Reflecting on the Child and Family Sector

Raising awareness and focusing on prevention is at the heart of this year’s annual national Child Protection Week.

It’s a good time to reflect on the work being done in this arena by Community Services Industry Alliance (CSIA) and the wider Child and Family sector.

Most recently, the CSIA team attended the recent Association of Child Welfare Agencies (ACWA) Conference in Sydney, themed “Doing better for our children and families: Innovate, Lead Change”.

The three days event delivered more than 150 presentations from across the Child and Family Support sector.

It was particularly interesting was that some of these presentations focused on Child Safe Organisations. These presentations aligned with the Child Safe Excellence project under the Laying Foundations work being undertaken by CSIA to support the growth and development of the industry.

What the CSIA team saw was work being undertaken reflected the sectors strong commitment to leading the way in demonstrating what it means and what it takes to be a child safe organisation.

But if you weren’t able to make the event, we have made it easy for you with a run-down of some of the presentations of interest to the sector.

There was a presentation from Uniting Care Queensland (UCQ) representative Barbara Power, who talked about being proactive and deliberate in their adherence with Child Safe Principles.

The organisation’s development of a dedicated Child Safety Review Team focused on a zero tolerance of harm through systemic alignment of processes, systems and people to ensure the voice of the child is paramount. It was clear that there is immense value in having an internal team that sits independent of the service delivery arm of the organisation driving this focus.

Ms Power also highlighted the critical importance of strong and united leadership in the provision of client safety in out-of-home care. It was clear by providing adequate resourcing and commitment to being child safe, Uniting Care Queensland is well on the way to further building internal and public confidence in the organisation being child safe.

Bravehearts representative Rohan Best spoke about their partnership with corporate sector to roll out programs that support a child safe sector. Bravehearts has worked with Ernst and Young on the ChildPlace program. Mr Best reinforced that the roll out of this program is in direct alignment with Bravehearts vision to make Australia the safest place in the world to raise a child.

Through this offering to those working with children, Bravehearts aims to:

  • address structural and cultural gaps that create opportunities for child sexual assault and harm
  • address lack of documented organisational child protection measures
  • initiate the launch of next generation Workplace Health and Safety
  • decrease organisational risk exposure.

Wesley Mission NSW talked about the challenges they face as they implement Child Safe Organisation principles within an organisation that has diverse service streams including aged care and disability support.

They said it was important for organisations to share their stories of success and challenge. It was a great presentation because it highlighted the challenges faced by organisations who provide a range of community service support streams, including some where child safety may be seen to be less relevant.  There was also insights around shifting governance and organisation structures to minimise the distance between the voice of the child and those in executive and board roles being able to hear those voices in an authentic way without interference.

Dr Brian Babington from Families Australia spoke about his desire to see the development of a Futures Fund that specifically facilitates investment in the safety of children. He said that while significant work had been undertaken through The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 there was an opportunity to consider the next iteration of this work being focused on investing on a national level.

Riveting revelations arising from research conducted by Professor Fiona Arney, Professor Leah Bromfield and their colleagues from Australian Centre for Child Protection was presented. The session focused on how shifting from a child-level analysis to a family-level analysis of data can open up new understandings of what may be driving up the numbers of children in contact with the statutory child protection system.

The research also considered the match between the evidence-base of funded intervention services and their capacity to respond the complex needs of families and highlighted the implications for this match not being adequate.  This is of particular relevance to CSIA’s current work around Commissioning for Outcomes where investment and contract parameters can best meet the demands within the community.

The conference provided space for young people to share their experience and feedback. This reminds us who is at the center of everything we do – the children and young people experiencing abuse and neglect. But it’s also important to remember to include them in the conversation, in the planning and feedback on the implementation.

The range of conference presentations and conversations reflected many of the themes arising in CSIA’s Forecasting for the Future and Laying Foundation Reports, and emerging through the current Industry Development Project, these included:

  • The need to diversify revenue streams to bolster an organisation’s sustainability.
  • The need to invest in digital capability in order to accurately gather data that can drive innovative and outcome driven practices.
  • Acknowledging not just the power of partnership approaches, but their absolute necessity to the sector’s future readiness.
  • The need for brave leaders who approach research and innovation with an appetite for risk and a readiness to tolerate failure.
  • The need to invest in more deliberate and strategic sector wide workforce supply and capability strategies, as the sector increasingly becomes more of an employee’s market.
  • The acknowledgment that the family support needs of Australia’s First Nations People are most often best met by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service Providers and communities.
  • The need for the sector to continue to own its expertise in the area of child and family support so as not to be overtaken by those from other sectors just because they happen to display more confidence to declare and promote themselves.

Attending conferences is a fantastic way to see what is happening in the industry, find out what other organisations are doing, understanding best-practice and to network with peers. The ACWA 2018 Conference was a thought provoking three days on the theme of “Doing better for our children and families: Innovate, Lead, Change“.

And over Child Protection Week we can further reflect on these learnings and industry implications as we work together to create safer communities for children.