New approach helps children

INTERRELATE in Lismore is one of four community organisations to take part in trialling a new approach to protecting vulnerable children and the results have been so successful the program is now being rolled out to other parts of Australia.

The Common Approach to Assessment, Referral and Support is a training toolkit for workers who are the "first contact" with children who may be at risk of abuse or neglect.

It is based on the idea that if you identify issues early on, you can stop them becoming a crisis.

"It's a broadening of the lens for a lot of practitioners," said Amarilyse Bessey, a research manager for the program.

She gave the example of a family councillor identifying a child needed dental work and making that referral.

Interrelate area manager Julie Leete said that often it meant making referrals outside of traditional support services.

"A family might come in with issues around their children. They might be new to a region and have no social connections, so referring kids to the PCYC or sporting organisation, or helping mum with advice about where to find a supported playgroup.

"You look at the family holistically. Look at health, mental health, whether they've got enough food; everything."

Dr Lance Emerson is CEO of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth and said the program "could be a game changer".

"We don't necessarily need new practitioners and services. It's about helping a wider range of professionals change the way they currently do things to help them focus on preventing abuse and neglect.

"We will never have enough child protection workers to address all cases of child abuse and neglect. But for the majority of cases there are telltale signs of families struggling very early on and often a large number of practitioners will have seen these signs," Dr Emerson said.

"The Common Approach gives (them) the skills to better meet the needs of the family."

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