New CI study highlights shortcomings in child protection system

27 Jun 2017 - 14:45
Cover of 'Out of Harm's Way?, a new report released by the Children's Institute.
'Out of Harm's Way?', a new research reports released by the Children's Institute, looks at how the child protection system handles reports of abuse and neglect.


The Children's Institute released a new child protection research report in May, a report that points out how failures in the child protection system is preventing children from accessing essential treatment and protection.

Out of harm’s way? Tracking child abuse cases through the child protection system in five selected sites in South Africadocuments how the child protection system handles reported cases of abuse and neglect. The report presents the findings of the child abuse tracking study, a retrospective descriptive study - using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods - that was conducted in five sites in South Africa.

The quantitative component consisted of a review of 258 police dockets and social work files. Qualitative data were gathered through eight in-depth interviews and six focus groups with child protection social workers and agency managers and police commanders. The objectives of the study were to investigate the practices of child protection workers in relation to case management; and to compare practice with procedures outlined in law and policy, specifically in relation to interagency collaboration between the police and social services.

The CI found that only 8% of reported cases were cross-referred, and none were jointly managed.

A quarter (26%) were referred within the required 24 hours from reporting; however, 31% of referrals were made more than a month later. The lack of collaboration was based on a lack of trust and low expectations, for example the police referred cases to social services and nothing happened. One unit had referred 10 children to social services. The police dockets contained the social work case numbers and/or the names of social workers to whom the cases had been referred, but the social workers could not find a single case file or even identify the children on their intake register. Only 33% of children verifiably received any kind of therapy, counselling or support services to assist the family.

Out of harm’s way? Shows that the lack of intersectoral collaboration is preventing children from accessing therapeutic and support services, while perpetrators are allowed to continue to abuse children without any form of criminal investigation. Current practices are not meeting the needs of children in short children remain at risk of further harm because professionals are not working together. 

Out of Harm's Way? is accompanied by a research brief, Strengthening the Child Protection System in South Africa