Partnering for real time research impact in child protection services

Child abuse and neglect are significant problems facing our community. State-based child protection services, and principally the practitioners within them, have primary responsibility for responding to the problems of abuse and neglect. Decision-making within this context is under a high degree of pressure.

In an attempt to address these and other challenges, many of Australia’s state and territory based statutory child protection organisations have adopted child protection practice frameworks across their organisations.

In a flagship project, the Australian Centre for Child Protection with the Western Australia Department for Child Protection and Family Support developed a program of research to examine how one of these frameworks, Signs of Safety®, has been implemented and its impacts on children, families and the child protection system.

Signs of Safety®was developed in Australia and is now in use in over 200 jurisdictions and 13 countries.

The program of research included:

  • Co-developing the Signs of Safety®theory to determine core elements of practice and their relationship with short, medium and long-term outcomes (Theory of Change Study);
  • Understanding the strategies and ways the framework was implemented across the Department using an implementation science model (Implementation Case Study);
  • Comparing outcomes for children (such as re-notifications and re-entry into care) pre and post Signs of Safety® (Administrative Data Study);
  • Tracking engagement of parents newly involved with the Department, and seeking to understand how engagement influences other factors such as parental identity, social support, perception of child safety and satisfaction with the Department (Parent Study);
  • Examining the relationship between use and confidence in Signs of Safety®and workforce wellbeing (Practitioner Study) and
  • Piloting a new methodology for increasing children’s participation in research and capturing their voices and experiences within the child protection service (Children’s Study)

Impact

Forging strong research and practice alliances, the research program exemplifies strong collaborative partnerships with industry partners where there is a two-way exchange of learning and knowledge through the co-creation of the research program.

In building the evidence base of effective child protection frameworks, the research program is enhancing the research to practice translation to achieve the desired practice outcomes for children and families, and improve worker wellbeing.

Practice is changing: Research findings are communicated directly to the Department as they become available, facilitating the implementation of change and improve practice. For example, the Centre highlighted the importance of including children’s voices and experiences in the investigation stage of the child protection process.

With the support of: The Western Australia Department of Child Protection and Family Support