Topics: Digital Transformation; WA.
Like child protection agencies in New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland, the Western Australian Department for Child Protection and Family Support (CPFS) is exploring the use of ICT to address inadequacies in the state’s child protection system.
Out-of-home care is one several areas for reform launched by the CPFS in 2015-16. According to the agency’s 2015-16 Annual Report, improving IT systems to help officers match children with carers is one of the key pillars of the reform plan.
The department will consider ‘Whole-of-System’ solutions that provide a more in-depth perspective for officers looking to match children with care arrangements based on their individual needs. The real-time system will also allow Aboriginal children to be matched with Aboriginal carers.
Currently, children are placed in care arrangements on a first come-first served basis with minimal consideration of the individual needs of the child. As a result, the report notes that “as with all relationships, not all children and foster care families fit well together… Poor matching can lead to multiple care arrangements and further trauma for a child”.
Children who experience “early certainty and stability”, “safe, healing and supported care” and “enduring relationships” are more likely to improve their life outcomes. The purpose of the reform is to consistently deliver all three elements to WA’s at-risk children.
ICT can also improve communication between child protection officers and children in care. The Commissioner for Children and Young People surveyed 100 WA young people with experience in out-of-home care and found that not having an outlet to express concerns is their greatest fear. Crucial to their feeling of safety is having a range of ways to raise these concerns, which can include technology-facilitated channels. For some children, technology is preferable to in-person communications as a platform to air their personal concerns due to it being less confronting and because of young people’s increased familiarity interacting in online environments.
Several other jurisdictions are looking to strengthen and modernise their child protection systems using ICT. As part of the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services’ (FACS) broader Safe Home for Life initiative, the department launched a broad update of its ICT system known as ‘Childstory’. The Childstory project commenced in late 2014 with the aims of replacing or enhancing caseworker systems that are at end-of-life, reducing administrative burdens on caseworkers, and improving collaboration and compliance with agency goals and directives.
Queensland’s Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (DCCSDS) will tackle a number of ICT projects in the coming year related to the reform of child and family services, according to Chief Information Officer Darrin Bond – speaking at the Queensland Partners in Technology briefing in August 2016. DCCSDS has so far built two client-facing applications as part of its child and family services reform – Sortli and Kickbox. Sortli is an app, currently available for download, which is designed to help teenagers transition from their lives in care to adulthood. Kickbox is an app that acts as a virtual ‘drop box’ for children in care to store photos and other files as they move from home to home.
The South Australian government is also likely to reform their child protection system in response to approximately 25 ICT-related recommendations in Royal Commissioner Margaret Nylander’s report, released in August 2016. The report found that underperforming and out-of-date technology was preventing practitioners from achieving maximum efficiency.