Every day, stories of child protection failures hit the headlines in countries all around the world. They paint a grim picture: growing numbers of children at risk of abuse and neglect; physical violence by a family member or caregiver that’s resulted in the death of a child; more and more children being taken into care; and child protection systems stretched to the limit. Various factors are heightening the risk — from domestic violence to substance abuse problems.
Protecting vulnerable children: a key priority for governments
The number of vulnerable children who are at significant risk of harm is growing across many developed and developing countries. At the same time, the number being taken into institutional care in developed countries has risen steadily. Worse, once a child enters care, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to leave.
Violence, abuse and neglect towards children have a tragic immediate and sometimes life-long impact on the wellbeing of children. But they also bring short- and long-term costs to individuals, governments, business and society.
Governments and international agencies have taken steps to tackle the problem, but long-term outcomes for vulnerable children remains poor and the cycle of intergenerational abuse and neglect continues.
Why is the child protection crisis so difficult to tackle?
In our view, three main challenges prevent child protection systems from being effective:
- Lack of evidence-based investment in proven interventions
It’s more important than ever that child protection agencies target their spending at the programs and interventions that deliver the best results. But it’s rare for them to measure costs and outcomes to determine what works and what will help them to do things better in the future.
- Ineffective policy and service delivery
Many child protection systems have a narrow definition of vulnerability with a statutory intervention model as the basis. This makes them “crisis-driven,” focusing mainly on short-term safety. These systems aren’t set up to respond effectively to early risk factors, achieve permanency outcomes and address the “whole person.”
- Poor use of data
Many child protection systems struggle to capture and share information about vulnerable children and their families across multiple agencies. This prevents caseworkers from having the full picture they need to make the right decisions, at the right time.
How can governments manage the crisis better?
It’s clear from the scale of these challenges that governments need to fundamentally change their approach to child protection. To be effective and sustainable, they need to shift their focus from reducing the number of children in care and replace it with a broader goal of improving children’s wellbeing and helping them to reach their full potential as adults.
How can EY help?
At EY, we’re helping governments and organizations globally to shift from a critical response to an early intervention support and funding model. To be effective, the Child Protection and Out of Home Care system must be examined holistically. By adopting an end-to-end approach, governments can transform their child welfare systems and improve the long-term wellbeing of vulnerable children. And by cutting the costs of social failure, they can reinvest the money they save in prevention measures and other priorities to create a more sustainable system in the long term.