TACSI is reimagining child protection possibilities to foster thriving children and families
Over the past decade, Australia has seen 39 inquiries, reviews and Royal Commissions  dedicated to finding better ways to protect children against abuse and neglect. Billions of dollars have been spent, yet incidents of abuse and neglect in Australia have more than doubled.
Today, 1 in 4 children are notified to child protection services before the age of 15, and currently, 43,000 children have been removed and do not live with their birth parents (1 in every 125 kids). Aboriginal children are increasingly overrepresented in the child protection system, where currently 1 in 19 of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are in out-of-home-care. These are clear indicators that the system is not working as well as it should.
Sure, there are lots of things that could be done better in child protection; we hear about them in the media daily. There is also a lot of exceptional practice and home-grown innovation right here in Australia. We set out to understand how we could shift the child protection system to help families rebound out of risk or crisis.
We encountered staff who have shifted restoration rates from 75% failures to 85% success. We’ve found NGOs who have helped families transform from flat to flourishing. We’ve found families who have developed their own alternative models of foster care to help one another through the journey of restoration. We know great people and solutions are out there. Through Rethinking Restoration, we’re learning about positive deviance in child protection and looking to scale it. Where there are gaps, we’re working with service providers, policy makers, and families to develop new solutions to old problems.
Our aspiration is bold: we believe that all children deserve to live a great life and, whenever possible, a life with their family. We’re exploring how we can collectively and inclusively build a system that works for children and families, a system that also works for front line staff and policy-makers.
We recognise that we can’t continue to look at these needed systems change and paradigm shifts as something too big, too complex to solve; we can’t continue to implement singular service solutions that treat symptoms rather than root causes; we can’t continue to try to transform child protection one organisation at a time. We’re looking to work toward moving the needle on intractable social issues through uniting multiple players at numerous levels in a collective quest to build a different and better child protection system in Australia.
Recognising the current challenges and possibilities within child protection, The Sidney Myer Fund approached TACSI in mid 2014 to explore strategies for moving away from funding singular service models and investing in a process that could unlock systemic insight and scalable solutions. We’ve partnered with Family and Community Services (FACS NSW), Clear Horizon as monitoring and evaluation experts, and the Australian Centre for Child Protection as a strong resource of child protection research data and evidence.
Rethinking Restoration is exploring opportunities to start to reverse cycles of intergenerational trauma; to ensure families get the right supports at the right time, and to shift the narrative and perspective on how we approach child protection in Australia.
Over the course of three years, the Rethinking Restoration project aims to develop more effective ways to approach family preservation and restoration.
In 2016, we developed insight into the experience of parents, children and workers. After spending time with people who deeply know the child protection system in Australia and overseas, we identified promising opportunities to transform and/or introduce new services approaches within child protection. Throughout 2017, we’ve been co-designing four new models for supporting children and families to thrive alongside families, government, and service providers.
We aim to contribute to building an evidence base to inform how child protection work could be done differently, catalysing the adoption of home-grown, rigorously tested innovations across NSW and Australia.
Our three prototypes demonstrate new ways of working in the child protection system. As we iterate and implement these prototypes, we are guided by six key commitments:
Read more about our vision for a Family-Friendly Australia here.
All too often families receive patchwork service supports: a bit of parenting coursework, a few hours of first aid, intermittent house visits. Families need consistency and intentionally-paced experiences that build on learnings and treat underlying causes first.
We traveled across NSW seeking out the very best restoration services. We found three services that each supported a different part of a family’s restoration change journey – but they hadn’t yet intentionally worked together. Despite suggestions that competitive funding environments would prevent NGOs from collaborating, we sought to link up Australia’s best in restoration.
The Joinedup model supports families before, during, and after restoration. Rather than every service needing to be everything to everyone, we’ve connected three evidence-based services that each provide the right supports at the right time. This Winter, we’re trialling a joined up service delivery model with three NSW service providers to leverage what’s already working in the service sector to provide more for families throughout their change journey.
Together, we seek to challenge the status quo that says collaboration is too challenging to do wellbecause we believe together we can help more families thrive, even when they’ve encountered the toughest of times.
We know that positive and frequent contact with birth parents makes successful restorations more likely. (Bromfield and Osborn, 2007:16) We also know that foster carers can be both facilitators or barriers to restoration. Overseas and in Australia, we met positive deviants who used foster care as a way to support birth parents and children.
To make that opportunity more accessible to Australian families, we’ve co-designed Co-parenthood with foster parents, children and birth parents.
Co-parenthood is a shared parenting alternative to foster care. When children can’t live at home, separation can be traumatic and emotional for parents and children, but Co-parenthood takes a new approach to birth parent/foster parent relationships and contact – one that promotes healthy ongoing engagement with both families in the best interest of children.
Co-parenthood helps birth parents get through tough times and work through restoration. Co-parenthood gives kids the chance to get the support and love they need while safely staying in touch with birth parents until birth parents are ready. Co-parenthood gives families in the community an opportunity lend a hand to a family who’s looking for help. Read more here!
To run and deliver Co-parenthood in NSW, we are partnering with MacKillop Family Services. Together we are prototyping and trialling two versions of the Co-parenthood model: one for restoration and one for preservation with young Aboriginal parents.
Celebrating and spreading home-grown innovation
All too often bureaucracies struggle to provide permission and conditions for staff to innovate. Because of that, sometimes it seems that innovation isn’t happening. But that’s not the case, innovation exists in institutions, it’s just hiding. We’re exploring how we might we help government agencies identify, optimise and spread good things that are happening.
In this prototype, a TACSI team member is embedding in a casework team which demonstrates exceptional practice to understand what management styles and characteristics enable casework teams to do their best restoration and preservation work. We’ll then be testing how we can transfer this knowledge and practice to casework teams who are struggling. Together we are co-designing and codifying what are the techniques and practices that foster innovation in a bureaucracy.
In NSW, service providers will be offering preservation and restoration support as part of the new FACS re-commissioning. Service providers are now taking on new and different child protection responsibilities to make sure the safest options are explored for every family.
We know that the restoration evidence base is still being developed in Australia; readily-available restoration research is limited. There are few free and open source, evidence-based models for NGOs to take up. This means many service providers are being expected to design and develop new services. We recognise that service provision and service design are very different capabilities.
We’re helping NGOS transition toward new types of service delivery through our Restoration Readiness prototype. This collaboration supports NGO’s in four stages. First, we’re working with NGOs to help them build their foundational knowledge around the existing restoration evidence base. Second, we’re helping NGOs identify their own key strengths and assets. Third, we’re helping them co-design their own Restoration models or paths forward. Fourth, we’re connecting NGOS to learn and share with each other.
There will always be more reform as government and the public sector build on what works for families. This model aims to support NGOs to build their learning and co-design capabilities to be ready for not only restoration but to be ready to adapt and respond to future reforms as well. If this is interesting to you and your organisation, contact us for more information.