An Australian professor writing in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday has again highlighted problems that are facing child protection there but the themes are familiar ones throughout the western world:
* under staffing
* need for more education and training
* weak management
* failure to recognize the workers
* high caseloads
These themes are seen in Canada, the UK, USA, New Zealand and elsewhere. Yet, government seems helpless to solve the problems. This may be a function of the child protection model but we may also have to ask some very challenging questions. Are we simply trying to protect too broad a range of problems and families with resources that we are not prepared to fund? In other words, are we simply saying that we have broadened the definition of who should be protected far beyond what we are willing to pay to address? Therefore, has the burden of the child protection system been expanded so far that success is virtually impossible in a broad way?
The ongoing saga of inquiries into the child protection systems suggests so. A redefinition of who needs protection is required but there is nary a politician who may be up to the task. Who, after all, wants to say that we should stop protection for families because we are going to narrow the definition of who is deemed bad enough for services?
Yet, by expanding the definitions of who should get intervention beyond what we can afford to support, we are saying that we will generally do a poor job across large portions of the caseloads. There are only so many cases that any worker can do well.
The social work profession should be leading this debate. With the many political mine fields that come with it, however, is it any wonder that there are few voices who suggest anything other than fewer cases per worker, hiring more workers (an increasingly scarce resource) and increasing funding (with government finances also an increasingly scarce resource).
These are just a few of the very difficult questions that need asking. It will be interesting to see what the Munro commission in the UK ultimately comes up with. Prof. Munro is in the challenging position of trying to suggest a direction for a child protection system that has been under siege in that country for years.
There is a need to challenge the very basic underpinnings of our present child protection systems. It will take a very brave leader indeed to do that.
The Australian article can be found at http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/staff-crisis-at-the-heart-of-child-protection-problems-20101115-17u48.html