On Australia Day 26 January, which is probably better referred to as Invasion Day, co-creator of the Signs of Safety approach, Andrew Turnell, was granted a Member of the Order of Australia award “for significant service to the protection of children through social welfare initiatives”.
Andrew has spent his life’s work in child protection and social work. About receiving this award he says:
“I am honoured, humbled and grateful and I’m also frustrated. In 1988 when Steve Edwards and I set out on this work together, about 29% of children in care in Australia were Indigenous children and young people — now they make up more than 50%. If you’re an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander kid you’re 12 times more likely to be in care than a non-Indigenous child or young person.
“Child protection systems keep taking more and more children into care, fighting with more families rather than working with them, and making the work more bureaucratic.”
So, while the acknowledgement is great at one level, and I know the work we have done has made an invaluable contribution to child protection work, here in Australia and internationally things have gone backwards. Child protection systems keep taking more and more children into care, fighting with more families rather than working with them, and making the work more bureaucratic.
At the same time, I know our development of the Signs of Safety, because it is grounded in and documents what works for practitioners and families has put down important markers about what can be done in children’s services agencies. It spells out a path for how the work can be done rigorously, safely and collaboratively throughout the whole organisation.
So, while I am thankful, I am also so aware of how we all need to be ‘working the social’ (as my PhD supervisor Frank Crawford would say). We all need to continue working with those knocking on the doors right through to those on the floor of parliament making the legislation. It is only a genuinely systemic approach that stands a chance to revolutionise child protection practice and consistently put kids and families and their people at the centre of the work.”