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Who is at the helm?

by PeakCare Qld. on 22nd August 2012

Home -> Articles -> 2012 -> August -> Who is at the helm?

This week, PeakCare submitted a catalogue of around forty documents to the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry. The documents that were assembled within the catalogue included feedback in response to drafted government agency policies, submissions, discussion papers and research reports produced or commissioned by PeakCare in recent years.

In gathering these documents together, it was interesting, yet quite concerning, to see that our messages about the ‘problems’ and the ‘solutions’ in relation to the child protection system have been remarkably similar over the last decade. While we might now tinker with some of the views expressed in the documents contained within this catalogue of documents, the consistency with which a number of key themes were addressed provides a stark reminder that ‘child protection’ is a complex area with which countries across the world are struggling to get the balance right. This struggle is driven by prevailing ideologies and understandings gained about sound child protection policy and practice as well as more pragmatic, yet nevertheless legitimate, considerations of governments about the targeting of their financial investment in ways that make the best use of available resources in producing improved outcomes for children, families and society generally.

The messages that consistently featured within this catalogue of documents included the need to:

  • actively listen to the experiences and views of children, young people and families not only because it is respectful, but because they are the best placed to describe their needs and aspirations, and are more open to being engaged in the services intended to assist them if they are active participants in their design and delivery
  • progressively shift investment into prevention and early intervention whilst maintaining sufficient capacity within tertiary services to meet the complex and multiple needs of children and families
  • instil collaboration across government agencies to ensure the delivery of a whole-of-government approach to the safety, well-being and life opportunities of children, young people and families and the proper exercise of government responsibilities as a ‘corporate parent’ when children and young people are ‘in care’
  • promote effective, accountable and collaborative partnerships between government and non-government service providers
  • establish and maintain a skilled, qualified, diverse and appropriately supervised and supported workforce across the government and non-government sectors
  • evaluate and review services, programs and initiatives to see ‘what works’ and what doesn’t, and learn from national and international research to ensure that evidence-based policy and practice approaches are being utilised and continuously improved
  • properly target individualised, purposeful interventions with children and families and work with them in inclusive and respectful ways that are responsive to their assessed needs, in preference to simply offering them what is available
  • recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ right to autonomy and self-determination as a core element of addressing their increasingly disproportionate representation in the statutory system
  • promote the significance of creating and maintaining continuity and connection in children’s relationships with their families, community and culture, and
  • ensure equitable access by children, young people and families, regardless of their location, ability or cultural or ethnic background, to responsive, non-stigmatising and helpful services.

In reviewing the catalogued documents in their entirety, a predominant theme that became apparent is the lack of an overarching framework that adequately defines the ‘child protection system’ including its purpose, scope and relationship with the broader range of systems and services intended to support children, young people and families. When listening to the Inquiry’s public hearings that have been conducted to date, I was struck by the apparent struggle that various witnesses have had, for whatever reason, in articulating and explaining such a framework.

In the absence of a clearly defined framework, a ‘role confusion’ appears to have emerged with the (former) Department of Communities, on the one hand attempting to confine its responsibilities to the delivery of statutory interventions whilst, on the other hand, administering grants to non-government organisations for the delivery of programs and services that may be regarded as serving a prevention and early intervention purpose.

These functions appear to have been exercised without the Department fully assuming the responsibility or having the capacity or authority to properly and strategically shape a whole-of-government approach that incorporates the full range of services – from those that should be universally available to all families through to those that are needed when statutory intervention is required. The question that has to date remained unanswered, is, “If it is not the responsibility of the (now) Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services to strategically plan, lead, coordinate and monitor the development and implementation of this overarching framework and approach to the safety, well-being and life opportunities of Queensland’s children, young people and families, whose responsibility is it?”

Who is or should be at the helm? Without an answer to this question, it is highly likely that responses to the needs of children, young people and families will continue to be tertiary-focussed and driven, any primary and secondary service initiatives that are commenced will continue to be piecemeal and ad hoc, and the development of services that should be universally available to all children and families will continue to miss the mark in matching what children and families need with what supports can be made readily available and accessible to them.

Without an answer to this question and a clearly articulated framework that defines this thing called ‘child protection’, we are in danger of being on a voyage to nowhere.

Lindsay Wegener
Executive Director