Review of child abuse systems in SA

Social work experts at Flinders will lead a major new review of South Australian child protection systems to tackle child abuse and neglect.

The State Government has awarded the state’s leading researchers funding of almost $1 million towards further understanding and tackling child abuse and neglect.

The Minister for Human Services, Michelle Lensink, says the two postdoctoral fellowship programs, running for the next two years, will be critical in shaping the state’s early intervention services in the future.

The project leader Professor Sarah Wendt, from the Flinders University College of Education, Psychology and Social Work, says the grant from the State Government’s Early Intervention Research Directorate (EIRD) comes at a critical time.

“This new research agenda will focus on practice and building evidence about what actually works to assist children and families,” Professor Wendt says.

The new research will build on previous studies following the 2016 Nyland Report.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Tara Brabazon says: “Flinders University is well placed to lead this vital investigation to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families.

“This new initiative involves experts in the social work and related fields working closely with government, agencies and other service providers to review current child protection policy and practices.”

Postdoctoral research fellows Dr Carmela Bastian and Dr Jenny van der Arend join Professor Wendt and Associate Professor Lorna Hallahan at the dedicated Flinders ‘Social Work Innovation Research Living Lab’ (or ‘SWIRLL’) to facilitate research into:

  • Understanding the intersections of domestic and family violence and child protection work.
  • Understanding the complex lived experiences of families seeking help for domestic and family violence.
  • Exploring, documenting and evaluating practice interventions that respond to domestic and family violence and child protection concerns.
  • Identifying workforce capacity and development, (including understanding complexity and being trauma informed).
Members of the Flinders ‘Social Work Innovation Research Living Lab’ (‘SWIRLL’) are working on the new Early Intervention Research Directorate child protection project.

Minister Lensink says one in four South Australian children are being reported to child protection by the age of 10.

“We urgently need to better understand where we can intervene and offer early support to families,” says Ms Lensink.

“Researchers will be looking at topics including how family and domestic violence intersects with child abuse and neglect, impacts on priority populations and regions around South Australia, and the over-representation of Aboriginal children.

“These five researchers from Flinders University and the Australian Centre for Child Protection have well established expertise in the field and will help us to ensure our service systems are based on real evidence.”

The Minister for Child Protection Rachel Sanderson says early intervention and prevention will “begin to stem the flow of children entering the child protection system in South Australia”.

“New research is critical to ensure we implement the right programs and services for children – and their families – to intervene before they enter the child protection system,” Ms Sanderson says

Findings from the first phase of research will focus on identifying risk and protective factors for child abuse and neglect that impact during pregnancy, before a child is born.

The research findings will be used by the EIRD to shape a system redesign, with research reports and more detail available at

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work Research Social Work Innovation Research Living Space