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The Munro Campaign: Conspicuously Silent

“Silence is golden when it’s called for. Silence can be deadly
when it’s not called for.”
— Meryl Runion

In 2009 The National Framework For Protecting Australia’s Children was launched. The framework kicked off an Australian wide, call to action to better our policies, procedures and practices with vulnerable children, young people and their families. I’d been feeling pretty optimistic about Australia’s chance to action child protection reform. However, as time has marched on, I have begun to wonder do we have the necessary climate to consider and support child protection reform in Australia, at this time?

Interestingly, as part of PeakCare’s Munro Campaign, I have been looking over the United Kingdom’s media and related systems response to the release of the Munro report. I got to thinking that not only is the Munro report sensible, timely and responsive, its also been written in a time and place that is ready and willing to do something different… something better.

In England the British Association of Social Workers and the College of Social Work (BASW/CoSW) are both on board with Munro’s recommendations and have said they are “like music to the profession’s ears.”  BASW/CoSW has long campaigned to relieve social workers of the “unbearable bureaucracy and administrative overload” that hampers them working directly with people who need their services.

Matt Dunkley, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, called on ministers to accept the report’s recommendations in full. He warned that the government would need to put their money where their mouths are, to fully support and endorse the systems reforms, including appropriately resourcing prevention and early intervention supports and services.

Penny Thompson, General Social Care Council (GSCC) Chief Executive said: “This report is clear about the need for a competent and confident workforce which is not afraid to exercise its judgement. We believe that a strong profession requires supportive employers who are committed to working closely with the professional regulator and the service regulators. Building on the work of the Social Work Reform Board, this report makes a further case to improve the knowledge and skills of social workers and takes on board a number of GSCC recommendations around initial education and continuing professional development.”

So making a quick, short list here… in the UK the Munro report and proposed reforms are embedded in and endorsed by:

* National government and local councils

* Three different regulatory and academic boards

* The Association of Directors of Children’s Services

* The Social Work Reform Board

* Child protection practitioners/social workers

When I ponder the current climate for child protection reform in Australia, I ask myself, do we have the “right stuff”?

Do we have anything resembling the professional standards, regulations and buy-in, in the Australian child protection sector that exists in the UK , which supports and endorses the Munro report and recommendations? Where are our professional standards, registration/licensure of child protection practitioners? Where is our commitment to professional development? Where is the voice of the AASW for child protection? Where is the voice of our Social Work and Human Services faculties? The voices of our professional practitioners?And when they speak, who is hearing them?

Why is it so few people in our sector have heard of our National Framework, let alone held a copy in their hands? Who is driving the Child Protection bus in Australia? In Queensland? Who believes or even knows the child protection system is in deep trouble as a system and is in desperate need of reform? Where is our collective voice?

Maybe these conversations are occurring. Maybe we are ready to accept the challenge of reform. However, to date I ask these questions  and all I am hearing is a wall of silence. Are we ready for reform? Do you really think so?

Fiona McColl – Training and Sector Development Manager – PeakCare

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Matt #

    Hi Fiona,

    I thought your blog was well researched and written. I am a student and I don’t have much experience with the child protection sector. I may not have much experience but I agree with everything you say. I have read the National Framework and if done properly, it sounds like it will create positive change in child protection. It is scary to think that not many people know about it.

    Sometimes I think we lose sight of the people in the centre of the whole system; children and families. We have a responsibility to create a system that supports children and families in the best way possible. If the system does not work it affects the most vulnerable people in society. I think child protection work is an extremely hard job but we need to give thought and action to change the system if it is not working as well as it can. It affects people’s lives in an extremely significant way and it deserves our full attention.

    June 22, 2011
  2. Vanessa Walker #

    This is such an interesting thread!! I too wonder if we have the ‘right stuff’…. I believe many individuals have the ‘right stuff’ but doubt that we have the systems to support, listen and respond or the resources to continue/commence the development and growth of the ‘right stuff’!

    I feel that the child protection system does not currently have a consistent commitment to the ‘right stuff’. Out of Home Care (OOHC) services need to be resourced to respond to and uphold national standards and to provide quality services. We need to have different sections of Government working together rather than separately, we need the Department to have one voice, rather than lots of different ones across regions and sections. OOHC services also need to have one voice…..I continue to hear lots of voices, that share the same ideas and experiences and then pull in opposite directions when it comes to crunch time, it becomes a sense of self preservation, maintain relationships and/or to secure funding.

    If we look at research we still have young people who are not being supported through Transition from Care, we have young people who are not getting their emotional, physical and intellectual needs met due to being in the child protection system, over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people continues to be an issue. Children and young people continue to be harmed by the system!! I do not feel that a set of National Standards is going to assist these children or young people, unless we have a collaborative and shared commitment across government and non-government services.

    When looking at the United Kingdom, I think it’s important to look at the context within which, what we call ‘out of home care’ services work in. A lot of services in the UK are only partly funded by government and are at least 50% self funded. This allows services to have some control over the young people that enter programs and how they provide support and care to these young people. This is a very different experience in Qld where services tend to be micro managed. For example, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard service provider’s talk about the pressure placed on them to accept referrals and situations where the Department remove one young person to provide a placement for another young person. I could go on to name other situations similar to this, but the essence of what I am saying is, services in Qld do not have the same autonomy as those in the UK.

    As I raised earlier, in terms of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, are government and non-government agencies going to share the same commitment to this framework? Will governments have the same checks completed on them, as service providers do to ensure that they are implementing the framework? It makes me think about Child Safety’s Model of Therapeutic Residential Care, which stipulated a range of minimal requirements for residential care services, but has not resourced or provided support to services to implement the model. Often times, Child Safety have worked against the model by not supporting a matching process which goes past eligibility according to the Service Agreement or placing young people out of their community based on the boundaries of Departmental regions rather than the needs of the young person. This has been despite concerns raised by service providers.

    When you refer to social work, it makes me wonder… just how many social work ‘practitioners’ are actually out there? Social work in the UK system is valued. Is it valued in Qld’s child protection sector? I do not think so! In fear of generalisation, social workers within Child Safety appear to be trained to be child safety officers, rather than practitioners. Their practice knowledge is not celebrated and developed rather it is suffocated/snuffed out. When it comes to working in OOHC services, the pay rates are often insufficient to attract/retain qualified social workers, or other qualified staff such as psychologists etc. Training and development for staff in services is often limited due to a lack of resources and is therefore prioritised according to licensing requirements.

    I do believe that the child protection system is in trouble and I believe we need a reform……I believe that we have the ‘right stuff’ out there, but we need to start listening, speaking, working collaboratively, being resourced and being brave and courageous enough to make the required changes and stand up tall and loud when we believe that the system is failing our children and young people. After all, while I have been critical of the Department, non-government services, academics, myself and other practitioners all play a role in perpetuating the system!! We stay silent and yet we all complain and discuss the issues….what are we doing about them? Do we have a platform to make our voices heard and if not why are we not creating one? If we have a platform are we truly willing to stand on that platform together and stand by our convictions?

    June 24, 2011
    • Hi Vanessa – Sorry for the tardy reply here, but I wanted to really sit down to give a considered response!

      I think you’ve made some great observations:

      1- The Australian child protection system is structured and funded very differently than that of the UK. This has a variety of implications on our capacity to unite around a common objective (the National Framework) and to work collaboratively.

      2- Not only do these differences have obvious implications for gov’t and non-government – they also have significant impact on vulnerable children, young people and their families.

      3- The National Framework cannot possibly provide that shared vision, structure to facilitate collaborative working, or progressive procedure and policy – if people are not even aware the National Framework exists. I am consistently amazed at how many people in our sector, gov’t and non-govt have no idea there is a National Framework. The roll-out occurred in 2009 and it doesn’t appear to have rolled very far!

      4- I mention Social Work, as in many other Western countries, Social Work has been and continues to be the qualification of choice in child protection work. As someone who has undertaken qualification in Psychology/Sociology, Clinical Therapy and Social Work – I have no hesitation in saying, it is my Social Work degree that I believe best positions me to undertake statutory child protection as well as general work with vulnerable children and their families. In particular, it was my social work degree that prioritized frameworks, which emphasize such things as social justice, critical reflection and anti-oppressive, emancipatory practice. It is my professional view that these are essential to quality practice in child protection.

      In Queensland we have had substantial recruitment and retention issues across the child protection sector, particularly in rural and remote areas of the state. The question has been (through some understandable sense of urgent necessity) – what does our sector need by way of staffing? The solution has been to recruit unqualified or sometimes inappropriately qualified, staff. The standard for good practice seems to be leaning toward adherence to bureaucratic process and standardized assessment tools. Even worse, some have accepted that child protection is nothing more than an extension of parenting where all that is required is a big heart, good intentions and the willingness to show up.

      We MUST move past these short term solutions to recruitment problems or we may well find our solutions today are our problems of tomorrow. Or perhaps we are already at that point?

      5- Wages. This one interests me. We have been vigorously pursuing pay equity in Queensland and Nationally. We assumed that if organizations were funded to pay a higher award to their staff, they would. Many failed to do so. Additionally as Lorraine spoke about in her recent post, The Cost of Not Paying the Price; “It is really important to note however that the QSU currently has three thousand members from a workforce of approximately forty to fifty thousand workers in our Queensland sector who benefit from their advocacy, tireless efforts and subsequent pay equity wins.” If we are serious about better wages as a sector – you’d think our actions would show it and if union support is an indication, we aren’t really all that concerned.

      6. Collective voice. I could not agree with you more. As a sector we are largely silent and far too compliant for my liking. Even when given a platform and space to discuss the issues (under alias if required) this post has garnered only two responses.

      Enough said.

      Thank you for your considered response – I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!

      Fiona McColl

      July 1, 2011
      • Sari szekely #

        Hi Fiona and other bloggers,

        i thought I’b better add something as this is one of my areas of passionate interest. I also was unaware of the national framework and will now take time to read it and the Munro recommendations too.

        I have long thought that government in Australia, don’t do care of the marginalised very well at all . Consider the fiascos and tragedy that have been facilitated for refugees, Indigenous people and children in any care system.

        My thought has been to remove the government, the various state departments, from all aspects of Child protection service delivery, beyond assessment, and bring in Global NGO’s . I am particularly impressed by SOS Children’s villages and have visited and worked with them in several developing countries. They are committed to raising children in sibling groups, in a home with a ‘mother’ and ‘aunts and uncles’ who provide additional support. SOS did come to Australia and built homes in a beachside suburb of Adelaide, however despite all their efforts they were unable to develop a cooperative working relationship with the S.A department. If anyone is curioous just Google them.

        Like OXFAM, who have now moved into Indigenous communities, SOS has global experience accross a diverse range of cultures and have proven their capacity to adapt and tailor their services according to the particular needs of a country. In addition, they are also committed to their own fundraising and continuing independence from government funding, which in turn allows them to be flexible.

        Thanks for the blog and the campaign and I will continue to read and participate

        July 15, 2011
  3. Hi Sari,

    Thanks very much for reading and commenting! I hadn’t really considered your idea for using Global NGO’s — obviously their potential independence from government funding and local politics has appealing aspects! I suppose ultimately what I would like to see is our capacity improved to provide quality services in our communities, for our commuity, delivered by our community. It may not be an either/or tho!

    So glad we have piqued your interest in the National Framework, The Munro campaign and indeed, in PeakCare’s Practice blog! I’ll look forward to your continued involvement!

    Cheers,
    Fiona

    July 28, 2011

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