Case study: Reimagining child protection to enable families to thrive across generations

Funded by The Sidney Myer Fund, Rethinking Restoration is a three-year project that aims to understand how we can evolve the child protection system to support families to reunite and thrive.

The challenge

The Australian child protection system is not working as it should. Families are cycling through the system generation after generation.

Year after year, inquiry after inquiry, experts suggest the system requires transformational reform, however we often see similar shades of the same system with the same outcomes.

  • In the past ten years, Australia has seen 39 inquiries, reviews and Royal Commissions committed to reducing child abuse and neglect

  • Currently, 1 in 4 children are notified to child protection services before the age of 15

  • 1 in 19 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are in out-of-home-care and there are currently more children being taken than in the stolen generation.

Our vision

Rethinking Restoration is exploring opportunities to start to interrupt cycles of intergenerational trauma; to ensure families get the right support at the right time, and to shift the narrative and perspective on how we approach child protection in Australia.

We will take steps toward the development of a child protection system that centres around helping families stay together, out of the system, and rebound from crisis. Using a restoration lens, we are

  • Identifying levers to shift child protection outcomes from unacceptable to commendable

  • Developing and testing solutions to build an evidence base around what works

  • Demonstrating the power of collaboration within the sector

  • Catalysing a new dialogue around child protection and what’s possible

Our approach

While there are lots of things that could be done better in child protection there is also a lot of  exceptional practice and home-grown innovation right here in Australia. We set out to understand how we could shift the child protection system to help families rebound out of risk or crisis.

This project included research to understand what works and what doesn’t locally and internationally, co-design and prototyping to develop new opportunities and trial stages to begin implementation pathways for new evidence-informed initiatives.

Our insights

Instead of perpetuating cycles of disadvantage, the system could be breaking them — fostering cycles of advantage, upward mobility and thriving generations. Reaching an alternate future for child protection will require whole-of-systems strategies that include solutions at each layer — from people to policy.

We believe an ideal state of child protection that actually “protects the most vulnerable members of our community and break the cycle of disadvantage” might look something like this:

--> Policy, reform and commissioning that targets the long-game – research and insights that inform a preservation- and restoration-focussed policy reform

--> A helpful public narrative about families facing disadvantage that empowers community to be part of the solution – a foster carer recruitment strategy that reshapes public perspective

--> A social accountability mechanism that puts agency in the hands of families and enables the public to demand more effective government spending and place-based results

--> Sector collaboration that builds a comprehensive service network rather than a fragmented one

--> Case practice behaviours and competencies that diagnose and resolve problems for good

--> Predictive preventative supports that stop risk before it starts

--> In-crisis supports that heal adults and children

--> Transitions from care that set young people up for social and economic participation

Our outcomes

Rethinking Restoration has four flagship programs:

1. Co-Parenthood

Implemented by MacKillop Family Services, Co-parenthood is a shared parenting approach to foster care that promotes healthy ongoing engagement with both families in the best interest of children. The model is evidence informed and has been co-designed with families and practitioners.

2. Innovating casework practice in Aboriginal and Restoration Contexts

Caseworkers can be the determining factor for a family’s restoration outcomes; we’ve observed some caseworkers who actively work toward restoration and others who do not. We’ve found casework teams who have flipped restoration success rates from 25% to 85% and we want to understand how and why that happens. We’ve codified enablers for exceptional practice within Restoration and Aboriginal Cultural contexts to be able to ‘create’ more exceptional case workers.

3. Joined Up

‘Joined Up’ is an integrated model of service delivery that leverages existing evidence-based restoration models to provide a continuum of support for families on their restoration journey.

4. Influencing Restoration Practice

The CoParenthood model has influenced the design of a family restoration model with an organisation in Parkerville, WA who were wanting to drive a new way forward in looking at different models of care that support new practice and delivery.

The next steps

Our aspirations for the future are to:

  • Catalyse a national dialogue around systemic change and innovation in child protection

  • Introduce, scale and spread effective approaches and service models to the sector

  • Contribute to reduction of young people in care and entering care Demonstrate a new normal in service and reform design and delivery

  • Blend thick and big data to tell accurate stories about how systems impact people and inform smarter, long-term decision making

Rethinking Restoration aims to understand how we can evolve the child protection system to support families to reunite and thrive.

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