Western Australia

I have been involved in analysing information from Western Australia’s Child Protection system producing three papers

Longitudinal study

This study of management information provides data on all reports, investigations and findings of maltreatment of children in Western Australia from their birth in 1990 or 1991 until their eighteenth birthday. It provides prevalence rates of children being reported, investigated and found to have been maltreated. A study of more recent cohorts shows trends in recent years. A key finding is that over 13% of all children born in 1990 and 1991 were reported before reaching the age of eighteen although 71% of them were not found to have been maltreated. International data suggests this rate of 1 in 8 children being reported may be equalled or exceeded in countries with an Anglo-American forensic child protection system. There was also a disturbing increase in reports of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in recent cohorts with an estimate that almost half of those born in 2004 had been reported before their fifth birthday. These findings add further evidence to the need for social work to address and severely limit investigative approaches. In this way social workers will provide support rather than continuing practices involving high rates of surveillance and a focus on parental blame. This study of management information provides data on all reports, investigations and findings of maltreatment of children in Western Australia from their birth in 1990 or 1991 until their eighteenth birthday. It provides prevalence rates of children being reported, investigated and found to have been maltreated. A study of more recent cohorts shows trends in recent years. A key finding s that over 13% of all children born in 1990 and 1991 were reported before reaching the age of eighteen although 71% of them were not found to have been maltreated. International data suggests this rate of 1 in 8 children being reported may be equalled or exceeded in countries with an Anglo-American forensic child protection system. There was also a disturbing increase in reports of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in recent cohorts with an estimate that almost half of those born in 2004 had been reported before their fifth birthday. These findings add further evidence to the need for social work to address and severely limit investigative approaches. In this way social workers will provide support rather than continuing practices involving high rates of surveillance and a focus on parental blame.

 

Accounting for the increase of children in care

This paper analyses a fourteen-year period of Western Australian data from the client information system of the Department for Child Protection and Family Support. Western Australia saw a large increase in the number of children in state care similar to trends across Australia as a whole. The study shows the following trends: changes in response to ‘referrals’ with particular increases in the number of findings of neglect and increasing proportions of these followed swiftly by entry to care; changes in patterns of entry to care with more children under one-year-old entering; increased length of stay of children in care; and, the high incidence of Aboriginal children entering and remaining in care. The data demonstrate unequivocally that increased ‘referrals’ are not associated with increased substantiations of harm or ‘acts of commission with dangerous intent’, but that neglect assessed early in the lives of children was the major precipitant for entry to care and particularly so for Aboriginal infants.

Ten years of a differential response model

This article uses a comprehensive database about children in adversity collected over the 16-year period from 1990 to 2005 in the state of Western Australia. The focus of this inter- rogation is the effect of major changes in responses to information about children brought to the attention of the Western Australian statutory authority in a 10-year period during this 16 years. The initiative for these changes was termed New Directions , and its associated policy and practice changes were aimed at differentiating information expressing concerns about children and families from allegations of child maltreatment. They emphasized the provision of supportive and empowering services to families experiencing difficulties – a form of differential response to children in adversity. The article covers the period leading up to the policy and practice change and the 10 years during which these changes were implemented. It examines some effects of the new policy and comments on whether the changes resulted in missed opportunities to protect children from harm, which in turn, might have led to higher rates of re-reporting. The authors present an overall picture of the nature of the information accepted by the statutory authority and how the interpretation of that information might have affected subsequent outcomes for children. In doing so, it shows that the policy and consequential practice changes associated with a differential response mechanism had long lasting positive effects that, despite dire warnings, did not compromise the protection of the small group of children identified as requiring protective interventions