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Collaborative Relationships within Child Protection Work

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to analyze collaborative relationships with regard to child protection. In particular, the discussion will be dedicated to the cooperation of professionals, support workers, governmental and non-governmental agencies, children, families, and communities. Moreover, the paper analyzes some implications of this policy to information sharing and confidentiality.

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The first part of the paper deals with the conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of a coordinated approach to child care in Australia. This section also explores the reasons why this policy (establishing collaborative relations between child protection agencies) must be put into practice as soon as possible. Another issue, namely the problems which Indigenous society of Australia faces is discussed in this section; the need to work out a special approach to treating this problem is emphasized in the paper.

Subsequently, this will progress into the discussion of specific tasks that should be fulfilled in order to develop a more coordinated child protection system in the country. The second part of the paper will focus on the policies of the Australian government and the issues which collaborative relations in the sphere of child protection involve.

Child welfare and child protection practices should not be viewed separately. One must see all the complexity of this problem and understand that collaboration is regarded as the main component of child protection service delivery in Australia (Williams & Kerfoot, 2005, p. 360). There is a wide range of specialists and services involved into child protection practices, such as community therapy and self-help groups.

However, they all must work as a single organization having a common goal, namely, to protect the child from neglect and abuse. To achieve this goal, a holistic approach to the problem is required. Although officials acknowledge the importance of cooperation, the intervention strategies designed by them are not aimed at reaching the common goal; they are mostly used in isolation which hinders the solving of existing social problems affecting children’s welfare (Tomison, 2004, p. 21). It is only by a joint effort that the problem in question can be dealt with this is why child protection agencies should unite and work out a strategy or a set of strategies aimed at fighting with a definite problem.

Collaborative Relationships

These days there is hardly any collaboration between the agencies which deal with the protection of children and their mental health (Darlington, Feeney, & Rixon, 2004, p. 1176). The matter is that the lack of interagency communication and collaboration can be counterproductive to a responsive child protection system. Separation or isolation of the child protective agencies from each other can result in the failure to protect a child from the impending danger. In contrast, interagency collaboration allows quickly reacting to the existing danger and dealing with the problem timely and effectively.

Different personal and cultural backgrounds can become a major source of conflict between two organizations. In other words, there is a risk of discord due to the differences in ideas, values, attitudes, goals, and methods used in child protection practice.

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All these factors must be considered by the government before launching a program aimed at improving collaboration between professionals, support workers, government and non-government institutions, children, families, and communities. Cunningham-Smith (2001) suggests that children and their families can benefit much from the protection agencies that are able to achieve better continuums of care within which a child can receive assistance from community workers and non-governmental organisations.

The necessity of collaboration between child protection agencies became evident after a study conducted in Queensland, Australia, where child protection and adult mental health care are the responsibility of two governmental organizations, the Department of Families and Queensland Health (Darlington, et al, 2004, p 1179).

The interviewees of this study were asked questions concerning the cooperation of different groups and the efficiency of child protection institutions. It was discovered that the level of collaboration between Australian protection agencies was low, while the range of services the agencies were offering was quite large; in addition, the respondents listed more than 100 of other programs, agencies, and services involved in the child protection system (Darlington, et al, p 1181-1182).

Despite high levels of involvement, the efficiency of child protection services in Australia is not high, which means that the collaboration between them is almost absent. If governmental institutions and public organizations continue working separately, children and their families may suffer from the lack of their involvement and help. Disputes among agencies may result not only in the inefficient use of resources, but in jeopardizing the children’s physical and mental health or even their lives. This is an urgent matter for those, who work in the sphere of child protection and related sectors.

The Australian society faces another stressing problem, namely the lack of social help offered to indigenous people, their families, and children. Currently, social justice in Australia is in its infancy because of the country’s exposure to colonialism and invasion in the past (Green & Baldry, 2008, p. 389). The solution to this problem is to educate social workers so that they could use a more appropriate approach to working with Indigenous communities.

This view is supported by the ecological framework developed by Uri Bronfenbrenner’s theory of human development which presents four levels by means of which people’s cultural differences may be observed (Thomas 1999, p 204). According to this renowned psychologist, each human being is surrounded by various environmental systems which affect his or her personality. At the first level, microsystem, such components as micro system, or family, friends and school can be singled out. The second level is the so-called mesosystem. This can be interpreted as the connections between parents and school, neighbourhood and home. The third component of Bronfenbrenners framework is exosystem. This part comprises external factors that can impact the development of the child.

Finally, macrosystem encompasses political and cultural situation in the country by which a child may be affected (Thomas 1999, pp. 204-205). The inner world of any child is shaped at each of these levels. Therefore, social workers must manipulate not only internal, but also external factors in order to protect the child from abuse and neglect. This can be done only if governmental institutions work in close contact.

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Implementation

There exist different models of collaboration. One of the most widely used models is Fundamental Prevention; within this model, social workers are not just dealing with abuse or neglect, but they are working with children and families who are under significant stress due to the existing indicators of risk (Cunningham-Smith, 2001, p. 4). In this model, child protection services can take preventive measures by focusing on the strengths of the family, which would help to minimize certain risk factors. Collaborative relationships can be used when dealing with advanced cases of child neglect and abuse. Professionals need to manage resources in a more efficient and economic way to ensure that communities and institutions obtain health and social services of high quality (Hugman, 1995, p. 35).

In frames of the Fundamental Prevention, it is necessary for social workers to establish good relations with the family members who need their help. The major problem is that many parents are biased against social workers and any other governmental agents, because these officials can take their children away from them. Social workers have to establish rapport with parents in order to avoid conflicts with them.

In the first place, social workers should not display their intellectual superiority over the parents whose child they visit (Franklin, Harris, & Allen-Meares, 2006, p. 931). Moreover, they should never resort to threats or warnings; this only sets a barrier between them and parents. Social workers have to make it clear to the parents that their primary purpose is to help the family, rather than take away the child from them.

They should not be categorical or imperative in any way; their task consists in giving suggestions instead of the orders. Cultural origin of the family is extremely important, because cultural practices, especially discipline, may often be misinterpreted by people of other culture (Fontes, 2005, p. 108). If these “rules” are observed, a social worker will be able to help the family without meeting resistance on the part of parents.

According to the initiative proposed by the Department of Child Safety in 2008, input from children should be included into the development of basic strategies (“Report to the Crime and Misconduct Commission,” 2006, p. 76). This is a logical step because the ultimate beneficiaries of intervention strategies and policies are the victims of child abuse and neglect; consequently, it is important to ensure that their views are taken into account by those who offer assistance.

In frames of this innovation, removing a child from the home where he/she is abused or exposed to violence is not enough (Reece, 2005, p. 96); the protection of children should start with establishing partnership with families. It is of crucial importance for the social workers to value special capabilities, distinct cultural histories, and needs of indigenous children and their families. One practical way to do this is to adopt home visiting programs which help to prevent child abuses (Tomison & Wise, 1999, p.8). In this way, social workers can establish partnerships with indigenous families and detect child abuse problems at early stages.

Another practical way is to initiate parent education which has proved to be effective in preventing the child’s delinquent and antisocial behavior (Farrington & Welsh, 2008, p.125). This can come in the form of parenting and stress management. Similar methods can be employed to meet the needs of other Australian families especially those, who have already had a traumatic experience with child care protection services. One way to encourage them to form partnerships with government agencies is through empowerment. In this way, family members can be united into a single group to deal with their problems.

Provided that a multiagency team deals with a family, they have to clear discrepancies existing between them, for example, competitiveness or ideological principles. The topmost priority of any child protection agency is the wellbeing of the child, and they should combine their knowledge and resources to ensure that he or she is not abused. They need to allocate the tasks they have to fulfil.

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For instance, some participants should be engaged with gathering and analyzing data, whereas others should deal directly with the family. The allocation of the tasks must be based on such criteria as social worker’s specialization, the authority given to him/her, and the capacity of the agency he/she works in. What’s more, central leadership must be established in order to coordinate actions of the participants.

Preferably, the leader should be either a child psychologist or an educator, because the representatives of these professions can adequately evaluate the emotional or mental state of a child. Diversity of their knowledge and skills can only contribute to the overall success. This can be characterized as a special form of data collection involving high labour (Scott, 1997, p.75), which means that each participant specializes in a certain field and is a constituent part of the team.

Therefore, there is a need to sustain and expand government initiatives in the area of child protection. A good example would be the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN). This is an inter-departmental model of child protection; it enables officials not only to stop violence but also to eliminate the possibility of its reoccurrence. SCAN consists of the following components:

  1. Department of Child Safety;
  2. Queensland Police Service;
  3. Queensland Health; and
  4. Education Queensland.

This means that SCAN teams have a holistic approach to management of cases and they focus not only on the investigation process (Tomison, 2004, p.53). Another example is the Joint Investigation Response Teams (JIRT) which is an attempt to combine the forces of child protection and police powers for investigation purposes (Tomison, 2004, p.53).

There is another difficulty that may arouse during implementation of this policy, namely, the flow of information from one organization to another. There are many factors, and one of them is confidentiality. If there is a delay when it comes to sharing information, a chain-reaction of events can occur (Boss, 2001, p.87). In some cases, the delays in sending and receiving messages or in transferring files can be fatal. It should be emphasized that the exchange must be deliberate and the government, as well as respective leaders of each agency or organisation, must make it their goal to increase collaboration with others.

With regards to this issue, Reder & Dunkan 2003 turn attention to the psychology of communication which needs to be taken into account because it affects the meaning of the transferred messages (82). This means that it is not enough for one agency to share files; exchange has to be intentional but not compulsory. Thus, the true essence of collaboration consists in helping each other to increase efficiency and reach success which would have been impossible if each group worked in isolation.

Apart from understanding the value of effective communication, the Australian government must come up with a plan that will effectively address confidentiality issues. First and foremost, social workers have to ensure that the parents are guaranteed absolute confidentiality, which means letting them know that information regarding their case will not be recorded or orally transmitted to somebody else (Swain, 2002, p.29).

There are some areas where the law is helpful in guiding government agencies when it comes to disputes about confidentiality; for instance, social workers may transfer their cases to the court in case their legal powers are not enough to protect the abused child (Lane & Walsh, 2002, p. 342). In these instances, breaking of the rule of absolute confidentiality by social workers is totally justified.

Conclusion

Collaborative approach sets new standards for governmental agencies and social workers. In order to implement this policy, it is necessary to establish common goals and principles which can be shared by all the participants of this process. Additionally, cooperation must be voluntary rather than compulsory; this will help to increase the effectiveness of each child protection agency. As for the question of confidentiality, the officials must always clearly assess the situation. There is no doubt that any person has a right for privacy, but there is no place for confidentiality when the life or health of a child is in danger.

Furthermore, social workers must establish a rapport with families and make sure that the child’s parent trust and rely on them. Finally, while working in a multiagency team, officials have to allocate the tasks according to the knowledge and skills of each participant and according to the capacity of the organization in which they work. They must eliminate any competitiveness among them, because they pursue a common goal.

Reference List

Boss, P. (2001). Family Stress Management: A Contextual Approach. London: SAGE.

Cunningham-Smith, V. (2001) Putting the rhetoric of cross-sectorial collaboration and partnership into practice between welfare and health services. Melbourne: 8th Australasian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Darlington, Y., Feeney, J., & Rixon, K. (2004) Complexity, conflict and uncertainty: Issues in collaboration between child protection and mental health services, Children and Youth Services Review, 26, 1175-1192.

Queensland Government. Progress in reforming the Queensland child protection system: Report to the Crime & Misconduct Commission, 2006.

Farrington, D.P. & Welsh, B.C. (2008). Saving Children from a Life of Crime: Early Risk Factors and Effective Interventions. US: Oxford University Press.

Fontes. L. (2008). Child Abuse and Culture: Working with Diverse Families. New York: Guilford Press.

Franklin, C., Harris, M.B., & Allen-Meares, P. (2006). The School Services Sourcebook: A Guide for School-Based Professionals. US: Oxford University Press.

Green, S. & Baldry, E. (2008). Building Indigenous Australian Social Work. Melbourne: Australian Social Work.

Hugman, R. (1995). Contested territory and community services: Interprofessional boundaries in health and social care. Avon, England: Edward Arnold.

Lane, M. & Walsh, T. (2002). Court proceedings and court craft. In K. Wilson & A. James (eds) The Child Protection Handbook, 2nd ed., Edinburgh: Bailliere Tindall.

Reder, P. & Duncan, S. (2003). Understanding communication in child protection networks. Child Abuse Review, 12(82), 100.

Reece, R.M. (2005). Treatment of Child Abuse: Common Ground for Mental Health, Medical, and Legal Practitioners. Baltimore, Md: JHU Press.

Ryburn, M. (1997). Dilemmas in Working in Partnership with the Parents and Relatives of Children Involved in Child Protection Planning. Early Child Development and Care, 129, 79-93.

Scott, D. (1997). Inter-agency conflict: An ethnographic study. Child and Family Social Work, 2, 73-80.

Swain, P. (2002). Confidentiality, record-keeping and social work practice. In Swain, P. In the Shadow of the Law: The Legal Context of Social Work practice, 2nd ed. Sydney: The Federation Press.

Thomas, R.M. (1999). Human development theories: windows on culture. London: SAGE.

Tomison, A. (2004). Current issues in child protection policy and practice: Informing the NT Department of Health and Community Services Child protection review. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Tomison, A. & Wise, S. (1999). Community-based Approaches in Preventing Child Maltreatment. Melbourne: The Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Williams, R. & Kerfoot, M. (2005). Child and adolescent mental health services: strategy, planning, delivery, and evaluation. London: Oxford University Press.

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