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AASW SA responds to interim findings of child protection systems royal commission

Published: 5 August 2016

The advance recommendations of the Royal Commission into Child Protection Systems will ensure the critically needed reforms to this sector are not further delayed, the President of the South Australian Branch of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), Dr Mary Hood, said today.

Dr Hood commended the strong stance taken by the Commission that supports an overhaul of the child protection system in South Australia to restore public confidence.

“The AASW supports the Commission’s view that child protection is a complex and difficult field requiring specialist knowledge and that all executive level staff must have demonstrated expertise in child protection,” said Dr Hood.

She says frontline staff must be adequately equipped for the high complexity and risk of this work and have the guidance and direction of experienced and expert professionals at the highest level, including the Chief Executive Officer.

“This will ensure more robust decision-making processes and greater accountability,” Dr Hood said. “When, as the Commission argues, ‘professional skills and knowledge become the central commodity of the organisation’, concerted attention can be paid to policy and practice frameworks and a systematic approach to improve clinical governance.”

“Both these areas in South Australia’s child protection system are considerably weak at the moment.”

Dr Hood added that the AASW supports Justice Nyland’s interim recommendations for flatter structures and decision-making delegations at lower levels because these support more client-centred processes and enhance the skills of frontline practitioners.

”We expect, however, that alongside this enhanced authority at the local level there would be commensurate processes for professional accountability,” Dr Hood said.

The AASW is committed to achieving the formal registration of social workers to significantly strengthen professional accountability. While this goal is being pursued, Dr Hood says, Families SA needs to implement its own higher professional standards and additional accountability mechanisms.

“Just stipulating that all social workers must be members of the AASW (rather than merely eligible for membership) would shift the standard of professional accountability and benefit clients and workers,” she said, adding that the Commission’s stance on a required standard of professional excellence is in keeping with the aspirations of the social work profession.”

“The most vulnerable in our community deserve no less.”

On behalf of these most vulnerable, Dr Hood expressed concern about the state government’s recent announcement on the further consolidation of Hub offices because this will have a detrimental effect on highly disadvantaged clients and be resource-inefficient.

“This consolidation will make it harder to engage effectively with vulnerable children and their families and goes against the Commission’s interim recommendations about the significance of the location of Hub offices in accordance with community need,” she said.

The Commission’s call for a strategy of better community engagement about the challenges in the care and protection of vulnerable children is supported by the AASW. ­­­

“The safety of children can only be achieved within open and effective relationships – relationships between children and their parents and carers, workers in the system, and within the wider community. Our community needs to be more aware of the issues and play a bigger role in South Australia’s child protection solution,” Dr Hood said.

For more information, or to organise an interview with Dr Mary Hood, please contact Emma Pegrum, Media and Communications Manager, on 02 6199 5011 or 0408 200 191.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers