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The professional is personal is In the spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 26th May 2016

Home -> Articles -> 2016 -> May -> The professional is personal is In the spotlight

Why child protection matters

Dr Fotina Hardy is a Lecturer in Social Work and Human Services at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and leads their field education unit. Fotina is also the South East Queensland President of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). In this robust voluntary role, she covers a multitude of issues that involve practice discussions, policy positions and advocacy stances taken alongside her colleagues and members. She and PeakCare team up to coordinate the AASW/PeakCare Child Protection Practitioners’ Practice Group which occurs each month and boasts a plethora of presenters who challenge participants to critically reflect on issues pertaining to child protection, family support and the many associated factors that impact the lives of children, young people and families in Queensland.

As the person at the helm of Queensland’s branch of the professional social work body and as an academic, Dr Fotina Hardy has plenty to say about child protection and family support, professional practice and the system within which this work happens. Most significantly, she is clear about why child protection matters to her:

“My commitment is fuelled by a passion that we have a responsibility to care for and protect our children, who are our future. In this process it is vital to support families in doing just that. No child exists in isolation and their families are essential for their connection and wellbeing. This belief is inbuilt in me and stems from my experiences and a core underlying belief in eliminating all violence in our society. In my role as a lecturer, I am really privileged as I can focus on ensuring the quality of social work and human services graduates so that they can provide the best services possible in a way that is really respectful and collaborative. In my role at the AASW again I am in a really privileged position to be able to work with colleagues to advocate, educate and influence policy.”

In Queensland we’re all well aware that we are working in a constantly changing environment. The majority of change is born of the implementation of the recommendations of the Carmody Report: Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection (June, 2013). Dr Hardy reflects on the changes brought about by these implementations thus far and the impacts on her work as well as her observations of the needs of both her students and the sector:

“I have observed changes most significantly with regard to the students who do their placements with Child Safety. The Carmody Report recommendations fit really well with what we teach students. I was lucky enough to attend the initial training and at the time shared with others that the new training aligns so well with what we teach students already in that it is strengths based and focused on collaboration, empowerment and holistic frameworks for practice. I act as a critical friend for a Child Safety Service Centre and have been fortunate to observe the new framework in action and how comfortably the shift has occurred with the workers involved.”

Dr Hardy also notes that from an educational point of view, attention needs to remain focused on building sound assessment and critical analysis skills for students. She is adamant that this area is what she highlights with students on placement: “They need to be constantly thinking about the whys that sits behind the framework. A framework is only as good as the people who use it. Having the skills and knowledge to really question and understand the multitude of issues and the complexities of cases is crucial.” She further stresses the importance of communication skills and collaboration as essential to effective child protection and family support practice. She has also observed students involved in the local level alliances and noted the work and effort going into building these collaborative processes.

The remaining challenges Fotina identifies are questions around how to build collaborative communities of practice and break down the ongoing silos. In particular, building communities of practice that include the domestic and family violence sector, education, youth justice, criminal justice, health and all organisations that interface with child protection and family support. She also notes the vital importance of striking a balance between early intervention and tertiary services: “I think there are ongoing challenges with getting the balance right between early intervention and tertiary service provision. In our submission through the AASW/PeakCare Child Protection Practitioners’ Group we emphasised the need to invest in both areas until we could see the early intervention sector start to make a difference. It concerns me that this is not necessarily the case”. Another challenge ahead that Fotina identifies is how the separation of court work from Child Safety Service Centres to the legal teams in Child Safety will play out in practice.

Without question Fotina views the over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in Queensland’s child protection system as the greatest cause of shame and distress. “I am concerned that we seem to be making no headway and this means to me that we need to think differently and try something completely different, which means a strategy driven by communities themselves”.

Amongst this changing environment of reform, what can universities contribute to child protection?

Whilst recognising that many academics already contribute significantly through research and evaluation Fotina sees that universities have a responsibility to train and educate the future workforce. She believes that: “it is imperative that we train social work and human services students to be quality and safe practitioners with a really strong ethical base and high level analytical skills to question and look beyond the surface issues presenting”. She asserts that universities have a responsibility to ensure students are educated to value professional supervision and ongoing professional learning to prepare them for and sustain them in complex and often fraught work. “This is an area that we need to really drum into emerging practitioners and we certainly do that through the field education unit team at QUT! I also can see lots of opportunities for universities to continue to provide students for placements – it is a perfect training ground for new workers for Child Safety, child protection and family support services and residential care providers. Even when graduates take up roles in different but associated areas the previous experience assists in their knowledge and understanding of child protection work.”

Another avenue Fotina identifies where universities can assist in the child protection arena are the largely untapped skills of Honours or research students. She recognises that the sector is constantly pushed for resources and as such students can fulfil key roles in supporting research and evaluation projects. QUT is committed to emphasising these opportunities. There are also other avenues such as organisations providing guest lectures at universities or academics attending organisations and undertaking joint research and evaluation.

Fotina feels optimistic about some of the positive innovations and programs that support families, children and young people and has enjoyed hearing from organisations and practitioners through the AASW/PeakCare Child Protection Practitioners’ group. She celebrates the government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Carmody Report. Overall Fotina sees herself as playing a tiny role in the grand scheme of the child protection sector. She states: “I am proud to be doing what I can to support the development of ethical and quality practitioners and to support the work of sector through the Child Protection Practitioners’ Group, the AASW and my work at QUT.”

Fotina is a long term registered supporter of PeakCare Queensland. If you are interested in becoming a PeakCare supporter please email Gary Roberts or visit our membership page on our website.

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