Privately-funded, better measured, more accountable social services

Jeremy Sammut

11 November 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre
JS child protection adoption 2National Adoption Awareness Week has redrawn attention to the appallingly few adoptions in Australia — despite the appallingly high number of children in foster care that will never go home safely.
The opponents of adoption continue to claim the real problem with the child protection system is that not enough is done to help parents to stop kids entering care.
They falsely claim that adoption advocates (such as me) believe that early intervention services are a “waste of time” (see this review of my book).
This is nonsense, of course.  The problem is that child protection services bend over backwards to support parents to the point that children suffer prolonged abuse and neglect; hence there are many thousands of damaged children in care with maltreatment-related ‘high needs’ — development, emotional, and other problems.
The critics also ignore the lack of evidence to support the ‘family preservation’ policies they endorse.
Take the 2015 Victorian Auditor General’s report that found there was no way of knowing whether increased government spending on family support services  was “effectively meeting the needs of vulnerable groups … because there are significant limitations in the service performance data and a lack of outcomes monitoring at the system level.”
This is a sector-wide problem identified by my (sadly departing) colleague Trisha Jha in her excellent recent report detailing the lack of robust evaluations of early childhood interventions.
But change is slowly occurring in the social services sector, driven by privately-financed funding initiatives.
The Benevolent Society’s privately-financed Social Benefit Bond is used to fund the Resilient Families programs, which has had some early success in reducing the number of children entering care.
The success appears to be underpinned by a robust, independent evaluation mechanism. This includes the virtually unprecedented use of a matched intervention-group and control-group to generate a gold-standard measure of effectiveness.
Rewarding programs based on their demonstrated outcomes makes providers accountable; it encourages innovation and discovery of what actually works — a virtuous circle.
We still need thousands more adoptions each year because there simply are some families that can never be fixed whose children will need rescuing.
But better measured, more accountable social services would also help ensure the child protection system protects children properly.
Print Friendly