Submission note: "A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] Department of Social Work and Social Policy, School of Allied Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora"
This thesis has explored the promotion of cultural reform in Victorian child protection and family services in the decade through to 2012. The integration of knowledge from research and critical reflection has been promoted through the Best Interests Case Practice Model which was accepted across sectors following new legislation which was enacted in 2007. The dominant paradigm of risk assessment in the dynamic and uncertain life events of vulnerable families, had previously led child protection to a siloed focus on the risk of immediate harm to children. The acknowledgement of cumulative harm and the process of systemic reform in Victoria which developed a diversionary family support system known as Child First, has promoted practice which is trauma and developmentally informed, child focussed and family centred. Using a case study research methodology inclusive of two published works, a detailed analysis of available evidence, including primary data gained from five focus groups, was undertaken to explore the contribution of the model and the process of reform. Practice was found to have improved in multiple dimensions over the period of reform and, whilst acknowledging areas for improvement, and ongoing demand and capacity challenges, the overall success of the reforms in Victoria is clear. The importance of a shared language and a coherent understanding of trauma, risk and child development across sectors has been a key finding of the case study, as has the importance of supporting practitioners to integrate research into practice, through modelling and live supervision by senior practitioners with the most complex cases. In short, leaders and practitioners at all levels ‘walking the talk’ have been key to affecting change.
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