. Griffiths

Recently the child protection system in Victoria was thrown into the spotlight once again, for all the wrong reasons (Victorian child protection workers leave industry due to excessive workloads – ABC News).

Instead of focusing on the flaws in the system why aren’t we talking more about how we fix it. The focus needs to shift to designing a system that truly works for children and young people and puts families at the centre.

Child protection systems across Australia and around the world have been failing children and young people and terminating parental rights and responsibilities for decades. Yet governments continue to invest more money into the crisis end (removal of children) than early intervention and prevention.

Child protection is complex, and the system is completely overwhelmed. The out-of-home care sector is facing a perfect storm and the urgency to recruit not just child protection workers, but more foster carers is at fever pitch.  Clearly something needs to change, and fast.

The fact Australia does not have one unified system, or that the focus seems to be on boosting child protection workers rather than finding solutions to address the reasons why children enter care in the first place need to be at the forefront of any discussions taking place.

A recent report by The Evidence Commission found too often decision-makers rely on inefficient (and sometimes harmful) informal feedback systems. The result is poor decisions that lead to failures to improve lives, avoidable harm to citizens, and wasted resources.

We all want the best possible service system for children, young people, and families in need. If we are to make a sustainable difference it must start with reimagining the system.

The statutory agency in Victoria (DFFH) is the emergency room of child protection and the non-government sector and the services they deliver are the ward. Health would not intervene in our lives without research and evidence of what works, the same scientific rigour needs to be adhered to in our child protection system.

This can’t be done until governments ensure the system is evidence-based. The statutory body should limit its response to risk assessment and the non-government sector provides the evidence-based intervention to mitigate those risks. Role clarity is imperative to good decision making and intervention in the child protection sector.

Dr Griffiths is the Chief Executive Officer at OzChild, Victoria’s longest-running child welfare organisation and Australia’s largest provider of evidence-based programs in child protection, family violence and youth justice.

Lisa has a Doctor of Business Leadership, researching evidence-based ethical leadership models for the community services sector.

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