In brief

In brief

  • Child welfare is a longstanding challenge for any government, with causes so complex and entrenched they defy ordinary solutions.
  • Bold new thinking and a new way to deliver change in child welfare is required.
  • Reimagining child welfare through ecosystem design, empowered by data and digital, can have a radical impact for vulnerable families.

Child welfare statistics reveal that it is a persistent and significant challenge for governments around the world. The United States, for example, sees four million reports of child abuse annually, with the government spending $29 billion each year on services to support child welfare and prevent maltreatment.

Most children become vulnerable owing to complex issues in their families. These include unemployment, domestic violence and financial stress. Some manage to escape such damaging environments, but most do not. They frequently remain trapped in a cycle of disadvantage where persistent problems are passed from one generation to the next.

Heartbreaking statistics and a systemic global issue:

1 IN 32

Children in Australia / New Zealand received child protection services with 74% repeat clients.


Across Australia invested in early intervention but problem is worsening.

Collective smart design

There’s no single policy that can solve child welfare. Progress has been made through solutions that address the whole family rather than just the child–shifting the focus towards prevention and early intervention. However, ways to break the cycle of inter-generational disadvantage remain elusive.

Welfare changes are typically driven by centralised policy reform that establishes top-down rules for communities and care providers. These tend to be rigid and disconnected from the front line, unable to adapt to the complex needs of vulnerable families. Some communities and governments have developed bottom-up solutions that focus on the needs of children and families. Yet too often, their positive impacts are limited to isolated communities.

Rather than offering a solution, "collective smart design" is a new structured approach to problem-solving that combines processes, techniques, capabilities and technologies. And it’s their combination that can help shift how child welfare systems think, work and interact–enabling child welfare leaders to overcome barriers to innovation and enact major change.

Big, ecosystem-level change can make all the difference. The cost of inaction and incremental change is too high. If we don’t act now, we risk further deepening the cycles of generational disadvantage.

Three major capabilities critical for change – design, data and digital

Designing for life

Design new child welfare systems and models of care around family needs. Multiple stakeholders provide input with everyone working to a shared vision.

Gathering all the right data

Collective smart design connects data across the ecosystem for better decision-making and the deeper insights needed to deliver personalised services.

Scale digital engagement

Open, integrated platforms enable new ways to interact–designing and managing services, collaborating on innovation and sharing knowledge.

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Collective smart design creates new value for everyone:

  • Families and children get personalised interventions that address their specific issues and restore their independence.
  • Thanks to digitisation and efficient working, caseworkers can devote more time working with families and less on paperwork.
  • Agencies’ greater visibility across the child welfare system enables them to make data-driven decisions.
  • Governments reduce the burden of poor child outcomes on society and move more families from reliance on welfare and enable them to lead healthier and more productive lives.

About the Authors

Rainer Binder

Global Industry Lead – Social Services

Molly Tierney

Senior Manager – Health & Public Sector, North America

Cassandra Hunt

Managing Director – 2nd Road, Part of Accenture Strategy

Nick Van de Peer

Strategic Designer – 2nd Road, Part of Accenture Strategy


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