The National Framework: Wolf In Sheep”s Clothing?
I have had a great opportunity since starting my practicum placement with PeakCare, to look carefully at the National Framework For Protecting Australia’s Children. I started the learning process with considerable enthusiasm and interest, however, I found myself with increasing questions and concerns. I’d like to share my critical reflection with you in this post, and invite you to think about the National Framework, how it might impact your practice and to share your notes with me!
It seems to me that inverting the Pyramid to espouse the new public health model involves an almost total overhaul surrounding how child protections concerns are approached. Instead of commissioning the statutory sector to investigate potential child protection concerns when they arise, the new approach focuses on early intervention to circumvent problems from escalating to crisis point. This change necessitates early service involvement and arguably a greater degree of risk for those under mandatory reporting obligations. In other words, those required to report when concerns arise will now have to think very clearly about whether their concerns are serious enough to warrant statutory involvement or whether involvement with early intervention services will suffice to manage risk.
This would seem to pose a dilemma as not only is there potential risk involved for the child/children, but those who make the decision not to report in favour of offering more holistic and less mandated services may be liable to a degree of blame if their decision turns out to be wrong. The stakes are high and potentially tragic if practitioners get it wrong. Of course professionals should not report without undertaking some form of investigation, as 80% of notifications to child safety are subsequently unsubstantiated. However, the movement toward non-statutory assessments may well place extra complexity on the work of professionals who may have little or no understanding of statutory child protection and who may not even see themselves or the work they do as part of child protection. Could it be that the National Framework perhaps unfairly places the onus on those under mandatory reporting requirements to demonstrate a degree of investigation and risk assessment which falls beyond both their expertise and comfort? If the the national framework is to be a success, these seem to be critical considerations.
I also had to wonder if the shift to prevention and early intervention might not also run the risk of overburdening the primary and secondary sectors?
The National Framework for Protecting Children surely is correct in the sense that there is the need for change. Yet, it seems that the change requires a broader overhaul of a number of inter-related societal systems, which by virtue of their complexity might require more thought, resources and planning than demonstrated by the National Framework for Protecting Children. Also, concern arises when one year into the National Framework, many people have never heard of the National Framework or held a copy in their hands!
‘What do you think of the National Framework?’ I asked a child safety officer friend of mine.
‘The what?’ she asked.
As the National Framework for Protecting Children is set to be rolled out it is important to consider the implications of the policy and the effect such an approach will have on the primary and secondary sector, who will perhaps experience a marked increase in service use whilst not concurrently receiving a marked increase in funding to respond to demand. It is to be hoped that the Framework is more than a pretty piece of policy, and will actually be implementable within the parameters of best practice.
Perhaps I have the National Framework all wrong; maybe a sheep is just a sheep. I can’t help but wonder however, if there is a wolf in there somewhere, waiting to howl. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the National Framework and how it has or will change or improve the work that you do with vulnerable children, young people and their families.
Lauren Thompson – U.Q. , Masters of Social Work student on placement with PeakCare.