The vast majority of these reports were not substantiated- meaning the report was assessed and a child protection response was not required at that time. In these cases, other forms of support would have been a more appropriate response. The numbers of children being removed from their parents has also more than doubled over the past decade. The exact numbers are difficult to ascertain due to reporting limitations.
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Australia needs to move from seeing 'protecting children' merely as a response to abuse and neglect to one of promoting the safety and wellbeing of children. The components of such a system are illustrated in Figure 1. Under a public health model, priority is placed on having universal supports available for all families for example, health and education. More intensive secondary prevention interventions are provided to those families that need additional assistance with a focus on early intervention. Tertiary child protection services are a last resort, and the least desirable option for families and governments.
Just as a health system is more than hospitals so a system for the protection of children is more than a statutory child protection service. In reality, Australia's child welfare service systems more closely resemble an hourglass than a pyramid. As demands on child protection services have grown, the size of child protection services have grown to meet that demand. Child protection services cannot provide a response to all vulnerable children and their families.
A public health model offers a different approach with a greater emphasis on assisting families early enough to prevent abuse and neglect occurring. Ultimately, the aim of a public health approach is to reduce the occurrence of child abuse and neglect and to provide the most appropriate response to vulnerable families and those in which abuse or neglect has already occurred. Recognising that the safety and wellbeing of children is the responsibility of all levels of government, the Australian Government has led the development of the National Framework, working closely with States and Territories.
Similar challenges are being faced across the nation. State and Territory governments are currently implementing reforms to their statutory child protection systems - all focused on early intervention. But for these reforms to be truly effective, they need to be coordinated with Australian Government programs, policies and payments - a large part of the early intervention response. The National Framework will deliver a more integrated response but does not change the responsibilities of governments.
States and Territories retain responsibility for statutory child protection, as the Australian Government retains responsibility for providing income support payments. The National Framework also recognises the significant existing efforts and reforms which are being undertaken by governments across Australia in protecting children and supporting families. A summary of existing effort and reforms underway in each State and Territory is at Appendix A.
It does however, involve a commitment from all parties to focus our own efforts on protecting children to, and work together better in areas of shared responsibility. It also involves a commitment to better link the many supports and services we provide- avoiding duplication, coordinating planning and implementation and better sharing of information and innovation. Naturally, the span of activity required to support these outcomes means that new efforts will build on and link with existing initiatives to achieve the best possible outcomes.
A National Framework provides an opportunity to drive improvements across all systems and all jurisdictions. National leadership will provide the momentum for key national projects- such as data, research, information sharing and national consistency in critical areas. A National Framework also provides a mechanism for engaging the non-government sector and the broader community on a national level.
The actions and strategies that governments and others will agree to take under this National Framework are all aimed to achieve the following high-level outcome:. As a measure of this outcome, governments and the non-government sector have set the following target:. A substantial and sustained reduction in child abuse and neglect in Australia over time.
To demonstrate progress towards achieving the target the following measures have been identified:.
What is a Strength-Based Approach?
The supporting outcomes and strategies help to focus effort and actions under the National Framework in order to reach the high-level outcome. Indicators of change are provided to measure the extent to which governments and non-government organisations are achieving the supporting outcomes. Given the inherent difficulties in isolating the impact of specific actions on broader social outcomes, a broad suite of indicators have been identified which, when viewed collectively, will be reported annually and provide a basis for measuring progress over the life 12 years of the National Framework.
Children have a right to be safe, valued and cared for. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia has a responsibility to protect children, provide the services necessary for them to develop and achieve positive outcomes, and enable them to participate in the wider community. The National Framework also recognises the importance of promoting the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and families across all outcome areas.
Some of the key groups and their involvement in the National Framework are described below. Parents and families care for and protect their children and engage in decision making that has an impact on them and their children. Children and young people participate in decisions affecting them. Communities support and protect all their members, and support families to raise their children, particularly vulnerable families. Non-government organisations deliver services including on behalf of governments , contribute to the development of policy, programs and the evidence base and actively promote child safety, protection, rights and wellbeing.
The business and corporate sector supports parents to raise their children through family-friendly policies. They may also support programs and initiatives to directly assist children and families, including direct financial assistance, pro bono activities of their staff and professional support to community organisations.
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Local governments deliver a range of services to vulnerable families, including youth and family centres and local infrastructure, and play a pivotal role in engaging vulnerable children and their families in those services. State and Territory governments deliver a range of universal services and early intervention initiatives to prevent child abuse and neglect, and fund and coordinate many services by the non-government sector.
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They are responsible for the statutory child protection systems, including the support provided to children and young people in out-of-home care. Other responsibilities include:. The Australian Government delivers universal support and services to help families raise their children, along with a range of targeted early intervention services to families and children. This includes pensions, family payments, childcare benefit and tax rebates. The Australian Government provides a range of services available for all Australian families such as Medicare, employment services, child and parenting support services, family relationship services and the family law system.
In addition, the Australian Government provides support for key services through the States and Territories such as hospitals, schools, housing and disability services. The Australian Government also offers more targeted services for vulnerable individuals and families, including mental health, substance abuse, intensive parenting services, intensive employment assistance, and allowances for young people leaving care to help with the transition to independent living. The Australian Government also funds and delivers a range of services for families at higher risk of disadvantage including those in Indigenous communities.
Communities are child-friendly.
Family support worker
Families care for children, value their wellbeing and participation and are supported in their caring role. Reducing vulnerability of families and protecting children from abuse and neglect begins with developing a shared understanding of and responsibility for tackling the problem of child abuse and neglect.
Businesses and the broader community can play a part in supporting families through child and family-friendly policies and practices. It is important to educate and engage the community to influence attitudes and beliefs about abuse and neglect but also more broadly about children and their needs. In the context of child welfare, this is particularly relevant in judicial proceedings in care and protection, juvenile justice and family court matters, and in child protection and out-of-home care services.
All children and families receive appropriate support and services to create the conditions for safety and care. The basic assumption of a public health approach to protecting children is that by providing the right services at the right time vulnerable families can be supported, child abuse and neglect can be prevented, and the effects of trauma and harm can be reduced.
Providing the right supports at the right time will also ultimately reduce demand on State and Territory child protection systems, allowing them to improve their capacity to perform specific statutory functions and better support children at-risk. Disadvantage and vulnerability can be concentrated in particular communities. Evidence from Australia such as implications from the national evaluation of the Stronger Families and Community Strategy suggests that area-based interventions can have positive impacts on vulnerable children and families.
Effective elements include:. Develop alternative pathways for children who are at serious risk and those at lower risk, including:. Major parental risk factors that are associated with child abuse and neglect are addressed in individuals and reduced in communities. A particular focus is sustained on key risk factors of mental health, domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse.
Key to preventing child abuse and neglect is addressing the known risk factors. Many of the factors that research has shown to be associated with abuse and neglect are behaviours or characteristics of parents, which can then be the target of both population-based strategies and specific interventions. The problems most commonly associated with the occurrence of child abuse and neglect and identified in families involved with child protection services are:.
Other known risk factors for abuse and neglect include:. Adult treatment or support services — particularly those addressing domestic violence, substance misuse and mental health issues, as well as housing, gambling, disability, employment and income support services — need to be more child-focused, and responsive to the needs of families Scott These factors can also be the longer-term outcomes for children who have suffered abuse and neglect, contributing to intergenerational cycles of disadvantage.
Disadvantage can be concentrated in neighbourhoods or geographic areas. Children and young people who have been abused or are at-risk of abuse receive timely, appropriate, high-quality child protection and other support services to secure their safety and promote their long-term wellbeing. Efforts to reduce the occurrence of child abuse and neglect are important.
It is equally important that those children who have experienced abuse and neglect are provided high-quality services and interventions, as they are among the most vulnerable in our community. Out-of-home care is viewed as an intervention of last resort, and the preference is always for children to be reunited with their natural parents if possible. Many children can be safely reunited with their families when their families receive appropriate supports and interventions.
Research highlights the need for children to have stable and secure placements, whether that be with their natural parents or in out-of-home care. The quality of relationships with carers is also critical. The attraction and retention of an appropriately skilled and qualified workforce - including statutory and non-government service workers, as well as voluntary carers - is a high priority. Indigenous children are supported and safe in strong, thriving families and communities to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous children in child protection systems.
For those Indigenous children in child protection systems, culturally appropriate care and support is provided to enhance their wellbeing. Preventing child abuse and neglect and improving responses to those children who have experienced maltreatment are priorities for all Australian children.