Analysis: Report reveals pattern of repeated failures

Implementation – now – is the key

 “The cases highlighted in yesterday’s report demonstrate that a system designed to protect the most vulnerable children is still not responding in many cases to the needs of those at serious risk of abuse or neglect until it is too late.”

“The cases highlighted in yesterday’s report demonstrate that a system designed to protect the most vulnerable children is still not responding in many cases to the needs of those at serious risk of abuse or neglect until it is too late.”

Fri, Nov 15, 2013, 01:01

We’ve been here before.

The national review panel’s findings in relation to the deaths of children in care shine yet another harsh light on the ability of our social services to respond to the complex needs of vulnerable children.

Poor co-operation between State agencies. A system responding too late to welfare concerns. A frontline service struggling to deal with the volume of referrals.

If they sound familiar, that’s because they are.

There have been 29 inquiries into the State’s handling of child abuse cases over the past two decades, resulting in some 550 separate recommendations.

Most point to poor co-operation and communication between State agencies; the lack of a standardised approach to dealing with abuse concerns; a lack of emphasis on preventive measures; and a failure to implement child protection guidelines consistently.

These findings are not a surprise to most involved in child protection. They know all too well about the fault lines in the system and the pressure to deal with emergency cases rather than intervening earlier in children’s lives.

Social work staff – as is often the case in these reports – come across as a motivated and professional group of people attempting to manage a risky balancing act: trying to ensure children are safe, but leaving admission into care as measure of last resort.

There are plenty of examples of the national review panel report of professionals going the extra mile, of schools doing their utmost to keep children engaged with education, and social workers repeatedly providing options to teens too distrustful of the system to engage with it.

But the cases highlighted in yesterday’s report demonstrate that a system designed to protect the most vulnerable children is still not responding in many cases to the needs of those at serious risk of abuse or neglect until it is too late.

They also demonstrate the scale of the challenge facing policymakers and managers responsible for the necessary reforms.

The new Child and Family Agency is designed to ensure there is better communication between agencies, more standardised approaches to care and increase accountability.

It’s early days. But already there are some troubling signs on the horizon. Key services such as mental health and public health nurses will remain separate from the new agency.

Many professionals are still working against a backdrop of scarce resources, staff shortages and dangerously heavy caseloads.

There is no shortage
of reports and recommendations. Implementation, now, is key.