We are a research group that aims to build capacity among families involved in child protection.
This website brings together publications from the Capacity Building in Child Protection Projects as well as ongoing subsequent research. Our research demonstrates that child protection should be done differently: that as a society we should be more supportive of being inclusive and widening circles of care around children. There is need to be wary of policies that in practice reduce children's networks of security, love and care to the point where they become the 'exclusive possession' of an authority, or indeed a parent or carer.
Our guiding philosophy
We approach our research with the following words in mind by our colleague, Sharynne Hamilton, a Ngunnawal woman and long-time advocate for families in child protection. She set this challenge for us all in a speech at the Annual Candle Lighting Ceremony (Canberra, 7 May 2014) to remember those lost through domestic violence:
We need to imagine there is a different way to have a relationship – where power is balanced, where everybody is respected, where organisations feel secure in their work and where individuals, families and communities are heard with justice and respect and inclusion.
About the WEBSITE
This website is for all those who care about building capacity among families involved with child protection. We created the website to share ideas that will help us think and act differently in relation to protecting children. Apart from research, the website features links to fiction and non-fiction books, films and stories, reflects on policy initiatives, and flags other websites that we think provide useful information, particularly to families dealing with child protection issues.
Child protection is an area that generates anger, fear and shame, and governments and families alike at times find it difficult to provide the care and protection that children need. This website seeks ways of doing things better. Instead of focusing on who the child belongs to – government, biological or adopting families, we focus on what children need – love, security, care and knowledge. To meet these needs, the efforts of many people are required and they need to support each other.
Our research shows that many people turn way from child protection authorities, leaving authorities poorly informed and ill equipped to do the right thing by the child. The goal of this website is to find ways of drawing on the capacities of all those who are able to help and build cooperation rather than competition around the care of children.
Why do this research?
As a society we do not care for and protect children as well as we should. Child protection authorities cannot keep up with their workloads. The worst cases of abuse and cruelty seem to slip through the child protection safety net, and as various international inquiries into institutional child sexual abuse have revealed, some of the most egregious incidents of abuse have been perpetrated in institutional contexts where children were assumed to be safe and well cared for.
The research that we do and that we share on this website helps understand why we are currently failing in our child protection practices and what needs to happen to build community capacity to keep children safe. Everyone talks about how it takes a village to raise a child, but we seem to find it impossible to enter that village and work collaboratively together to achieve positive outcomes for children, parents, families, support organizations, authorities and their community.
It is not that capacity building is off the agenda of authorities and support organizations. Child protection workers and community workers try to build the capacity of parents to care for their children, the capacity of communities to support families, and the capacity of young people to look after themselves.
But good intentions turn sour for a number of reasons. Child protection workers do not have a good enough understanding of what is happening in a family, families respond by distancing themselves from authorities and not cooperating, community workers can feel similarly wary of authorities, there can be different views around acceptable parenting standards and practices, and coercive legally backed threats and actions directed at parents can cause a downward spiral that leads to a breakdown in collaboration.
Irreconcilable differences between families and authorities have led most recently to children been removed, often at birth, from their families and offered for adoption. Adoptions like any form of care provision can go wrong and cause harm to the child. Forced removal and adoption tends to reduce transparency and contestation, and closes avenues of state accountability for a child’s wellbeing. Such were the circumstances surrounding child removal policies introduced in Australia more than 100 years ago to better assimilate indigenous people into white society, a policy for which the government has since apologized and which has caused enduring harm for what has become known as “The Stolen Generation” and their descendants.
This website is used to give voice to all stakeholders: parents, extended family, children, and government and non-government workers. We are particularly concerned about how child protection impacts on marginalized groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander families, culturally and linguistically diverse families, and families where members have a disability. Our commitment is to finding ways to provide safety, care and love for children without violence. Removing children forcibly from families is violent, an act of state violence that should not bring any of us comfort, even in cases where we know children cannot safely live with their parents.
We hope this website moves us closer to asking the right questions of each other - families, child protection staff and community workers alike, and doing so in a manner that is respectful and genuinely directed at providing a happy and safe future for children.
Our Charter represents our vision for how family engagement in the child protection system will look in the future. At this time, our research findings indicate where we are falling short and where we can make most gains.
Top down, control and rule-based decision-making in child protection hurts people including children. Children are left fearful and disconnected, wondering who they are and fearing they are unworthy – even if this is indirectly because everyone says their parent/s were unworthy and should be punished.
What is best for children is strengthening their relationships with family, friends and foster carers or adopted parents who can contribute to their growth through offering love, care and security.
Not everyone in a child’s network needs to provide all three. Harm should not be tolerated, of course, but not everyone, including parents, have to be perfect. We need to separate our thinking on who can love, who can care and who can provide security, and what makes a child feel happy and fulfilled, and find ways to value each and every contribution.