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Are We De-professionalizing Child Protection?

by PeakCare on 6th April 2011

Home -> Articles -> 2011 -> April -> Are We De-professionalizing Child Protection?

A week or so ago I wrote a blog post that discussed some of my concerns about the implementation of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. This week I want to share some of my critical reflection that has arisen as a result of the practicum project I have been working on. Lynn Barratt and I have been looking at recruitment and retention issues for the child and family welfare sector and I am finding some of the issues hit close to home!

Increasingly in working on the project I have been exposed to the trend of de-professionalization of the social service industry. Not only does this have obvious implications on my own employment prospects in the sector, it also raises a range of important questions around the impact of our work with vulnerable children and families. My research and training whilst at PeakCare, and arguably throughout my MSW degree, has highlighted for me the complexity of issues social workers engage within their practice. I do not mention this complexity lightly. I am the first to admit that life is complex. There are so many competing priorities, obligations and needs that it is easy to be overwhelmed.

The families I have come in to contact with under statutory child protection services are generally families with multiple needs and complex problems that go far beyond the run of the mill problems experienced by most of us. I am talking about issues of poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, chronic unemployment,dis-empowerment, mental health, homelessness, unsafe and under resourced neighbourhoods, isolation, discrimination and racism. It’s hard to imagine raising a child in an environment where there are serious and complex problems that prevent ‘good enough’ parenting from taking place, no matter how well intentioned andcommitteda parent may be. It might be easy to judge these parents, from the place of our own privilege and comfortable arrangements but what right do we have? We who have perhaps not experienced any of the things I have mentioned or who perhaps have been better placed to respond effectively to hardship.

I truly believe that families are the experts in their own lives and that if anyone is to undertake work with these vulnerable families they are going to need to be well qualified, critically reflective and respectful. It just makes good sense that we’d want the best qualified and trained practitioners to do the most complex and intense or work … right? So what’s up with theDepartment of Child Safety ” Review of the Qualifications and Training Pathways, Department ofChildSafety QLD” , 2007 Consultation Paper, wherein it was declared that previously the work of child safety officers had required the possession of skills around family and child issues but that this had now changed.I wonder at this shift and how any work with vulnerable children and families could be undertaken with anything other than education and knowledge that is central to child and family issues? When did child protection stop being about children and families?

In this report, The Department of Child Safety states that ‘the multiple needs of children and young people in the statutory system requires a diversely skilled and qualified workforce which has the ability to respond from a multi disciplinary perspective and offer particularly vulnerable children and young people the best possible outcomes’. Concernedly the department has opened its doors to workers with a plethora of qualifications including law and criminology. I wonder what frameworks those with law and criminology qualifications bring to their work with some of societies most vulnerable? And I wonder at how workers come across to families when their training has been focused on legal structures and crime? How are such workers meant to take a humane, ethical and holistic approach to families? Will their frameworks ensure social justice, critical reflection and anti oppressive practice? I am not convinced.

Certainly a multidisciplinary approach is essential to good practice and I have no doubt our service delivery benefits by multi disciplinary teams and collaborative working. However, I question broadening the qualifications for lead role and case management tasks, which seem central to the provision of best practice in child protection work. What motivated the Department of Child Safety to move down this de-professionalization path? It may have been recruitment and retention issues, but was it the provision of quality supports and services for vulnerable children and their families? I’ll leave that for you to ponder. I know I am!

Lauren Thompson – MSW student on placement with PeakCare