Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Looking after Children: A Case of Individualised Service Delivery (1)

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Looking after Children: A Case of Individualised Service Delivery (1)

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Looking After Children (LAC) system for children in care developed in the United Kingdom. It has generated considerable interest also in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Canada. LAC exemplifies the emphasis of contemporary human service systems on the integration of the macro and micro-management of service delivery so that the relationship between policy, resource allocation, process at case level, and outcomes for individual children can be tracked, scrutinized and improved. In particular LAC is a case management approach that integrates system and agency level needs for information about children in care with the practice level's need for information about a child in order to be more effective with this child and his/her relevant others (carers, parents, teachers, etc). LAC is an approach to care assessment, planning and review that promises to address well-documented failings of systems for children who need care. Our intention here is to explore the debate in the literature about LAC once it became an established approached to services for children in out of home care.

Most published material is either advocacy for, or critique of, LAC. Both categories fall primarily within social work. Articles in the advocacy category provide argument for why LAC should be adopted as a system for managing children in care. These articles and reports describe the LAC materials, their basis in research, their implementation, and their formative evaluation. Their orientation is one of justifying LAC as an effective way of improving practice and of providing for an outcomes-oriented approach to children in care. Members of the UK Department of Health working party that developed the original policy and practice initiative contribute to this literature. The smaller group of critiques of LAC question the approach of LAC rather than seek to improve or refine it as an operational system of policy and practice. Only two articles (Kerslake 1998, Steyaert 1997) provide analysis of LAC from the standpoint of considering trends in the management of human services, in both cases in relation to client information systems.

Table 1 presents the distribution of authors into advocacy and critique, and, within these categories, into academics and practitioners (Garrett being both at different points of writing). Because the LAC system is new there is no literature yet that examines the impact of LAC in terms of outcomes for children. However, the literature on implementation of LAC that is oriented to what can be learnt from the early stages of this new approach to child welfare, and to how such learning can improve and develop the program, is growing. Francis (2002) exemplifies this type.

The systemic promise of LAC can be realised only in contexts where a national and whole of government approach is taken to its adoption and implementation. For this reason the jurisdictions of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and maybe Sweden are likely to contribute to this promise. In Australia the ACT is the only state/territory to have adopted the LAC approach, and there is no national integrated approach to children's services in general, let alone children in care in particular.

Our methodology

We primarily gathered the literature through a regular check of relevant journals. We used a data base and Google search to cross-check our coverage of the literature, and these of course threw up a mass of material only some of which was relevant to our purpose. The Director of the LAC Project at Barnardos, (the Australian licensee of the LAC Project) supplied additional articles which had not turned up from other searches (Munro 2001; Bell 1998/99) along with material on LAC produced by Barnardos Australia.

The 'advocacy' literature on LAC

We divide articles here into those that: (a) define the problem that LAC is designed to address; (b) present LAC as a systemic planning approach to managing children in care that is a way of responding to this problem; (c) provide an account of the development of the conception of LAC in the United Kingdom and then (d) its adoption in Australia; (e) discuss strategies for implementation of LAC; and (f) the extension of the LAC approach to other areas in child care. …

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