New World, Old Frontiers. An ecological perspective on the problem of attraction and retention of statutory child protection workers in the West Australian Department for Child Protection’s Murchison District: 2009–2012

New World, Old Frontiers. An ecological perspective on the problem of attraction and retention of statutory child protection workers in the West Australian Department for Child Protection’s Murchison District: 2009–2012 Thesis

  • Author(s): Collins, Maree
  • Published: 2016
  • Publisher: Australian National University
  • Volume: PhD

Abstract: The attraction and retention of statutory child protection workers in regional, rural and remote Australia has been identified at the national and state/​territory level as a priority challenge for the child protection sector. This research emerged from the recognition of and response to this problem by the Government of Western Australia’s Department for Child Protection (the Department), Murchison District, and the Department’s search for evidence-based responses under the umbrella of the Australian Research Council Linkage Project ‘Pathways to Better Practice’ (LP0082806). The size and distribution of the Australian population, and the extreme nature of the physical environment, means that geographic and demographic characteristics of place are central to the challenges of service delivery in regional and remote Australia. Maintaining the supply of a skilled and professional workforce to these places is largely dependent on ‘migration’ employment models, particularly for professional workforces such as that of the Department. The significant over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system is identified as presenting particular challenges. In Western Australia, the employment of Aboriginal people is integral to strategies across the sector to improve services and outcomes for Aboriginal children and families. The geographic distribution and demographic characteristics of the Aboriginal population in remote Western Australia suggest additional challenges for the delivery of child protection services in locations such as the Murchison District. This is due to a combination of factors, including the level of disadvantage and the complex needs of this client population, the limited resources in place, and the cultural dimension to practice. In seeking to develop an evidence-based response to the problem of attraction and retention of child protection workers in the Murchison an ecological model has served as both the conceptual and methodological framework for the research. This approach to the study of the problem has meant attending to the multiple settings in which the research is embedded, and the interplay between variables acting on attraction and retention. These variables range from the individual work and lifestyle choices to the organisational responses and local characteristics of place to the effects of the global labour market, and are consistent with reflexive theories in sociology. In exploring the dimensions of place, work and individual life choices to attraction and retention, the research has embraced a combination of methods: analysis of secondary statistical data to examine the characteristics of the Murchison and Department’s workforce; interviews; and surveys of the individual subjects of the Department’s interventions, the Murchison District workforce. The research reveals the complex web of both actual and potential factors that shape attraction and retention. These include changing preferences and life trajectories both in the work and non-work environment that demonstrate the limits of unilateral, organisational responses. The research reveals a number of paradoxical effects in relation to the Department’s strategies to attract and retain. These include the constraining effect of the introduction of changed qualifications requirements for child protection roles on supply, and the disconnect between the Department’s idealised representations and the realities of the places to which the Department seeks to attract and retain. The changing nature of place, work and the ‘life’ in late-modernity which reveal the heterogeneity of preferences presents both opportunities and challenges for future interventions.

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Suggested Citation
Collins, Maree, 2016, New World, Old Frontiers. An ecological perspective on the problem of attraction and retention of statutory child protection workers in the West Australian Department for Child Protection’s Murchison District: 2009–2012, Volume:PhD, Thesis, viewed 19 May 2019, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=11052.

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