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Protecting Children or Systems?

by Peakcare on 15th February 2012

Home -> Articles -> 2012 -> February -> Protecting Children or Systems?

“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.” Kofi Annan

As Queensland gears up for a State Election PeakCare is asking pertinent questions about child protection and child and family well-being. Key themes are emerging from the feedback offered by our members and stakeholders. Not surprisingly compliance mechanisms have been raised as a major concern.

Compliance as a concept is not the concern; perceived over-prescribed compliance measures that take significant worker time and risk client needs being unmet is. This echoes our commentary during our Munro campaign whereby we spoke of the similarities between child protection in Queensland and the issues highlighted by Professor Eileen Munro in her report on the British system.

What is surprising is the overwhelmingly consistent commentary about the child protection system being so systemically protective that we are inadvertently overlooking the protective needs of children. Whilst rhetoric across the system speaks of ‘child centred approaches’ we are being told the reality often demonstrates a stark contrast to this stated intent.

Many have argued that we are so busy complying: form filling, box ticking and meeting measurable process related outcomes that client needs become lower on the agenda than any practitioner would ever accept them to be. Time with clients which includes: relationship building, hearing their stories, responding to their stories, assessing their needs and developing a plan to ensure holistic support are all time consuming albeit essential activities. Such significant relational aspects of child protection practice seem to be suffering under such heavily weighted systemic demands.

So are we client centred or system centred? So far the feedback argues the latter. That is not to say the system and professionals in the sector don’t aim for client centred practice, but the reality of ‘system’s demands’ means that such a desire often remains just that – a desire. These tensions are faced by practitioners on the front line of child protection be they government or NGO employees.

It is also important to note that the system exists to protect children and that is the clearly articulated intent. Balancing the competing demands of child protection work has been an ongoing issue for governments internationally and nationally.

In Queensland, we need to ask ourselves based on significant commentary: Has compliance gone too far and is the system now the unintended key focus whilst children are taking a back seat? This is a key question to ask and answer. It also poses possibilities for working on bipartisan agreement around fundamental necessities of an effective child protection system to ensure that children (and not the system) remain the focus regardless of party politics.

In September 2011 our Executive Director Lindsay Wegener highlighted the following in his blog post It’s all about the sum of the parts, isn’tit?

Professor Eileen Munro stated that examination of the child protection system should note the contributions being made by local health services, education, police and the justice system to the creation and maintenance of an effective child protection system. According to Professor Munro, if “rules” are to exist, those that should be focused upon are those that are developed to ensure that organisations are effectively working together.

So given over compliance is of significant concern, Lindsay asked what it would be like in Queensland if we replaced compliance of individual services with regular assessments of the contributions of all key parties including government departments, NGOs and other key services with the aim to achieve agreed upon outcomes for children, young people and their families within communities?

As we prepare for the 2012 Election, it is timely to ask this again. What would this be like? We’d love to hear your responses!

In the lead up to the March 2012 Election please stay tuned as next week we will summarise comments on significant matters pertaining to: domestic violence, child sexual abuse and privacy issues. Please continue to share your comments and issues in the meantime by emailing election2012@peakcare.org.au.

Lorraine Dupree

Policy and Research Manager – PeakCare Qld