Reconstructing the workforce within public health protective systems: Improving resilience, retention, service responsiveness and outcomes

Bob Lonne, Daryl Higgins, Todd I. Herrenkohl, Debbie Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Unacceptably high staff turnover has plagued traditional approaches to child protection, seemingly forever. Around the globe, numerous studies, reports and inquiries have highlighted how statutory agencies, focusing on risk-oriented investigations of suspected maltreatment, experience significant issues with worker stress and its occupational and organisational consequences. Yet, promoting staff resilience within child protection agencies’ workforces has proved to be quite elusive at a systems level. While concern about child protection services often centers on the children and families agencies they intend to assist, the experiences of workers within the system provide further evidence that the system is itself failing. As a result, governments around the world are increasingly embracing system reforms that promote public health approaches focusing on early intervention and prevention to build child, family and neighbourhood support capacity and resilience and thereby reduce child maltreatment. Objective: We review the workforce issues affecting traditional child protection approaches and its impacts. In light of this, we examine the knowledge to be applied in the development of public health approaches that embrace integrated and coordinated systems of community care. Such reforms, with altered organisational remits that are far broader than narrow tertiary responses of investigation and removal, utilize evidence-based interventions targeted at differentiated risk and service user needs to provide effective supports and reduce maltreatment. This article unpacks the strategies needed to build and properly prepare a re-tooled workforce capable of implementing a public health model of preventive interventions. Participants and setting: Not applicable. Methods: Current public health reforms are examined through the lens of their potential impacts upon contemporary workforce issues. Focusing upon building a stable, resilient and appropriately skilled workforce for a public health model, we examine the implications for key stakeholders including workers, program and organisational leaders, educators, researchers, academics and community members, especially children and vulnerable families. Results and conclusions: Public health approaches to protecting children seek to provide effective supports and services in timely ways in order to prevent unnecessary statutory interventions, which affect those from cultural and poor communities disproportionately. But remodelling systems to embrace these approaches entails complex practice, program, policy and legislative changes, using evidence to intervene in ways that are primarily voluntary rather than coercive. In doing so they provide potential to recast the basis of the helping relationship to attend better to the relational aspects of changed behaviour. Embedding workforce resilience strategies in reformed systems is necessary to address retention and ensure service effectiveness and responsiveness to the diversity of needs of struggling families and impoverished communities. Thereby, public health approaches are well placed to achieve their true potential.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104191
Number of pages9
JournalChild Abuse & Neglect
Issue numberS1 Part 3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Child maltreatment
  • Child protection
  • Prevention
  • Public health approach
  • Reform
  • Resilience
  • Workforce

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