The government-wide introduction of performance measurement means that child protection services, like all government services, are under pressure to demonstrate they are effective in protecting children from harm and efficient in their use of public funds to help children and families. At the same time there is growing concern within the child protection field about poor outcomes for clients, particularly for children, and efforts to improve practice on a range of levels.
Ostensibly performance measurement is concerned with managing resources and improving service delivery. It has a dual emphasis on effectiveness and efficiency. It requires defining and quantifying work in terms of 'inputs', 'outputs', 'processes' and 'outcomes'. However, such market-based concepts and language are not familiar territory for human services providers, and there are concerns that the pursuit of efficiency might cause a decline in the quality and availability of services to clients.
From a policy perspective, the way performance measurement is conceptualised and implemented can have major consequences for service delivery. Performance measurement can influence how child protection is defined, where resources are placed, what service types are funded, and how the needs of children and families are defined and addressed.
Developing performance indicators is not neutral or technical. A set of child protection performance indicators contains implicit values about what is important in child protection practice and how best to intervene to meet the needs of children and their families. What is measured shapes practice.
This thesis compares approaches to performance measurement in child protection services used in three jurisdictions: England, the USA and Australia. The context within which performance measurement is occurring, the outcomes and performance indicators developed by jurisdictions and the dimensions of performance they purport to measure are examined.
A framework of key questions and criteria for performance indicators provides the basis for examining how the concepts of effectiveness and efficiency are dealt with in child protection, and how client outcomes are conceptualised. Assumptions about good performance implicit in the various approaches to performance measurement are discussed.
A model set of performance indicators for Queensland is selected and applied to existing data to provide a performance appraisal of Queensland child protection services. This extends the analysis of the various approaches and indicators that have been developed, highlighting the strengths and limitations of using indicators to examine performance in child protection.
The thesis argues that child protection services should be concerned with effectiveness of services to clients and with using scarce resources to best effect. Performance measurement is chiefly concerned with resource management, itself a critical endeavour for child protection. But maintenance of a client focus will also provide agencies with a mechanism to ascertain the extent to which services are effectively meeting the needs of clients and to design improvement strategies.
Since performance measurement is part of the dominant discourse in public administration, child protection must grapple with the dilemmas and opportunities it presents. The research locates performance measurement as a valuable tool for improving child protection services and outcomes for clients. It argues that child protection services may be improved by a performance measurement framework grounded in quality child protection research, policy and practice.