A new early warning system for children at risk of abuse has been launched by the Governor of New South Wales, Professor Marie Bashir.
It is hoped that the new web-based strategy, 'Supporting children and responding o families: case management system and online learning package', (e-Scarf) will ease the pressure on the current system and make sure that the most vulnerable children are identified more quickly.
The project, which has been implemented over the past three years by Barnardos Australia, has had positive feedback from participants. UNSW's School of Social Sciences and International Studies has been responsible for the academic research behind the program.
UNSW researcher Dr Elizabeth Fernandez says that in the past Australia has relied on a band-aid approach to protecting children.
"Child protection systems have taken an incident-focused and reactive approach," she says. "This approach leaves families alienated and bereft of services to support their parenting."
According to the CEO of Barnardos Australia, Louise Voigt, the new approach focuses on prevention.
"Our approach is different," She says. "It is holistic and shifts the focus onto prevention. We look at families where children might be more vulnerable than others. We have a child-focused approach which is not as threatening to families and therefore gets better results."
Dr Fernandez says the new system is a comprehensive assessment of the wider context of service delivery.
"For example if a child is reported to us for not coming to school regularly, it might be because the mother is a single mum without family support. We help identify her needs and try to put in place services - such as respite care - which might prevent her child from being taken away, for example," she says.
The keynote address at the launch was given by Kerryn Boland, The Children's Guardian, NSW Office for Children. Kevin Greene, the Minister for Community Services also attended.
The initiative is currently being rolled out to other welfare organisations.