Child welfare statistics reveal that it is a persistent and significant challenge for governments around the world. The US, 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.
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 centralized 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.