This report is based on a survey of 427 people from all Australian states and territories who logged on to an ANU web survey and answered 217 questions about the way in which child protection systems across Australia are operating. Those invited to participate had worked alongside child protection authorities and were contacted through numerous email networks that the researchers were able to access either directly or indirectly through colleagues. Snowballing was encouraged, with participants invited to widen the web of people included in the survey.
The focus of the survey was on government child protection agencies – how well is government doing in overseeing the child protection system and how well does government work with third parties (including other government agencies such as police) to ensure that children are being cared for. The results reflect systematic criticism with the way in which child protection agencies are connecting to others who occupy professional roles, to families and to carers. Yet there is no evidence that those responding to the survey did not share the same belief that child protection agencies had very important work to do. They simply believed that child protection agencies needed a different way of doing things and needed to work more with other agencies and groups who could offer assistance.
Those doing the judging in this survey are third parties – doctors, lawyers, teachers, police, and welfare and health workers with 72% of respondents covered by mandatory reporting legislation. The average number of years respondents worked alongside child protection agencies was 11 years. Their average age was 44 years, 79% were woman and across all respondents 70% had a university degree. The sample comprised 30 respondents who identified as Aboriginal. No claims can be made about the representativeness of this sample because of how it was recruited. The consistency of responses, however, both quantitative and qualitative suggest that the views of this sample of third parties should be taken seriously and used to foster a range of local debates on how child protection authorities may work with communities better. Confidence in the findings can be taken from the similarity of the results with the conclusions of many of the recent reports on the provision of care for children who are abused or neglected in this country (Bamblett, Bath and Roseby 2010; Mullighan 2008; Wood 2008; Ford 2007; Wild and Anderson 2007; Crime and Misconduct Commission 2004; Vardon 2004). What this report adds is an understanding of how people in the field are thinking about child protection – where are the points of controversy and how might they be addressed so that the system can continue to evolve in more positive directions.