July 2014 | Research papers
Australian Institute of Family Studies
There is widespread acceptance that children have the right to grow up in safe and stable environments, protected from abuse and neglect, and to have their developmental needs attended to. Governments have recognised the need to provide a safety net for children to ensure that these basic needs and rights are met, particularly in circumstances where a child's own parent/s fail to act protectively, or are themselves responsible for the maltreatment of their children.
The child protection mandate in Australia and many other English-speaking countries is of a stand-alone authority with only limited formal involvement by other service sectors or the broader community (Bromfield, Arney, & Higgins, 2014). However, the vast majority of reports to Australian child protection services (roughly 85%) are assessed as not requiring a child protection response (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2010), and are instead generally referred to family support services. This situation has culminated in two critical issues. First, child protection services are overwhelmed with non-child protection referrals, which can make it more difficult to identify families that are most at risk. Second, families are subject to statutory child protection assessment in order to receive voluntary family support services, which may be stigmatising and can potentially decrease their willingness to access voluntary services (Bromfield, Arney, & Higgins, 2014).
The crisis-driven nature of much child welfare practice can limit opportunities for new and innovative thinking (Head, 2008). Yet innovative approaches to policy and practice are exactly what are needed in the child protection sector, where many of the problems faced by service users are complex and intractable, and persist despite the sector's best efforts to address them (Head, 2008). One way to stimulate new thinking about old problems is to approach them from different angles, such as using frameworks and tools from other fields of research or looking for inspiration in different contexts. The purpose of this paper is to do just that - to stimulate fresh ideas about Australian child protection by looking at examples from around the world.
This paper draws on both Australian and international research to provide a critical review of international approaches to child protection.1 It aims to provide Australian policy-makers with a broad knowledge of the ways in which certain jurisdictions around the world structure and conduct child protection services, and to encourage readers to reflect on how this knowledge may be relevant to the Australian context.