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Child Protection Reforms and Knowledge Circles: Understanding Real Family and Community Needs in Family Support is in the spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 3rd December 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> December -> Child Protection Reforms and Knowledge Circles: Understanding Real Family and Community Needs in Family Support is in the spotlight

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Those in attendance at the recent PeakCare Encore Sessions were fortunate to partake in the presentation by the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak’s (QATSICPP’s) Raymond Brunker, Reform Projects Officer. Raymond outlined the Knowledge Circles established by QATSICPP to enhance the Queensland Child Protection reforms through ensuring a voice for families in the support and interventions they require.

Raymond spoke to the trend that in implementing the reforms born of the recent Carmody Report recommendations ensuring that we are working with and not ‘doing to’ children and families is highlighted. He noted the aim for client-centred practice, co-design, participation, equality in partnership, providing a voice for clients, engagement and strengths based practice. He also noted that in looking at what’s important in addressing the issues and working towards reforms that audience, purpose and strategy are key. Yet somehow along this short journey audience has been lost in translation and the focus is on purpose and strategy. This oversight requires remedy. Knowledge Circles has endeavoured to address this issue.

In delving into issues and opportunities in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and families it is important to bear in mind that in 2004 22% of children and young people in care were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. In 2011, pre the Carmody Inquiry that number increased to a staggering 37%. In 2014 a further increase took the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in care to 41% of the overall population of children and young people in care in Queensland. Clearly reform is needed. How to enact such reform remains a complex conundrum. Hence why QATSICPP looked for opportunities to increase the capacity of their sector and families to work in partnership to address this gross over-representation.

Firstly they acknowledged that community development is an essential component in addressing this issue. As such they noted that community development requires community ownership. This is the base premise. From this QATSICPP developed Knowledge Circles which were designed to actualise a client-centred approach into program design.

The Knowledge Circles were funded via a grant from the Healing Foundation that allowed the project to be conducted across Queensland. The stated purpose was to understand the needs and challenges of service access and provision for families in contact with the child protection system. In response to Recommendation 11.6 of the Carmody Report, all participants had current contact with the child protection system in Queensland. In terms of strategy QATSICPP used an appreciative inquiry approach in both individual and group formats. Participants included those with an array of life experiences from young mothers with alcohol and drug issues to grandparents in the role of kinship carers. A total of 152 clients were interviewed.

Raymond spoke to issues clients had raised with regard to their experiences of the child protection system. He highlighted the feedback of clients who had attended multiple appointments over periods of months and often years to then report that they didn’t feel any more equipped or supported than they did prior to intervention being offered. He opined that too often services are provided based on what is available or funded – not on what is needed by families. The complexity for families navigating a service system that is not user friendly was also noted. Families stated that navigating the system is hard and they didn’t know where to go or who to talk to and they often had to repeat their stories several times with the aim of gaining assistance. We were reminded that it isn’t the responsibility of families to navigate the service system, it is our responsibility as professionals and support persons to assist them given that we designed this system. It is now our responsibility as we work towards reform to ensure that services are based on real need and not assumed need.

It is also important to be mindful and reflect upon the experience of clients that the assessment phase is often based on bias and assumptions as opposed to what is genuinely required by families to ensure improved wellbeing in their lives. This is particularly so given families will most likely be reticent to open up about issues that impact them during initial assessments. Until rapport and trust is built through relationships such processes are unlikely to be fruitful for either party. Raymond noted that the push towards ‘over professionalising’ programs places too much emphasis on rigorous assessment processes and not enough on relationships. Clients want to feel ‘human’ with supports they direct in their own lives.

One story Raymond told was of a Mum who had been in the child protection system for some time. She had jumped through all the hoops she’d been asked to and had attended many parenting classes and information sessions. She’d learned about attachment theory and other such theories. She also noted, as did many who were consulted, that she received constant negative messages through these interactions about what she was doing wrong. When asked what had worked for her she talked about a Family Support Worker who came out to her home for 5-6 weeks. This worker assisted her in the morning in the routine required for sending her children off to school with a healthy breakfast, a packed lunch and what was needed for the day. She then returned in the afternoon to assist with the routine of homework, preparing dinner, baths and encouraging bedtime stories by Mum when she tucked her children into bed. This Mum stated that this support was invaluable. She quickly noted that the chaos in her home diminished and her children attended school regularly. She said that the Family Support Worker helped her achieve structure and she saw the improvements in her children within a short period of time. She said that they were calmer and more settled and more affectionate towards her. After about 2 years of her actively engaging in child protection processes, in a few short weeks she experienced a positive outcome for her family.

Many families noted their concerns about not understanding the difference between investigation and support and as such were often fearful to engage. This case study demonstrates the importance of genuine engagement based on the need of each family whilst emphasising the importance of human relationships as an opportunity for growth in terms of improved family wellbeing.

Another consistent message within the Knowledge Circles was the need for greater emergency assistance and flexible funding to support families. Emergency assistance was described not merely as financial support but providing services outside of business hours.

Raymond also noted that successful programs are rarely duplicated well. What is required is a deep knowledge of what works - and why - so the essence can be preserved while allowing flexibility and adaption to different circumstances and contexts. Clients expressed the need for services to be ‘a part’ of the community, based on their aspirations.

Support services being offered as early as possible and prior to a notification was the stated desire. Early intervention means that trust isn’t yet eroded, families won’t feel a deep level of mistrust and the necessary support required is offered. Communities need to have the resources to make this happen.

In order to resolve the issue of the over-representation and the engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, community controlled organisations based on family aspirations and concerns noted is key. This includes the acknowledgement that organisations respond to families as opposed to the system we’re more accustomed to whereby families fit into the offerings of organisations. Our child protection system needs to be developed and designed to deliver services with greater focus on human relationships and connectedness.