Practice First leads to child protection cultural shift, evaluation shows
A child protection service delivery model introduced to change work culture in NSW has helped caseworkers spend more time with families. An evaluation led by the Parenting Research Centre also showed the model helped workers and families to build richer relationships.
However, it did not reduce the administration for frontline workers as hoped, according to findings published in Child & Family Social Work.
Changing the culture of child protection practice
The Practice First model was developed by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). It aimed to change the culture of child protection practice and improve outcomes for children at risk of harm.
Introduced from 2012, it incorporated strategies to strengthen caseworkers’ skills and capabilities and reduce administration. This was so they could spend more time on direct client contact and develop better relationships with families.
FACS commissioned an independent, multi-agency evaluation of the model. This was led by Parenting Research Centre, with the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre and the University of Melbourne.
Better relationships with families
Focus groups, interviews and a survey of FACS practitioners found Practice First helped practitioners improve the cultural appropriateness of their interventions.
“Practitioners’ credited the initiative with enabling them to refocus practice on achieving change for families; to apply strength-based approaches; to change language and team culture, and to improve the quality of decision making,” wrote the study authors, including Dr Catherine Wade, PRC Principal Research Specialist.
Practitioners felt they had “permission” to see clients more regularly and reported less adversarial work practices. Also, more frequent contact with clients helped them gain insights into families’ lives and identify instances were children were unsafe.
Group supervision was a key component of the model. One Aboriginal caseworker described how this had expanded opportunities to provide colleagues with cultural advice.
Despite initial gains, many staff later reported that new ways of working were difficult to sustain, as administrative demands crept back up, the study stated.
“Paradoxically, increasing visits to clients and richer relationships with them increased the need for data inputting, which perhaps explains why increasing time with families was not matched with decreasing administrative burden,” the authors wrote.
However, they said the evaluation demonstrated that Practice First had helped facilitate a positive cultural shift overall. Also, it had legitimised caseworkers’ preferred ways of working.
- Read the study: Changing practice cultures in statutory child protection: Practitioners’ perspectives
- Read a snapshot of the Practice First Evaluation findings