Current systems for protecting children in Australia are failing in their primary objective: to protect children. Substantiation rates have increased significantly across Australia in the past decade although the rates in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia have remained relatively stable (AIHW 2008).
Indigenous children are more than five times more likely to be the subject of a substantiation (AIHW 2008). In addition, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that the number of children in out-of-home care in Australia has increased by 102 per cent in the last 10 years. For Indigenous children, the national average in out-of-home care was substantially higher than the non-Indigenous population (AIHW 2008).
The statutory child protection system is overburdened with notifications of alleged child abuse and neglect almost tripling nationally between 1999 – 2000 and 2006 – 07 (AIHW 2008). This represents huge demand on the resources within child protection agencies to assess and investigate these reports, and more broadly on government resources. Further, the growth in child protection services is unsustainable from a system capacity perspective regardless of available resources — for example, the numbers of children in care is escalating whilst the number of foster carers is declining due to agein g (Wood 2008).
In addition, persistent workforce shortages for child protection workers evident now will only be exacerbated by increased notifications. There is widespread consensus that the best way to protect children is to prevent child abuse and neglect from happening in the first place. There is also widespread consensus that this requires a robust primary and secondary system for protecting children that provides families with the assistance they need before they come into contact with the statutory child protection system.
The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) commissioned the Allen Consulting Group to develop a report based on national and international experience of best practice in organisational change strategies and processes for protecting children, while reducing demand on tertiary child protection services. ARACY anticipates that by advancing preventive strategies, the report will ultimately assist in reducing the incidence of child abuse and neglect in A ustralia (ARACY 2008).