Blending decades of social work practice with information technology in a world first for Brisbane, one of our own is leading the way in safety planning for children and women in need of protection. Chris Boyle, Director of Commsync has joined with colleagues in social work and digital technologies. Together they’ve garnered international attention due to their innovation in child protection, family support and domestic and family violence interventions.
With the vision of: Synchronising safe and supportive communities, Commsync aims to achieve a paradigm shift that reconceptualises the community support and child protection system into one that works with the child, family and community as a whole. Creating a non- stigmatising system that shares responsibility is key.
Their most recent endeavour involves a partnership with Act for Kids focused on safety for children and young people across the range of therapeutic programs, including Intensive Family Support. This trial and exploratory research project has been supported through a philanthropist and allows Commsync and Act for Kids to explore the use of accessible digital technologies, such as watches, to enhance children’s safety and well-being throughout their child and family intervention programs.
Commsync’s safety planning involves automating and digitising safety plans into wearable devices. Whilst digital technologies are used within child and family protection systems, these generally involve social surveillance rather than voluntary support. This project’s innovation is that it uses digital technologies to disrupt social and statutory interventions that are deeply problematic, and often mistrusted by service users. It enables children and families to acquire the timely and non-stigmatising assistance they require from those they have trusting relationships with.
“This project aims to re-align protective interventions by increasing access to, and use of, portable digital technologies that connect children and their families to social supports and safety assistance. The project enables participants to have increased control over their lives by linking them to an assured communication system that provides security and help when they need it” said Chris Boyle.
The Project’s lead researcher, social worker and academic, Professor Bob Lonne has a wealth of experience in child protection. He views this project as being one that leads the world with the capacity for reshaping the ways in which communities achieve enhanced safety and well-being for children and their families. “It has the potential to re-shape how we provide social support to those who desperately need it” said Professor Lonne.
20 devices have been supplied across the child and family intervention programs over 12 months. The exploratory research framework combines qualitative and quantitative measures to gather feedback from both users and staff on how the technology impacts safety and wellbeing.
Commsync staff work with Act for Kids staff to assist in the development of simple safety plans for children and young people. They blend technology with support processes akin to circle of security.
Jeremy is a young person who has a safety plan and a watch is his safety device. When Jeremy stays with his Mum symptoms of her illness can occur, in making sure he feels safe, he has the safety watch that allows him to contact several people in his close network should he need assistance. Jeremy has identified grandparents and neighbours as his safety network. If he feels unsafe, he presses a button on his watch and the first responder is called. If they don’t answer, the next person is called until one of his safety team picks up. Act for Kids staff receive notifications of the contacts. Jeremy is given simple and clear instructions about how to use the watch when he needs assistance, how his identified support persons will respond and simple maintenance of the device. When Jeremy uses the device to call a support person, they can hear and see everything that is going on in Jeremy’s immediate environment. Jeremy can tell them what he needs. They will also receive a google map of where he is. In cases of emergency triple 0 can be called.
In establishing the safety plan, responders are supported in how to support Jeremy or ask for further professional assistance. The watch can also record audio and video. There are no other functions for entertainment or sharing purposes. The recording device is for the watch only. Jeremy can’t send pictures or videos or texts to his friends or others.
Tom McIntyre, Act for Kids Regional Director – Brisbane, Wide Bay and South Burnett stated that he is “excited to be partnering with Commsync to explore how technology can expand opportunities for children and families to access their community. With the end result being that children are safer because of the identification and support of safe people close to them.”
This technology is also proving to be an additional safety mechanism for women and children in domestic and family violence situations. A woman who required assistance with emergency shelter after her violent former partner was released from a jail term without any tracking device has been in fear for her life since.
Last week, she received a Commsync Alert watch. Following the meeting to develop her safety plan, she stated: “The feeling I have knowing I can have a better day to day life. Awesome”
The group aim to showcase this trial internationally with a presentation at the International ISPCAN XXII International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect to be held later this year in Prague.