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Editor’s note: this article contains discussion about child abuse and neglect. If you are reading this article and find you are struggling, resources like 1800 RESPECT are available for support.
This article is a summary of a Policy review submitted to Collegian: the Australian Journal of Nursing Practice, Scholarship and Research. The full review is available on the Collegian Website.
New approaches are urgently needed for child protection systems in Australia as reports show the systems are overwhelmed and do not effectively prevent harm to children. Australia’s latest report Safe and Supported: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021-2031 highlights the joint commitment required by all Australians to keep children and young people safe and to support those families experiencing adversity, providing support before abuse occurs.
A public health approach requires refocussing child protection systems to address broader factors that impact families’ capacity to provide safe and caring home environments (Lonne et al., 2020). Nurses and midwives are core to promoting children’s health and supporting children to thrive in their families and communities.
With this in mind, our research team at Flinders University explored how nurses’ and midwives’ roles are currently defined in Australia policies for child protection, health, welfare and development (Lines et al., 2022).
The Policy Review Findings
Overall, our policy review found that despite nurses’ and midwives’ valuable contributions to prevention, early intervention, identification, and mitigation of harm from child abuse, their work is largely unrecognised. For example, nurses’ and midwives’ complex roles in supporting children and families was completely missing from some polices and described in just a few words/sentences in others.
Furthermore, there was no consistent definition or understanding of nursing and midwifery roles across the different policies. This inconsistency and lack of recognition is despite international research highlighting nurses’ and midwives’ extensive contributions to addressing child abuse and neglect (Lines et al., 2018). For example, nurses and midwives enact advanced relational skills which maintain engagement with children and families who are marginalised and stigmatised (Lines et al., 2020).
Disconnects between Australian policies and nursing/midwifery daily practices inhibit our capacity to prevent abuse and intervene early to support children and families. Without policies that clearly articulate nursing and midwifery responsibilities, there can be no infrastructure to support our essential work (Lines et al., 2022).
For example, without policy recognition of nurses’ and midwives’ contributions, there will be no resources or planning for the education, support, resourcing and ongoing improvement of our practice. Without this foundational support, nurses and midwives cannot effectively prevent child abuse and neglect, leaving children to rely on the overburdened child protection system.
In summary, nurses and midwives can be advocates for change by raising awareness of our vital roles in supporting children and families. We can communicate our unique skills and expertise to our multidisciplinary colleagues to enhance collaborative support to families experiencing adversity.
Furthermore, we can be advocates for children more broadly in the political realm and call for greater recognition of our roles in children’s development, health and safety.
Our review found it is only when nursing and midwifery roles are comprehensively articulated in policy and supported with essential infrastructure that we can work at full capacity to make a difference for Australian children.
Dr Lauren Elizabeth Lines MACN
Dr Lauren Elizabeth Lines MACN is a Lecturer in Nursing, Caring Futures Institute, College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia. If you wish to discuss this paper in further detail, you can contact Lauren via email email@example.com and follow Lauren on Twitter: @Lauren_E_Lines
About Collegian: the Australian Journal of Nursing Practice, Scholarship and Research
Collegian is the official peer-reviewed journal of the Australian College of Nursing and aims to reflect on the broad interests of nurses, the nursing profession, and to challenge nurses on emerging areas of interest within an Australian and international health context. Access to all editions of Collegian is free for Australian College of Nursing Members and can be found on the Journal’s website.
Commonwealth of Australia. (2021). Safe and supported: the national framework for protecting Australia’s children 2021-2031. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 17-12-21 from https://www.dss.gov.au/the-national-framework-for-protecting-australias-children-2021-2031
Lines, L. E., Grant, J., & Hutton, A. E. (2018). How do nurses keep children safe from abuse and neglect, and does it make a difference? A scoping review. Journal of pediatric nursing, 43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2018.07.010
Lines, L. E., Grant, J. M., & Hutton, A. (2020). ‘How can we work together?’ Nurses using relational skills to address child maltreatment in Australia: a qualitative study. Journal of pediatric nursing, 54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2020.05.008
Lines, L. E., Kakyo, T. A., Grant, J. M., & Hutton, A. (2022). Invisibility of nurses and midwives in the public health response to child abuse and neglect: a policy reivew. Collegian. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2022.09.002
Lonne, B., Higgins, D., Herrenkohl, T. I., & Scott, D. (2020). Reconstructing the workforce within public health protective systems: Improving resilience, retention, service responsiveness and outcomes. Child Abuse and Neglect, 110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.104191
Munro, E. (2019). Decision-making under uncertainty in child protection: Creating a just and learning culture. Child & Family Social Work, 24(1), 123-130. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12589