AIHW Report on Child Protection: A Wake Up Call

The NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Child Protection yesterday released a report called Child Protection. It is yet another in a long list of reports into the child protection system telling us what we already know: game changing reform is needed. In today's post, Dr Kirsty Nowlan from the Benevolent Society discusses the implications of the report for the social services sector in Australia.

Year on year, the persistent upward trend of numbers of children involved in the child protection system is a warning sign that, as a society and a sector, we need to rethink how we support and help families and children. Today's post, by Dr Kirsty Nowlan from the Benevolent Society

The latest national child protection statistics released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare this week show that in 2015-16, 1 in 33 Australian or more than 162,000 children were involved in the child protection system. The safety and wellbeing of children must be paramount for any society, but what we have here is a broken system that needs to be fixed. We know that by the time they come into contact with the stretched and overloaded government child protection system damage will already have been done. Government must invest in a better system that ensures the earliest possible intervention so that families get the help they need when they need it.

There is an even more distressing story for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are more than seven times more likely than non-indigenous children to receive child protection services. We can not apologise for past wrongs and then allow a system to evolve which effectively re-creates patterns of removal. It’s time for government to heed the call of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders. The Family Matters campaign has laid out a clear road map to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up safely in their family, communities and connected to their culture.

The Benevolent Society’s Resilient Families program, which is part of our Social Benefit Bond, shows that intervention with families when they need it can really make a positive different in children’s lives. The results have been very good, with 21% fewer children entering foster care than families receiving a ‘business as usual’ FACS service and 29% fewer Helpline call reports. These results defy the nation-wide trend of increasing numbers of children in entering out-of-home care. We believe that we have created a model that works to keep children safe at home. But we can only help a small number of families.. We call on both the state and Commonwealth governments to invest appropriately and work in partnership with the families, NGOs, schools and health care workers to do more to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing.

The increase of 10,000 children receiving child protection services this year is unsustainable for any society. We know that children in the child protection system and in Out of Home Care often don’t do as well as other children, with poorer educational results and higher rates of physical, developmental and emotional problems. The child protection system must offer a better alternative that at the very least does no greater harm. We do not yet have that system in place in Australia.

Posted by Luke Craven.