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Results of the survey of workers with young people

published in:
Family violence : young people and youth sector workers, informing government about the implementation of mandatory reporting in Victoria
Danny Sandor and Julian Bondy
ISBN 07311 0575 3
Fitzroy, Vic. : Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, 1995
Criminology Research Council grant ; (15/93-4)
October 1995

1. Section One - Service and Worker Profile

This section of the questionnaire dealt with the services and demographic profiles of the respondents. When reference is made to how representative the sample is, the point of comparison is the 1995 Statewide Census and Survey undertaken by one of the Principal Investigators -Julian Bondy - on behalf of YACVic.

Results of Q1 This question asked respondents where their service was located. 49% of respondents indicated their service operated in inner Melbourne metropolitan, 27% from outer metro and 24% from country Victoria. These figures accord with the percentiles in the 1995 Statewide Census of Youth Worker Training.

Results of Q2 This question asked respondents about the primary funding source of their organisation. The breakdown of funding was 19% Federal Government, 42% State Government and 17% Local Government.

Results of Q3 This question asked respondents to list the areas which their organisation provided service in. The major service areas represented were Information Provision which was listed by 63% of respondents, Advocacy was listed by 41% and Counselling was listed by 40%, Activities/Leisure was listed by 37% and Housing by 36%. This appears to under-represent agencies which are involved in housing and over-represent those involved in information provision. The percentages do not sum to 100% because more than one area could be indicated.

Results of Q4 This question asked respondents about their employment status. 65% of Youth sector workers surveyed were employed full-time, and 27% part-time. Thus 92% of the sample are in some form of employment and it will be recalled that the mandatory reporting legislation applies in the context of beliefs formed in the course of work (see section 641A and 1C(g)). By comparison, the 1995 Statewide Census found that approximately 15% were in full time employment.

Results of Q5 This question asked respondents about their current duties. The most common current duties of the respondents were; direct service provision listed by 67%, case work which is listed by 40% and service management listed by 23%. The percentages do not sum to 100% because more than one area could be indicated.

Results of Q6 This question asked respondents their sex. The results appear broadly representative of the field. 71% of the respondents were female, 29% were male.

Results of Q7 This question related to the age of the respondents. 27% of respondents were aged between 30-34, 20% between 25-29, 18% between 35-39 and 17% between 20-24 years. As the table below indicates, the median age of the respondents was 30-34 years. This appears at odds with the common wisdom that youth work is a para- profession with high rates of attrition as people 'burn out' and enter into other professions. However these results are supported by the 1995 Statewide Youth Worker Survey.

bar chart

Results of Q8 This question asked respondents about their qualifications. Again the results appear at odds with the perception that youth work is a para-profession. As the table below indicates, nearly 80% of the sample had completed some form of further qualification and of these, most of the respondents have a degree or higher. This is comparable to the census.

Element: Count: Percent:
Certificate 10 8.547%
Diploma 17 14.53%
Degree 73 62.393% -Mode
Higher Degree 17 14.53%

Of the respondents with BA's, 19% had Youth Affairs Degrees, 26% had Social Work Degrees, 27% put BA and/or Social Science degrees and 21% Education/Health Science degrees.

Results of Q9 This question asked respondents whether they had ever worked as a protective worker in a government or gazetted organisation. It was expected that workers in such organisations would have a better knowledge of the mandatory reporting laws. 11% of respondents have worked as protective workers in a government or gazetted organisation. Because of the small sample it was not possible to determine whether organisational background was significant in workers attitudes and knowledge.

Results of Q10 This question asked respondents how long they have been working with young people. The average length of time the respondents have been workers with young people was 8 years. Ten years was the mode response.

Results of Q11 This question asked respondents to list what type of service provision they had experience in. The most commonly mentioned service experiences listed were; information provision listed by 75% of respondents, activities/leisure listed by 65% of respondents and counselling listed by 62% respondents. The percentages do not sum to 100% because more than one area could be indicated.

Results of Q12-Q13 These questions asked respondents about the type of young people they were working with. While most workers reported working with roughly equal groups of female and male young people between 12-16 years inclusive there were groups of young people substantially under-represented. These were young people from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB) and Koori and Islander young people. 81% of the respondents were working with young people between 12-16 years inclusive. 40% of youth sector workers working with 12-16 year olds work with cohorts where both females and males account for between 26-50% of the total. Most respondents working with young people between 12-16 years do not work with those from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB). 39% report working with between 0-5% of NESB young people and 34% with between 6-24%. Nor do they work with Koori or Islander young people. 83% of respondents report working with between 0-5% Koori/Islander young people, a further 16% with between 6-26%. The percentages do not sum to 100% because more than one area could be indicated.

2a. Section Two (A) - Workers' knowledge

This section deals with workers knowledge of Victorian child protection laws. Overall workers faired poorly in their knowledge of mandatory and other child protection laws.

Q14 % correct answer
a) If I make a report of abuse to the authorities an investigation will necessarily follow.29
b) If I make a report of abuse to the authorities, the matter must end up in court.89
c) Young people aged 12 to 16 have the legal right to refuse protective intervention.59
d) Mandatory reporting laws apply to young people 18 years of age and below.42
e) Any worker with young people will be required to report abuse, whether or not they have post secondary qualifications.19
f) Under the new laws, mandated workers may incur a penalty for failing to report abuse.74
g) Mandatory reporting laws apply to young people 16 years of age and below.67
h) Under mandatory reporting laws physical abuse must be reported to the authorities.93
i) Under mandatory reporting laws, homelessness must be reported to the authorities.69
j) Under mandatory reporting laws, sexual abuse must be reported to the authorities.100
k) Under mandatory reporting laws, emotional abuse must be reported to the authorities.32
l) Under mandatory reporting laws, neglect must be reported to the authorities.25
m) Intervention orders can only be taken out to protect adults.83
n) A young person can apply for crimes compensation following abuse.68

All answers were cross tabulated with other variables in order to determine whether certain worker profiles were disproportionably represented. The only area where there was significant difference in worker responses was in Q14C and 14L where men were over-represented in the correct answer category. The question which was answered incorrectly most frequently, Q14E, indicates that most Victorian youth sector workers are clearly uncertain of their postion regarding mandatory reporting.

2b. Section Two (B) - Training

The majority of youth sector workers have received training about aspects of the child and adolescent protective system. The areas respondents had been most likely to receive training in and the areas respondents were least likely to receive training in were not highly differentiated.

The three most common areas of training are: recognising signs of sexual abuse which 69% of workers have received; how to respond when a young person discloses abuse (68%) and the causes of abuse (68%). They were closely followed by the signs of physical abuse (67%) and the signs of emotional neglect (66%).

The three areas of training least likely to have been received are: the special needs of young men who have been abused (44%), how to be a witness in court (44%) and the orders that are used in the Family Division of the Children's Court (47%). Court report writing was the next area of least training (49%).

Q 15 - Training received in the following areas:On the job training (%)Training course - including tertiary education (%)Both forms of training (%)
a) The signs of physical abuse25 18 24
b) The signs of sexual abuse25 18 26
c) The signs of emotional neglect 22 18 26
d) How to respond to a young person when they disclose abuse 28 22 18
e) How to be a witness in court 27 7 10
f) How to write a report for court 29 12 8
g) The orders that are used in the Family Division of the Children's Court 28 7 12
h) The child and adolescent protective system generally 28 18 13
i) The causes of abuse22 22 24
j) The special needs of young women who have been abused 29 14 17
k) The special needs of young men who have been abused 23 10 11

Results of Q16 This question asked respondents about their sources of knowledge about mandatory reporting laws. It is of some concern that 19% of respondents reported that they had never heard of mandatory reporting. Of the 81% of workers responded that they have heard of mandatory reporting, the most common source of their knowledge was newspaper articles (100%) followed by television and radio (87%) and discussions with colleagues (84%). On the job training was listed by 59%, training provided by an outside organisation was listed by 44% and training provided by H & CS was listed by 37% as sources of their knowledge of mandatory reporting

3. Section Three - Skills in Working with Young People

Results of Q17 On average, 63% of all skill areas were ranked as 'very important' by workers. The skill areas that workers have identified as 'very important' most often are: 1- Building and developing a trusting relationship (92%), 2- Providing physical safety (85%), 3- Balancing the need to maintain trust and provide support with the need to refer to other professionals with more expertise (80%).

The skill areas that workers have identified least often as 'very important' are: 1- Assisting young people to apply for crimes compensation (44%), 2- Preparing a report for a protective hearing in court (52%) and 3- Encouraging disclosures of physical abuse (53%).

On average in 64% of all skill areas workers ranked themselves as having either 'strong competence' or 'basic competence'. The skill areas that workers have identified as having their strong or basic competence most often are: 1- Building and developing trusting a relationship (99%), 2- Sharing information given to you by a young person appropriately with other workers (94%), 3- Making decisions about the use of confidential information (90%) and 4- Ensuring that young people are aware of the extent to which confidentiality is observed and when it is not (89%)

Areas that workers have identified themselves as being 'not competent' or 'needs improvement' most frequently are: 1- Preparing a report for a protective hearing in court (74%), 2- Being an effective witness during a protective hearing in court (66%), 3- Assisting young people to apply for crimes compensation (62%) and 4- Explaining mandatory reporting laws to young people (61%)

It is interesting to note that there is a high degree of overlap in the areas where youth sector workers feel they are competent and the importance they place on that particular skill area. Conversely the bottom two areas which youth sector workers place least importance on are the very same areas where they feel least competent.

Q17 Very important (%) Competence needs improving or not competent (%)
a) Explaining to young people their legal rights with respect to protective serivces 7352
b) Explaining mandatory reporting laws to young people 6861
c) Preparing a report for a protective hearing in court 53 74
d) Being an effective witness during a protective hearing in court 6266
e) Encouraging disclosures of sexual and physical abuse 5336
f) Providing physical safety 8517
g) Building and developing trusting relationship 921
h) Assessing whether a young person is likely to suffer significant harm 8024
i) Assisting young people to identify, access and develop their power as individuals 7812
j) Making decisions about the use of confidential information 7810
k) Ensuring that young people are aware of the extent to which confidentially is observed and when it is not 7811
l) Providing accurate information to young people about court processes 6551
m) Sharing relevant information given to you by a young person appropriately with other workers 556
n) Safely and constructively dealing with dependent behaviours 5026
o) Assessing a young person's right to input into protective situations 7044
p) Assessing when the best interests of the young person overrule their right to input into protective decisions 5852
q) Balancing the need to maintain trust and provide support with the need to refer to other professionals with more expertise 8013
r) Understanding different explanations for the causes of sexual and physical abuse 5325
s) Applying the different concepts which explain the causes of sexual and physical abuse to practice with young people 5443
t) Assisting young people with intervention orders 5454
u) Assisting young people to apply for crimes compensation 4462
v) Assessing whether a young person has suffered significant harm 7142

All results of Q17 were cross tabulated with the demographic data gathered in section one to determine whether there are certain worker profiles which are disproportionably represented. In a few instances there was significant variation. These instances have been listed below:

Results of Q18 Less than 10% of respondents made further reccommendations regarding skill areas not covered in Q17. The most common mention was about skills with working with families which was cited by four workers.

4. Section Four - Workers' Attitudes

Results of Q19 77% of workers indicate that they have had a young person aged between 12 to 16 inclusive disclose sexual and/or physical abuse to them

Results of Q20 The mean number of disclosures of the following types of abuse were received by respondents:

Q20APhysical abuseSexual abuse
Young Females17.611.9
Young Males17.55.3

Results of Q20b Workers' reasons for reporting abuse to the authorities:

By comparison, Ridoutt and Filis's (1993: 100) study found that in New South Wales (NSW) the most common understanding by Youth Workers of a compulsion to report was by their organisation's policy and procedures which accounted for 47% and 40% believed they were compelled by legislation. It must be noted that this New South Wales study only involved 34 Youth Workers.

Results of Q20c There were 69 responses where workers have indicated that they have been aware of abuse and not reported it, this represents 46% of respondents who had received a disclosure. A total of 105 explanations were given for not making a notification. A warning needs to be made in interpreting the above data. No attempt was made to investigate the absolute number of cases of disclosure not reported. It was felt that the question may have been intimidatory. From the figures obtained it can only be hypothesised that significant numbers of disclosed abuse have gone unreported. The most common reasons were:

Q20C - Reasons for non-disclosure%
Young person safe at the time/abuse occurred in the past and the perpetrator not attempting to contact the survivor28.5
Extended family/local agencies providing support and/or intervention17.1
The young person refused to give permission to do so and abuse has stopped14.3
The young person not ready to disclose further13.3
Lack of confidence with Heath & Community Services to prevent 'systems abuse'12.4
Others within agency or other agency (not H & CS) made aware11.4
Disclosure occurred before mandatory reporting3.0

If the reasons 'young person refused permission' and 'young person not ready to disclose further' are combined,the aggregated category accounts for 27.6% of all reasons given.

Interestingly, lack of confidence in H & CS, while a significant factor in non-reporting appears less of an issue in Victoria than in New South Wales where the most prominent reason for non-reporting among Youth Workers was lack of confidence in their equivalent of Victoria's H & CS, Department of Community Services (DCS) (Ridoutt and Filis 1993:106).

These responses were cross tabulated with the demographic data to determine whether certain groups were over-represented as non-reporters. There is no statistically significant correlation between non-reporting and other variables.

Results of Q21 This question elicted the opinions of workers concerning mandatory reporting.

Q21Strongly agree (%)Agree (%)Undecided (%)Disagree (%)Strongly disagree (%)
a) I won't know whether to warn young people of my duty to report their disclosure to the authorities.519164218
b) If I make a report, a young person will see me as abandoning her/him, when they need me most.616273911
c) A legal responsiblity to report abuse to the authorities is at odds with my identity as a community based worker.1018223611
d) There has been too little training about mandatory reporting laws for community workers with young people.5633441
e) A large number of professional workers will now report abuse, when previously they would not.114330151
f) I can envisage a situation where I will not report abuse when the law requires me to do so112834189
g) Mandatory reporting laws themselves are good, however the circumstances of their implementation in Victoria are inappropriate.27203985
h) A legal obligation to report abuse is better than leaving it to an individual worker's discretion on a case by case basis.153532116

The results of Q21 were cross tabulated to determine whether certain groups of workers have specific opinions concerning mandatory reporting.

Results of Q21g with experience of disclosure as worker. Workers who have had a young person disclose sexual and/or physical abuse are disproportionately represented in the strongly agree/agree categories of the statement mandatory reporting laws are themselves are good but the circumstances of their implementation are inappropriate. This indicates that those with experience of disclosures are also the most concerned about the implementation of mandatory reporting laws.

table

The sex of the worker appears to have influenced their attitudes in a few instances. In Q21A disproportionate number of female workers agreed with the statement and a disproportionate number of male workers disagreed. In Q21H for those that agreed with the statement, women were more inclined to agree more strongly than men.

5. Section Five - Youth Sector Workers' Recommendations

Workers were asked to provide their recommendations about the implementation of mandatory reporting laws in an extended response section at the back of the survey. A set of prompts were used to elicit recommendations under seven different themes. Most workers chose to simply write their recommendations regardless of the prescribed themes. A total of 649 recommendations were provided, falling into forty four separate themes.

This large set of recommendations was further summarised under six categories, reflecting workers perceptions of the action areas for the implementation of mandatory reporting:

Categories of recommendations as a proportion of all recommendations made.

Recommendation areasNo. of instances%
Training for youth workers45570.1%
Information provision for general community568.6%
Provision of accommodation, support and staff resources7311.2%
Resources for rural areas121.9%
Practice issues needing to be addressed314.7%
Expressed concerns about mandatory reporting223.5%
Total649100%

The message is clear. Youth sector workers overwhelmingly want training which is specific for them

6. Summary

The sample, while relatively small, displayed a satisfactory comparability with key aspects of the youth sector worker population in Victoria. Full -time workers are over-represented in our sample in comparison with the youth work census but equivalent in respect of whether they have received post-secondary education.

There was an encouraging longevity of working with young people among the sample - eight years was the average and ten years as a worker was the modal response. This is a noteable finding in the light of past criticisms about "the suggested immaturity and inexperience of [H & CS staff], especially base grade staff" (Fogarty 1993:53). One might speculate that there may be a reluctance among experienced workers to be compelled to report cases to an investigative body viewed as being staffed by personnel with less acumen than the reporter.

It should however be said that Fogarty noted that the perception may no longer be valid and reported that staff turnover in 1992/3 had reduced in comparison with 1991/2 to a level of 17.4%, which he said was "still too high"(p. 50). He also reported improvements in the length of service of H &CS staff, with approximately half found to have at least two and a half years experience. Our data is not directly comparable with that discussed by Fogarty as we were simply enquiring as to the length of experience as a worker with young people. While, of course, protective workers may come to H & CS with prior experience, the Department's recruitment drives have sought to address the limitations of having a sizeable proportion of new graduates employed in base grade field work.

An inspection of their knowledge base (Q14) suggests that workers have incorporated the rudimentary aspects of the new mandatory reporting requirements in that they are unanimous that sexual abuse must be reported and only slightly less certain (93%) about physical abuse. Interestingly, nearly a third of our sample assumed that emotional abuse was mandatory to report while an even greater proportion assumed that homelessness must be reported (69%). A quarter of the sample believed that neglect had to be reported.

More than 80% are conscious that notification does not necessarily result in court proceedings, a finding which suggests they have an appreciation that there are other exit points following notification.

Less satisfactory as an aspect of basic information is their knowledge of the age-range covered by mandatory reporting. At first glance, we would not have placed too much stress upon this finding as, in retrospect, we acknowledge that there was scope for differing interpretations of items 14(d) and 14(g). Yet only slightly more than half the sample were correct in answering "no" to the statement that "young people aged 12 to 16 inclusive have the legal right to refuse protective intervention".

Our data indicated that, on dimensions of prior training (Q15), at least 40% of participants had received some input. Higher percentages were noticeable for items which relate to the role of such workers as identifiers of risk of abuse (e.g. signs of abuse, responding to disclosure) than as participants in events which may follow notification (being a witness in court, how to write a report for court).

The most infrequent area of training was in the special needs of abused young men (44%) and it is noteworthy to compare that 60% had received training in the special needs of abused young women. The explanation is unlikely to lie in the nature of the work undertaken as responses to Qs 12 and 13 indicated that the sample worked with equal proportions of young women and young men. Although 71% of the sample were female, this was unrelated to the types of abuse disclosed or the sex of the young person making the disclosure (Q20). That is, women workers were as likely as their male collegues to have experienced disclosures from young men.

However, in terms of their perceptions, training was highlighted as a major concern for youth sector workers. 56% of respondents strongly agreed and 33% agree with the statement "There has been too little training of mandatory reporting for community workers with young people" (Q21D).

The results with respect to sources of knowledge (Q16) appear to reflect the impact of media coverage and personal networks rather than formal training. A little over one third of the sample have received training from H & CS but the responses did not enable us to be certain that this was due to having a work place or professional status that brought them into contact with the training provided to those groups in section 64(1C) as they approached gazettal.

There were interesting findings with respect to the skills perceived as important by the sample and their self-rating of competency (Q17). Workers valued and felt competent in their interpersonal skills with young people and in matters related to the treatment of sensitive information, including disclosures. They rated themselves as less competent on items associated with events which may follow notification such as appearing as a witness or preparing a report for the Court.

It was consistent with the sample's performance in the knowledge section of this survey to find that 61% of the sample considered their competency lacking or needing improvement with respect to explaining mandatory reporting laws to young people(Q17A). 68% of the sample identified this skill as very important. Somewhat curiously, slightly more of sample (73%) ranked the skill of explaining young people's legal rights with respect to protective services as very important and a slightly lower proportion felt their competency in this lacking or in need of improvement (52%; Q17B).

Questions 19 and 20 sought to tap workers' prior experience with young people's disclosure of abuse under what are assumed to be voluntary reporting conditions. 77% indicated they had received a disclosure. Among this subsample, there was no difference in the frequency of physical abuse disclosures from young males and young females. Disclosures of sexual abuse twice as frequent from young females in comparison with young males. The gender of the worker had no statistical effect.

When workers were asked if they had reported abuse disclosures to the authorities the two most often cited reasons for doing so were that the young person had agreed (35%), or the worker's concern that abuse would continue (25%). This indicates the way in which youth sector workers allow the maintenanace of co-operation with young people to be determinative while recognising there are circumstances where the importance of co-operative relationships are secondary to the the risk factors involved.

Nearly half of the subsample who had received disclosures said they had elected not to make a report. By comparison, the New South Wales study of Ridout and Filis (1993: 103) found (in a very small sample) that 72% of the youth workers who had suspected abuse had chosen at least once not to report it.

One main reason cited by our respondents (29%) was the practical current cirumstances of the the survivor; he or she was now out of reach of the perterator. Three other themes also emerged as influential: the young person's attitude (27%); arrangement of services without H & CS involvement (17%); concern that notification may lead to systems abuse (12%). 11% dealt with the disclosure by making the issue known to others in their agency or other agencies apart from H & CS.

The survey data displays the inconsistency and ambiguity with which youth sector workers perceive mandatory reporting. The majority of surveyed workers agreed that more professional workers will report than previously under mandatory reporting legislation. Also half of those surveyed are in favour of a legal obligation to report rather than leaving the decision to a worker's discretion, and relatively few see a responsibility to report as being at odds with their identity as a community based worker or consider that a young person will see them as abandoning her or him.

However, it is also the case that 39% envisage a situation where they would not comply with the law and a further 34% are undecided. Furthermore, when asked to what extent they agree with the statement "Mandatory reporting laws themselves are good, however the circumstances of their implementation in Victoria are inappropriate" 47% of the youth sector workers surveyed agreed and 39% were undecided. Most pertinently, the more experience workers have had with disclosures, the more likely they were to be concerned about the circumstances of implementation of mandatory reporting laws.

While respondents believed quite strongly that mandatory reporting legislation influences behaviour, the results of the survey suggest that this influence diminishes when the issue becomes personalised in terms of their own behaviour. This accords with the findings of Ridoutt and Filis (1993:120) who report that they were unable to substantiate mandating legislation as a major influence on reporting behaviour. Their research found it had a peripheral influence. Mandatory reporting legislation was not seen as irrelevent, rather, that other factors such as the workers' relationship with the DCS and the development of skills and knowledge which were more important.

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