International approaches to child protection: what can Australia learn?

21 Aug 2014

The provision of child protection services varies considerably across the world. This paper offers a broad overview of some of the main approaches to child protection used internationally. Using examples from Canada, Sweden, Belgium and the Gaza Strip, it offers policy-makers the chance to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, as well as how these examples might be used to inspire improvements within the Australian context.

  • One way in which policy-makers can reflect critically on Australia’s child protection systems is to develop knowledge of the ways in which different jurisdictions around the world structure and conduct child protection services, and condsider how this knowledge may be relevant to the Australian context.
  • It is often argued that there are two broad orientations to child protection: the “child protection” orientation (evident in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom) and the “family service” orientation (of many European countries, including Belgium, Sweden and Denmark).
  • Attempts to respond to rising demand have seen countries that have traditionally possessed a child protection orientation (e.g., Australia) increasingly move towards a family service orientation.
  • A third orientation to child protection has been employed by “child-focused community-based groups”, which have emerged in emergency, transitional and developmental contexts, most notably in Africa and Asia.
  • As country-level service systems are embedded in complex cultural, social and historical contexts, it is not always possible to determine whether different approaches are “evidence-based”, “promising” or “untested”. However, it is possible to identify the strengths and limitations of each service model, as well as their potential applicability to the Australian context.
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