Research on the child protection system: authorities, technologies and approaches.

 

Hamilton, Sharynne & Braithwaite, Valerie (2014) Parents and Family Members Matter: A Charter of Rights and Responsibilities for Parents and Family Members with Children in the Care of Child Protection Services in Australia. Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) Occasional Paper No. 22. Canberra: Australian National University.

Abstract

There is little understanding of parental rights and responsibilities with child protection interventions in Australia. Arguably understanding is poor on both sides of the fence, among families on the one hand, and among authorities on the other who intrude on family life. This paper is a guide to assist in building this mutual understanding of rights and obligations. It is hoped that this Charter of Rights and Responsibilities will also help develop more collaborative relationships for all involved with child protection systems in Australia.  The Charter aims to set out principles which encourage respectful relationships, increase transparency and accountability for all parties.

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Braithwaite, Valerie, Harris, Nathan, Hamilton, Sharynne, Ivec, Mary & Gosnell, Linda (2014) Back to the Future. Advance: Essays, Opinions and Ideas on Public Policy (Winter edition), 41-42. Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU.

Abstract

A failure to learn from past mistakes in child protection policy means we risk repeating them. Child protection agencies currently have too few friends and too little influence to bring improvements in the lives of children.

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Ivec, Mary (2013) A Necessary Engagement: An International Review of Parent and Family Engagement in Child Protection. Social Action and Research Centre, Anglicare Tasmania.

Abstract

This report provides a review of international and national models of engagement, support and advocacy for parents who have contact with child protection systems. How statutory child protection systems engage with parents ultimately affects the outcomes for children, including safety, permanency and wellbeing. While social work practices that emphasise people’s self-determination and strengths are recognised as fundamental to eliciting change in parents when care standards have faltered, there is widespread acknowledgment of the struggle child protection authorities have to meaningfully engage parents and families. This paper canvasses new initiatives and new ideas that could be trialed here in Australia.

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Harris, Nathan (2011) Does Responsive Regulation Offer an Alternative? Questioning the Role of Formalistic Assessment in Child Protection Investigations. British Journal of Social Work, 41(7), 1383 –1403.

Abstract

The interface between parents and child protection agencies has long been a cause of concern. This paper examines the challenge that the child protection system faces from the perspective of responsive regulation theory (Braithwaite, 2002). The analysis suggests that management of compliance, though rarely discussed in the literature, has a significant impact on investigations. An emphasis on assessment, especially formal risk-assessment, places an emphasis on a particular type of compliance: "assessment compliance". Research on the experiences of parents suggests that over-emphasis on assessment compliance has a number of disadvantages: it risks alienating families, it focuses attention on a questionable indicator of parents' willingness to make changes, increases the degree of coercion used in interventions, and disempowers families and their communities. It is argued that formalistic use of assessment undermines the effectiveness of investigations because managing compliance within assessment procedures comes to dominate the response of workers. More families could be successfully engaged if the principles of responsive regulation were applied to assessment within investigation processes. A family engagement pyramid, based on responsive regulation theory, is proposed as one way of achieving this.

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McArthur, Morag, Braithwaite, Valerie, Winkworth, Gail, Wilson, Fran, Conroy, Stella, Thomson, Bronwyn, Ivec, Mary, Harris, Nathan & Reinhart, Monika (2011) How Relevant is the Role of Values in Child Protection Practice? A National Survey of Statutory Child Protection Staff 2009: Preliminary Findings. Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) Occasional Paper 17. Canberra: Australian National University.

Abstract

A survey of those working in Australian statutory child protection authorities was undertaken by the Australian Catholic University and the Australian National University as part of the Community Capacity Building in Child Protection Projects. The purpose of the project was to explore new ways for supporting families and young people so that they can develop the skills, confidence and resources they need to flourish without continuing intervention from the state. This report is based on survey responses from 859 public service employees working in a statutory child protection context in eight offices in Australia’s states and territories. We know little about how well the expression of values that are embedded in professional codes of conduct mesh with the expression of organizational values through rules and procedures. This survey explores this issue through asking those employed in statutory child protection agencies what they think of their organization’s values, how they describe their own values, professionally and personally, and how they practice their values in their day to day work.

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Braithwaite, Valerie, Harris, Nathan & Ivec, Mary (2009) Seeking to Clarify Child Protection’s Regulatory Principles. Communities, Children and Families Australia, 4(1), 5-21.

This is the lead article for a special issue which examines the possibilities of using responsive regulation in the field of child protection. Respondents to the article included Gale Burford, Judy Cashmore, Marie Connolly, Paul Delfabbro, Maria Harries, Karen Healy, Nigel Parton and Dorothy Scott. An editorial for the issue was written by Morag McArthur and Gail Winkworth.

Abstract

Child protection systems are expected to scrutinize the care offered to children and to coordinate the provision of improved quality of care. They are under stress in many developed countries with burgeoning caseloads and a mixture of positive and negative outcomes. Because child protection systems seek to change the course of parenting, they can be thought of as highly formalised regulatory systems that cut across one of our most entrenched informal systems, how parents raise children. This paper asks whether the stress experienced by child protection workers, support agencies and families alike is associated in part with failures to satisfactorily address three basic regulatory principles: identifying the purposes of the intervention; justifying the intervention in a way that is respectful of broader principles of democratic governance; and understanding how the informal regulatory system intersects with the formal child protection system. Child protection interventions are plagued by multiple purposes that are not necessarily compatible; non-transparent processes; and high risk of counter-productive outcomes.

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Harris, Nathan, Braithwaite, Valerie & Ivec, Mary (2009) Rejoinder: A Responsive Approach to Child Protection. Communities, Children and Families Australia, 4(1), 69-75.

Abstract

This article sets out how responsive regulation and family group conferencing might be used together to overcome some of the problems discussed in the special issue. The responsive pyramid and family group conferencing offer practical initiatives for making child protection systems more responsive. They enable much greater involvement of immediate and extended communities in making decisions and helping families overcome problems. They also provide the opportunity for much greater openness in the decisions that are made, and in doing so enhance the quality of procedural justice. However, there are significant challenges to transforming current practices. Research shows that current investigatory practices often alienate and anger families, which undermines the potential for the kinds of engagement envisaged at the bottom of the pyramid. Mandatory reporting and risk assessment also pose difficulties for how to more successfully involve families and communities in problem resolution. It seems to us that moving forward requires an ongoing conversation about the principles underlying child protection systems. Contributors to the special issue warn of becoming side-tracked on clarity instead of engaging with complexity, and focusing on the protection of the child and ignoring contextual factors. We think it is time for a more fundamental debate that acknowledges the very real limits of coercive intervention, recognises the capacities that families and communities have, and identifies the most productive ways to help children.

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Braithwaite, Valerie, Harris, Nathan, Ivec, Mary, Reinhart, Monika & Beauchamp, Charlotte (2009) Bibliography with Abstracts for Child Protection Regulatory Project. Canberra: Australian National University.

Abstract

Articles were included if they were published between 2003 and 2008 and if they fell within the broad interests of the project as defined by the keywords: ‘child protection’, ‘foster care’, ‘public care’, ‘children in care’, ‘risk factors’, ‘capacity building’, ‘social capital’, ‘indigenous + child protection’, ‘indigenous + child abuse’, ‘indigenous + longitudinal studies’, ‘decision-making + child protection’, ‘risk + child protection’ and ‘children’s rights’. 

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Harris, Nathan & Wood, Jennifer (2008) Governing Beyond Command and Control: A Responsive and Nodal Approach to Child Protection. In Mathieu Deflem (ed), Surveillance and Governance: Crime Control and Beyond, Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing.

Abstract

This chapter argues for the need to re-imagine the governance of security in ways designed to build and enroll the capacities of different actors. The authors draw on regulatory theory and the ideas developed in the areas of ‘responsive regulation’ and ‘nodal governance’ to explore the opportunities for, and the challenges associated with, designing governance institutions and processes that serve to de-centre hierarchy, command and interventionism as essential rationalities and practices. Its empirical focus is on the case of child protection, where the authors argue for the importance of nurturing the capacities of families and communities to govern both beyond and in tandem with hierarchical modalities. It is hoped that the theoretical issues raised and the agenda articulated can be engaged with across a variety of empirical domains.

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Harris, Nathan (2008). Family Group Conferencing in Australia 15 Years On. Child Abuse Prevention Issues, 27, 1-19.

Abstract

This paper on family group conferencing in child protection is part of the National Child Protection Clearinghouse Issues series (no. 27, 2008). The paper examines the way conferencing has been implemented in Australiaand argues that so far this has been done "...in ways that fall short of the systematic empowerment of families that is envisaged in the New Zealand model". Despite the limited use of conferencing in Australia, important innovations can be found across states and territories.

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Harris, Nathan (2007) Mapping the Adoption of Family Group Conferencing in Australian States and Territories. Adelaide: Australian Centre for Child Protection.

Abstract

This report published through the Australian Centre for Child Protection examines the adoption of family group conferencing in Australian States and Territories (2007). The report focuses on the way in which conferencing, as a New Zealand innovation, has been implemented or trialled in Australian jurisdictions. It is argued that the theory of responsive regulation provides a useful way of understanding the way in which governments use innovations like conferencing to engage families in making changes.

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Related publications

Braithwaite, John (2004) Families and the Republic. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, XXX1(1), 199-2.

Abstract

Restorative and responsive justice can be a strategy of social work practice that builds democracy bottom-up by seeing families as building blocks of democracy and fonts of democratic sentiment. At the same time, because families are the sites of the worst kinds of tyranny and the worst kinds of neglect, a rule of law is needed that imposes public human rights obligations on families. The republican ideal is that this rule of law that constrains people in families should come from the people. Restorative and responsive justice has a strategy for the justice of the people to bubble up into the justice of the law and for the justice of the law to filter down into the justice of the people. The role of the social worker is to be a bridge across which both those democratic impulses are enabled to flow. The empowering side of the social work role fits the first side of the duality where the will of families bubbles up; the coercive side of the social work role fits the second where the justice of the law filters down.

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Braithwaite, John (2004) Emancipation and Hope. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 592, 79-99.

Abstract

This article concludes that the best way to trigger the reciprocal relationship between hope and emancipation is to innovate with institutions that jointly build hope and emancipation. Handouts to the poor without nurturing optimism to empower themselves to solve their own problems are not the solution. Neither is a psychologism that builds hope without concrete support and the flow of resources needed for structural change. Cognitive change in how people imagine a better world, micro-institutional change (illustrated here with the “Emancipation Conference”), and macro-structural change must be strategically integrated for emancipatory politics to be credible.

The Emancipation Conference is an opportunity for children who are leaving state care to embark on the next stage of life to enlist support from those who they care for and who care for them. The circle of support extends beyond family and friends to include members of the community who may provide access to jobs, housing, training and resources that are needed by a young person entering adulthood and striving for independence.

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Harris, Nathan (2003) Evaluating the practice of restorative justice: the case of family group conferencing. In Lode Walgrove (ed), Repositioning Restorative Justice. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

Abstract

Despite the fact that restorative justice has become a popular alternative to traditional justice routes, scant empirical research has examined the dynamics of restorative interventions to explain how and why they are effective. As such, this article offers a starting point for evaluations of restorative practices by identifying four main goals of the restorative practice of family group conferencing. Conferences as a restorative justice technique became popular in New Zealand and rapidly spread around the world. Conferencing involves convening a meeting of people who have been affected by an offense; usually the victim and their supporters, the offender and their supporters, and a facilitator. Although the specific process varies, generally the offender explains what occurred, the victim tells their side of the story, and the supporters of the victim and the offender discuss the consequences of the offense, after which a formal agreement is entered into that includes a plan to resolve outstanding issues.

The author proposes that there are four main procedural aims of the practice of conferencing: empowerment, restoration, reintegration, and emotional resolution. Conferencing aims to empower all those affected by an offense by giving them voice and allowing them to be part of the resolution of the offense. Restoration is the attempt to repair the harm created by an offense. Reintegration is based on reintegrative shaming theory which posits that a critical factor in explaining the effectiveness of criminal justice interventions is how disapproval of offending is expressed. Reintegrative shaming attempts to reduce recidivism by distinguishing between the offender and the offense and resolving the conflict through forgiveness. Finally, emotional resolution is the process of addressing the emotional issues that result from an offence.

After these four procedural aims are discussed, the author proposes a model for the evaluation of restorative practices. The procedural aims of conferencing were identified as a standard against which to measure conferencing practices. Thus, evaluations of restorative interventions should use the four procedural aims as criteria, with the addition of two more criteria: (1) respect for procedural and human rights and (2) achievement of a satisfactory outcome. Evaluations of restorative practices should help clarify the important components of restorative justice.

Braithwaite, John (2001) Youth Development Circles. Oxford Review of Education, 27(2), 239-252. 

Abstract

Restorative justice circles or conferences have shown considerable promise in the criminal justice system as a more decent and effective way of dealing with youthful law breaking than punishment.  The social movement of restorative justice has a distinctive analysis of the crisis of community and the possibility of community in late modernity. This paper raises the question of whether this approach might fruitfully be applied to the holistic development of the learning potential of the young and the whole range of problems young people encounter – drug abuse, unemployment, homelessness, suicide, among others – in the transition from work to school.

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