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Queenslands Strengthening Families Protecting Children Framework for Practice

by PeakCare Qld on 11th March 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> March -> Queenslands Strengthening Families Protecting Children Framework for Practice

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This week, the launch of the Queensland Strengthening Families Protecting Children Framework for Practice is a highlight of our child protection calendar and marks a timely response to one of the key recommendations of the Carmody Inquiry. The intensive training regime, initially aimed at reaching over three thousand practitioners, is underway. The framework for practice was launched on the 9th March 2015 at the first of the Foundational Training sessions delivered in Beenleigh. With its three newly-opened Family and Child Connect services, the South East region was deemed an appropriate choice to launch this strengths-based and safety-oriented framework for practice.

Departmental and non-government organisation (NGO) staff who work with children and families will have the opportunity to participate in the two-day Foundational Training between March and June 2015. Training ratios have been worked to accommodate 70:30 department to NGO participants and sessions have been scheduled across all regions. These training sessions mark the beginning of conversations shining a spotlight on practice in Queensland in what is intended to be at least a 3 year implementation process and a long term commitment to on-going practice improvement.

The Children’s Research Center (CRC) and SP Consultancy (Sonja Parker) have assisted the department in the development of this new framework for practice.

This team is comprised of:

  • Phil Decter, Heather Meitner and Dr Raelene Freitag (Children’s Research Center)
  • Sonja Parker, Catherine Bettison Santoro and Eleonora De Michele (SP Consultancy).

In addition, David Mandel (Safe and Together model) and Nicki Weld (Three Houses) will inform curriculum development for training modules.

The AASW/PeakCare Practitioner’s Practice Group were fortunate to have Phil Decter, Associate Director NCCD Children’s Research Center, speak to their group on Wednesday evening. A jet lagged Phil, who has been training practitioners all week, managed to fill the room to capacity whilst captivating the practice group attendees to such an extent that after long days at work most looked content to settle in for the evening. A testament to both Phil’s interactive communication style and his passion for practice as well as the interest of participants in this significant piece of work.

Whilst there is no question of the positive intent of practice in Queensland over recent times, the considerations post the Carmody Report, Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection together with a multitude of research, practice wisdom and global learnings afoot, we are now well aware across the child protection system that improvements can and must be made. Phil spoke of social work as one of the newer professions given it has only existed since the 1950’s and ‘60’s. As such: “It’s a baby profession, still getting its sea legs.” This is an important reminder as we reflect on the pendulum swing so often referred to. Phil summed this up as the two ends of the spectrum – either child rescue whereby parents are problematised and ‘bad families’ is the discourse; or family preservation whereby the government-led intrusion and intervention are ‘bad’ and families must be preserved at all costs. In order to challenge such diametrically opposed paradigms we need to find a realistic basis for assessments that cover the gamut of family assessment and intervention possibilities juxtaposed with sound child protection analysis. Phil asserts that what is needed are practice and supporting structures that create pause and offer avenues for critical thinking.

He also highlighted that when analysing a family in the child protection system it is equally as important to focus on their history of protection as their history of harm. As well as known concerns, the majority of families have many examples of acting protectively. These can be built upon.

“What we pay attention to has the best chance of growing.”

Hence, the opportunities posed by the framework for practice. Ultimately when focusing on positive child protection outcomes, even the most resourced myriad of programs on offer will be ineffective without acknowledging the vital importance of quality relationships. It’s a point Social Workers have been stressing for decades. Now both practice wisdom and research have joined in unison to hone in on this essential factor. Phil stressed that relationships are key: “It is so important that those you are working with feel that you’re with them, understand their goals and know that you get them”. Assistance programs and intervention modalities that respond to immediate and on-going need are essential but quality relationships that connect children and families to those offering support are the non-negotiable ingredient to effective Child Protection practice.

In highlighting the importance of forming and maintaining positive relationships Phil noted his mentor Michael White’s sentiment that it is necessary to reflect on our conversations with others and ask ourselves if our conversations leave people with more possibilities for acting or if they shut down options for action. He also critiqued the compliance driven nature of work with children and families, arising from a fear based process that so many in child protection systems are hampered by. “Having a list of requirements for clients to meet is often counter intuitive and doesn’t get to the heart of the underlying issues with regard to what children and families really need”. Often when families are given an extensive ‘to do’ list, even when they complete it, the concerns remain because the underlying factors haven’t been adequately addressed.

Hence, a clear and consistent framework for practice is one initial step to responding differently. This includes articulating a set of values about who we want to be, principles about how we want to move forward with families, clarity about the multitudes of knowledge that can be drawn upon and skills to assist practitioners in navigating this complex terrain. Phil is clear that Child Protection professionals have been failed across systems by a lack of practice tools, training, skills and frameworks to assist them to do their jobs well.

Whilst he acknowledges a framework for practice doesn’t fix this in the whole, it creates at the very least: agreements, multi-layered accountabilities and a common language. Over all it creates the ability to move forward towards a common goal, asking what works from a strengths based perspective. “We can change language and perspective from talking about ‘resistant families’ to talking about ‘families who are fearful or reluctant’”. The use of language was debated during the ensuing discussions, ultimately Phil conceded that language chosen in Queensland’s Strengthening Families Protecting Children Framework for Practice was aimed at making a shift in the focus of practice without creating overwhelming change too quickly. Language is an essential element in this work and the creators are open to further critique and commentary as the framework rolls out.

Another participant spoke of the need to hold a mirror to ourselves with regard to our practice, both as government and NGO practitioners. It is important to work together and critique each other whilst prioritising the needs of clients in a collective aim for practice improvement. In doing so reflection of our own respective responsibilities is paramount as we are all part of the broader child protection system.

It was also noted that whilst holding a mirror to ourselves we need to keep it firmly there as we wholeheartedly address the issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, so grossly over represented in our statutory child protection system. It is time for us to hold the mirror to ourselves and to stop blaming Aboriginal and Torres Strait families for on-going systemic incapacity to adequately listen to and respond to their needs. This is a key example of the work Phil spent the evening speaking of. The time is now to hear Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, work alongside them, ask what they need and respond to their concerns. Phil talked extensively about clients and their own personal agency for change. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who now encompass 41% of those in care are clearly a primary example of the cohort that requires self-determination and the agency to make decisions and formulate solutions with the assistance of the broader child protection community.

The espoused practice change aimed to alleviate fear based practice by embracing critical thinking, sound assessment and balanced perspectives that take into account child protection necessities weighed alongside the strengths of families whilst also noting the need for further assistance in enhancing protective factors is most welcome. The pendulum has swung too many times in child protection systems globally and in Queensland from an over reliance on statutory intervention to an under responsive system to child harm. Balance is essential. Striking that balance has eluded us thus far, making it the ‘holy grail’ of child protection.

Reaching out to families and improving practice with families does not mean a watering down on safety considerations towards children and young people. Phil Decter highlights the importance of this consideration:

"At the heart of the Strengthening Families / Protecting Children Framework for Practice are the simultaneous goals of including parent, child and community voice at all points in Child Safety casework process while at the same time maintaining a rigorous bottom line on safety for vulnerable children. These two goals can appear at times to be mutually exclusive but everything we have learned about child protection work around the globe suggest that they must go hand-in-hand for either to be accomplished. I firmly believe that the Framework for Practice will provide Queenslandchild protectionpractitioners the skills, knowledge and authorization to accomplish these two goals and am honoured to be a partner in this journey."

To read more about Queensland’s Strengthening Families Protecting Children Framework for Practice click here.

Now the Queensland framework for practice has been launched, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Please respond to this blog post by clicking on the title and leaving your comments in the section below. Otherwise, you can email Lorraine Dupree at PeakCare and your comments can be posted on your behalf, anonymously if you prefer.