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View from the Frontline with Professor Bob Lonne

by Peakcare Qld on 17th July 2014

Home -> Articles -> 2014 -> July -> View from the Frontline with Professor Bob Lonne

An Interview with Bob Lonne

What is your current position/role?

I am a Professor of Social Work at the School of Public Health and Social Work at QUT in Brisbane.

I also research and write extensively on child protection, ethics of care and rural practice. This is important because it enables me to engage with the public debates around child protection and community welfare, and to be a voice for change and development.

What motivates or inspires you in working with or on behalf of children, young people and/or families?

Compassion is a big motivator for me. I had a great childhood in a loving working class family with strong values centred on being caring, understanding and helpful to others.

I am also realistic about the complexity of the matters we are trying to deal with. “Walk a mile in my shoes” became a cornerstone of my social work career. In a world where many people are doing it very tough, and increasingly feel alienated, judged and stigmatised, I think it is crucial to keep a good sense of our common humanity close to mind and heart, and to keep my feet on the ground.

Do you think outcomes will improve for children, young people and families in Queensland as we commence implementing reforms recommended by the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry?

I hope so, but I am also realistic about how long this reform process will probably take.

I am heartened by the willingness of the leadership across the broad sector to get behind the reforms and to be committed to reshaping our approaches to protection and support. To my mind, there are sometimes false dichotomies put forward about child protection: children’s rights or parent’s rights; supporting families or protecting children; tertiary responses or early intervention/prevention. These are unhelpful because they imply an either/or which can hinder us doing both at the same time, for example, respecting children’s and parent’s rights – this is certainly what the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child promotes, namely, integrating children’s, parent’s and community rights.

Overall I am optimistic for the reform agenda as I think people are on board with the need to change our approaches, and the benefits that can be gained by changing direction to a public health model that emphasises (and resources) early intervention and prevention, but which does not neglect tertiary responses.

How long have you worked within the child protection system? In what kinds of positions or roles have you previously worked.

I first started in statutory child protection in early 1985 at the Department of Children’s Services in Emerald, and moved onto an academic role in mid-1997.

I had a range of frontline, managerial, program and executive roles in both the Queensland and West Australian statutory departments. I had some specialist roles in investigation, court work and program development. I also dealt with a number of high-profile cases involving serious harm to children, including multi-victim sexual abuse cases.

Since my transition to an academic role I have involved myself in research and scholarship around the counterproductive outcomes of contemporary approaches to protecting children and helping families, and the need for systemic reform.

I co-authored a 2009 book titled Reforming Child Protectionwhich has had significant impact here and overseas. My contributions to the Carmody Inquiry were noted in the final report.

What do you think are the greatest challenges that we face in the future in implementing these reforms well?

I wish I had a crystal ball, but unfortunately I don’t so I will give this question my best shot.

We need to recognise that the process of reform and change will likely be a lot longer than we had originally anticipated and hence, reform fatigue may become an issue.

Another major challenge is cross-sectoral collaboration between adult and child-focused services, and government and non-government agencies.

The third major challenge is to work collaboratively on the process of re-visioning that will be needed as we progressively implement the reforms, evaluate progress, and discover that some things work better than expected while other initiatives prove to be unsuccessful, and perhaps counterproductive.

We need to steel ourselves for the setbacks that will inevitably occur and which may hinder us reaching our goals. This is not to suggest that we will be unsuccessful overall, rather, that along with our successes we will also have some failures.

We need to be realistic about the barriers to accomplishing reform on the scale we are undertaking and to recognise that not everything will go ahead as planned, but that collective efforts usually result in overall success.

In closing: As an academic I have a privileged role in the community. Besides my roles as teacher, trainer, researcher and scholar, I am encouraged by my employer QUT to take on community service roles. This includes being an active player in community issues.

My employer supports me in being a public advocate for protecting children and supporting struggling families. Similarly I have taken up a role on the Department’s Child and Family Reform Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) and I believe that this is one way to participate in the reform process and to add value to what is a series of initiatives designed to improve the outcomes for children and families in Queensland.

Importantly, my academic role as a ‘public intellectual’ gives me the freedom to say what I believe needs to be voiced without fear or favour. I am cognisant of the responsibilities that come with this freedom and role, and understand that this obliges me to be respectful of those who take a different stance on public issues than I do, albeit whilst challenging others to consider fully the implications and complexities of public and social policy options.