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Child protection education in Australia: an AASW statement

Published: 20 February 2015

Social workers provide services to vulnerable children and their families. As the professional body representing social workers in Australia, The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) sets and monitors educational standards for social workers in this country. The AASW utterly rejects Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs’ claim that there is “little if anything about children in social work courses” as reported in her evidence to the Coronial Inquiry into the death of Chloe Valentine (ABC 19/2/15).

The National Social Work Educational Standards require that all social workers receive core education in working with children and their families. Professor Karen Healy, National President of the AASW states that, “social workers learn about child development, parent and child attachment, indicators of child abuse and neglect and communication with children and their families”. The social work curriculum requires that students are also informed about inquiries into child welfare including learning about The Stolen Generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and the harm caused by forced adoptions and institutional abuse of children. The curriculum provides the foundation for child protection practice.

The fact is that child protection work is very difficult. Collaboration, rather than finger pointing, between social work education providers and employers is the best way to ensure that child welfare professionals are prepared for this demanding field of work. Learning must not stop at graduation. Employers have a vital role to play in ensuring that social work graduates are supported to continue building the knowledge and skill needed. Professor Healy comments: “in professions dealing with safety critical situations such as medicine and aviation, it is recognised that new graduates require support and continuing learning opportunities to put their knowledge into practice. We encourage Families SA to recognise the need to provide high level support and professional development opportunities for frontline workers. The AASW and SA higher education providers are willing to partner with Families SA in promoting best child protection practice.”

The AASW hopes that the Coroner will recognise the need for improved support for frontline child protection workers and will consider innovative models of professional support operating in other states. The Child Protection Operating Model initiated by the Victorian Government promotes best practice through innovative workplace learning and support opportunities for frontline workers. Several states have also introduced specialist child protection practice units to provide frontline workers with access to up-to-date knowledge and skills.

The AASW recognises that the death of Chloe Valentine is a tragedy. The AASW hopes that this tragedy will lead to a thorough examination of the role of all stakeholders including educational institutions and Families SA in preparing and supporting the frontline child protection workforce to achieve the safety and well-being of all children.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers