Journal Summary: Third Edition

ICPS Edition 3We are please to bring you the third edition of the journal, Communities, Children and Families Australia – December 2007.

“…the need for practices which are inclusive of children and genuinely respectful of parents …

This journal aims to challenge orthodoxies in Child Protection through the publication of peer reviewed research, particularly into contested areas of policy and practice. In this edition authors have drawn our attention to the need for practice which is inclusive of children and genuinely respectful of parents who encounter the child protection system. With the new Federal Government’s position not yet clear on its predecessor’s emergency intervention in remote Indigenous communities, it is timely that the third edition of this journal begins with these themes of family and community inclusion. Reflecting on past practices which caused enduring humiliation and suffering to many, Professor Ros Thorpe, from James Cook University, asks how the current child welfare system will be viewed in the years to come. She argues forcefully that respectful practices with parents who encounter the child protection system are uncommon in Australia. To advance the fundamental changes in culture needed for inclusive practice Thorpe draws attention to the growing call for a PEAK Advocacy organisation for family inclusion in child protection.

Professor Ilan Katz also argues that the Australian child protection system has a poor history of focus on communities and neighbourhoods, particularly in the child welfare context. The current focus he claims, consumes more and more resources and ‘sucks in’ more and more children with very little research evidence of the actual benefits to children. Katz (Director of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW) describes some of the policy, practice and research debates around the involvement and participation of parents and children in community based initiatives. Katz argues there is little rigorous research about effective methods for involving community members, the effectiveness of their involvement on the quality of services or the impact of increased involvement on individual outcomes.

Lynne Magor-Blatch provides an excellent example of family inclusive practice in her article on families and substance use. This paper provides a comprehensive discussion of the impacts of substance misuse on parenting practices and relationships with children and also the reluctance to receive help from a welfare system they fear. Magor-Blatch, who has worked for 18 years with parents and children at the Karrilika Program, a therapeutic community in the ACT, argues the case for building the capacity of family members, including extended families to support parents with substance misuse problems. Another key message from the work of Karrilika is the importance of providing direct support to children through a range of services including individual play therapy sessions. This program recognises the healing power of play for young children and that children also have a right to direct therapeutic interventions.

Looking at system wide attempts to engage families of young children who are vulnerable and hard to reach, my colleague Dr Morag McArthur and I offer a conceptual model for strengthening the ‘interface’ between primary, secondary and tertiary interventions to increase the safety and wellbeing of young children. We argue that the siloed nature of institutions and the risk frameworks which drive practice at the statutory ‘end’ of child protection have not been effective in shaping collaborative responses to many children who would benefit from greater access to services at the primary (universal) and secondary (targeted) levels. Although services may indeed exist and in many instances be universally offered, the reality is that many vulnerable families do not access them. We propose greater use of collaborative interventions across these levels to improve ‘parenting capacity ’and ‘social connectedness’.

The final two articles in this edition contribute to the much needed evidence base for Out of Home Care in Australia. Dr Alexandra Osborn and Associate Professor Paul Delfabbro from University of Adelaide conduct a follow up to their recent studies on placement instability. To determine greater insight into the factors that may contribute to placement success they compare the family background, placement history and psychological profiles of children with very unstable and stable placements. Their findings indicate that children in stable placements enter care at a younger age, present with a lower prevalence of family and social background problems and score significantly better on all subscales of the psychological tests administered. Their article discusses the implications for placement instability for children, including foster care drift, the substantially increased workloads of care and protection staff and the Out of Home Care sector generally. The authors identify ethical, practice and policy reasons for the development of strategies that will enhance children’s placement experience in care and which will give rise to greater long term placement stability.

Whereas some of the ‘leaving care’ literature tends to focus on the individual pathways of care leavers, Dr Philip Mendes from Monash University conducts a structural analysis of young people leaving state care. This includes the multiple disadvantages young people suffer as a result of their trauma and neglect prior to entering care; their sometimes negative experiences in care; and the lack of formal and informal support provided to them as they transition from care. Mendes points out that a consequence of child protection as the separate responsibility of each State and Territory is that there are no uniform in-care or leaving care standards across Australia. While it is now normative that parents continue to ‘offer love and support to their children well beyond 18’ (and indeed are expected to provide for them until the age of 25 according to Commonwealth Government social security legislation) not so for young people in the legal care of the State. Mendes discusses the limited public concern about the plight of young people leaving care and a ‘silence’ that reflects the powerlessness of this small group who is significantly over represented in studies on homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, poor mental and physical health, poorer education and employment, juvenile prostitution, crime and early parenthood. Finally Mendes calls for an affirmative action plan to assist better outcomes for young people leaving care which will provide them with the “same ongoing resources and opportunities that any responsible parent in the general population would offer their child”.

Finally we are very pleased to include a reflection by Lorraine Mueller, an Indigenous Australian Grandmother, who was born on Kalkadoon country, raised in the Torres Strait and lives on Girramay country (Cardwell, North Queensland). Lorraine, who is also a PhD candidate at James Cook University discusses the implications of de-colonisation for social work practice. These stages are relevant for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the settlement society as they seek to understand past and present events and find new pathways forward.

We are grateful to the Australian College of Child and Family Protection Practitioners, the ACT Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services and to the Australian Catholic University for the ongoing support of this journal.

Gail Winkworth
December 2007