This drives a value system that makes our work preventative by one intent. With a clear understanding that some intervention will require a removal of the child from his or her parents' care, the value of family togetherness will direct the strategy of community involvement on the part of the agency.
The practice framework is guided by specialized knowledge on the patterns and trends dominating the landscape of abuse cases. The breakdown of major abuse categories reported by Bromfield & Horsfall finds that 39% of abuse cases are of the emotional abuse category, 29% in the category of neglect, 22% in the category of physical abuse and 10% in the category of sexual abuse. (p. 3)
Moreover, a major thrust of the report by Bromfield & Horsfall is that reports of all types of cases are on the rise, but also attributes this to certain realities including the heightened visibility of protective services and agencies. Such is to say that more reports are not inherently indicative of higher rates of abuse and neglect of children but indicates that more reports are being filed. This may be an indicator of improvement in the efforts of said services. Additionally, the report by Bromfield & Horsfall implicates certain categorical and legislative conditions as pertinent to this higher rate. They note that "the maltreatment types most commonly substantiated across Australia were emotional abuse and child neglect (see Figure 2). Emotionally abusive behaviours include verbally abusing, terrorising, scape goating, isolating, rejecting, and ignoring. Children who witness domestic violence are also typically categorised as having experienced emotional abuse. The high proportion of substantiations of emotional abuse is a relatively new phenomenon (AIHW, 2010). The inclusion of children who have witnessed domestic violence is likely to be one of the key reasons for the high rates of substantiated emotional abuse" (Bromfield & Horsfall, p. 3)
Impacts of the social and political context:
The political and social dimensions of social work are particularly challenging in the present economic climate. Following a decade of recession and resource misappropriate by the former Howard Administration, many child welfare related services and facilities are working through dire straits. So would report the headline-making Ford Report, which roundly criticized the functionality of Australia's child protective services agencies and the roles which they have claimed to serve. Ford (2007) would report that "the very background, which led to the commissioning of this Review, is evidence that this system is not working in Western Australia, particularly for vulnerable children. It hasn't worked for some years. The community has lost confidence in the government's ability to identify and support vulnerable children and their families. Additional resources are needed but, on their own, additional resources will not solve the problem." (Ford, 45)
This is a conditional context which I anticipate in my own practice, working both to possess the rarified resources to meet our basic objectives and to regain this confidence in this the community. While many of the programs enacted by the previous administrations are premised on the notion of supply-side economics, wherein assistance to corporate standard-bearers would incite a trickle-down effect of pervasive affluence, such was not yielded by major indicators, all of which point to the escalating problem of poverty in all living sectors of the country. A retrospective of Australia's contention with its ongoing poverty problems illustrates that the top-down methodology advocated by the previous administration and many of its fiscally conservative forebears should perhaps be realigned with a greater consideration of the root causes of poverty. Ford would report that "Australia has benefited significantly from economic growth fuelled by the resources boom. This has created jobs and prosperity but has also brought its own pressures. There has been significant investment in physical infrastructure but rapid population growth has put strain on the social infrastructure. The benefits of the recent economic growth have not been distributed evenly and some communities remain disadvantaged." (Ford, p. 46)
The more effective and ideologically sound models of contending with poverty suggest that the impoverished are victims of a socially enforced cycle wherein lower classes are systematically subjected to a variety of restraints in breaking free from a spiral of poverty, ignorance, sickness and crime. A proper investment by the state in the needs of our impoverished youth has been demonstrated to produce positive results as such youths enter into society and the professional world.
In spite of a clear precedent and understanding to this end, reigning political parties have continually sacrificed the funding needed to sustain the effective function of such child welfare agencies as orphanages, juvenile correctional facilities, halfway houses and social service intervention groups in favor of politically motivated tax cuts. This would prove an ironic and circularly flawed logic, coming down on many child welfare agencies with a double impact of neglect and the transfer of wealth away from social programming.
This is a clear demonstration of what has gone fundamentally wrong from a political standpoint in the last few years and what has landed us in a place of serious crisis today. Due to lacking funds, personnel are often underqualified and facilities understaffed, producing a frightening scenario which leads to widespread reports of abuse and internal neglect by the very agencies intended to prevent such conditions. Thus, where funding lacks, agencies are not simply incapable of intervening where needed as is today the case, but indeed, many agencies become a manifestation of the negative circumstances enveloping subjected youths. This means that for far too many social work contexts, there are overwhelming financial and environmental challenges that ultimately are experienced by the youths themselves. This denotes one of the inherent battles that I anticipate our practice will face as it attempts to provide the best possible intervention and to do so only through the most qualified and compassionate of personnel. With resources always limited by shifts in public funding and political prioritization, it falls upon the child protective facility such as ours to work steadfastly to offset these realities through sound organizational management.
Organisational and legislative knowledge:
To this end, we will consider it our role to function as part of the network of organizations connecting the community to public services. The government's daunting task of recasting child protective services will be significantly determined by the proficiency of its appendages within real communities. This is why Ford calls for an organizational recalibration. Here, the report insists that "a sharper focus, renewed effort and clear accountability across all three levels of support -primary, secondary and tertiary - is needed. The Review believes that this can be best achieved through the creation of a Department of Child Safety and Wellbeing to meet the needs of vulnerable children, their families and communities and the establishment of a Department of Communities focusing on community engagement, policy, planning and co-ordination of community-based services." (Ford, 45)
These conditions help to forge the template by which our practice will be established. Working in close coordination with broader government agencies in order to establish a connection to both resources and streamlined ways of approaching abuse cases, and simultaneously working closely with the community in order to achieve trust, involvement and visibility, the practice in question would function as both a preventative and intervening service.
Driven by the primary objectives of keeping families intact, protecting children from harmful environments and helping to identify and assist those families that are at risk, the practice should be considered a community service agency formulated upon core social work principles and regulatory responsibilities.
BBC News. (20009). Australia 'Sorry' for Child Abuse. Bbc.co.uk.
Bromfield, L. & Horsfall, B. (2010). Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics. National Child Protection Clearinghouse.
Department for Child Protection (DCP). (2010). Homepage. Government of Western Australia. Online at http://www.community.wa.gov.au/DCP/
Early Childhood Australia (ECA). (2006). Statistics Show Child Abuse in Australia is Getting Worse. Early Childhoodaustralia.org.
Ford, P. (2007). Review of the Department for Community Development. Department of Community Development.