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The inside story: how to get a job in child protection

Ever wondered what hiring managers are looking for when they recruit for Australia’s most sought-after organisations?

In this series, we interview the people who hire at the organisations where you want to work — and we’ll give you the inside knowledge you need to make your next job application amazing. 

This month we speak to Melissa Hart from the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) which works across areas including Child Protection, Prevention of Family Violence, Housing, Disability, Multicultural Affairs, LGBTQIA+ Equality, Veterans, and the offices for Women and Youth.

(You can check out the roles in child protection that DFFH is currently advertising here.)

Hi Mel, thanks for chatting with us! To kick us off, can you tell us a bit about what DFFH does?

Department of Families Fairness and Housing (DFFH) allows a dedicated focus on the community wellbeing and the social recovery of Victoria. The DFFH departmental structure supports Family Safety Victoria, Homes Victoria and Respect Victoria.

Our experienced and dedicated child protection practitioners investigate reports of children and young people who are at risk of significant harm, abuse or neglect. Child protection practitioners also refer children and families to services that assist in providing the ongoing safety and wellbeing of children, make applications to the Children’s Court if the child’s safety cannot be ensured within the family, and administer protection orders granted by the Children’s Court.

All children deserve to grow up feeling safe, supported and loved.

What are some of the things that might attract candidates to apply to DFHH?

Working at DFHH you will be one amongst more than 2000 qualified practitioners, working towards creating safe and caring communities for Victorian children and families. 

Careers in child protection range from case practice support workers through to expert practice leaders. Your career will benefit from professional development, education and on the job training. You will be well supported as you work with others to make decisions that benefit the lives of children and families.

Child protection practitioners work with community service organisations to care for children and young people and to help them to stay connected to family and culture. They provide the family with support services and programs to assist with parenting challenges to support the family, so all children and young people have the opportunity to grow up in a loving, caring and stable environment, enabling them to develop into healthy, capable, happy adults. 

We offer regular supervision from experienced social workers, alongside access to an employee assistance program (EAP) providing short term mental health interventions and confidential counselling for all employees. 

We offer professional development through training programs and study leave. We support work-life balance with flexible working hours, generous leave entitlements and paid paternity leave. Child Protection Practitioners receive an additional five days of paid annual leave after 12 months of service.

We can assist new starters to our regional areas with relocation assistance, regional orientation, and a thorough induction.

If you live and work in an area classified as ‘remote’ by the Australian Tax Office, you may also be eligible for additional salary packaging arrangements, such as mortgage interest, rental costs, and residential utilities.

The Child Protection Workforce Strategy 2021-2024 guides the attraction, retention, and development of the child protection workforce in Victoria to ensure it continues to meet current and future demand. 

Can you walk us through the recruitment process at DFFH?

All applications for Child Protection roles need to go through our website, the careers.vic portal or EthicalJobs.com.au. 

To apply, you are required to upload a current resume and qualifications, including your academic transcript.

From here your qualifications will be reviewed and if assessed as eligible, you will be progressed through our recruitment process, which differs depending on which level the role you’re applying for sits at:

For Child Protection Practitioners (CPP Level 3): 

  • Video Interview and initial online behavioural assessment
  • Psychometric assessment
  • Behavioural Interview
  • Business Line interview 
  • Reference checks & Safety Screen (WWCC & PC) 

For Advanced Child Protection Practitioners (CPP Level 4): 

  • Phone interview 
  • Psychometric Assessment 
  • Business line Interview. 
  • Reference checks and Safety Screen (WWCC & PC) 

For Senior Child Protection Practitioners (CPP Levels 5 & 6): 

  • Interview
  • Reference checks and Safety Screen (WWCC & PC) 

What are the top things you look for when assessing a candidate application? 

The first assessment is confirmation of our mandatory qualifications. To be a child protection practitioner, you need one of the following:

  • A recognised social work degree or a similar welfare or behavioural-related degree, or a recognised Diploma of Community Services Work, or
  • A similar qualification that is studied over a minimum of two academic years full-time (or part time equivalent) and includes: a primary focus on child development, human behaviour, family dynamics and/or impacts of trauma, supervised fieldwork placements (ideally completed within the child and family welfare sector) and at least one unit of study in case management, case work practice or counselling.

Our entry level role (CPP3) does not require any work experience, however previous work history in the social welfare sector is desirable. Our Advanced Practitioner roles (CPP4) require a minimum 2 years’ case work experience in child and family welfare sector, and our Senior Practitioner roles (CPP5 & CPP6) require extensive experience in a related role or in Child Protection. 

Child protection work is rewarding, fulfilling, challenging and demanding. We’re looking for professionals who are confident and resilient, with a strong sense of social justice. You must be empathetic and open to change when working collaboratively with families and other professionals. While there is a need for therapy-based skills, a great deal of case work involves statutory investigation, analysis and critical thinking.

What’s the most common mistake you see candidates make in their applications?

We receive hundreds of applications each year, so its important to have an easy to read, relevant, well-structured resume stating experience, skills and qualifications. Too much detail can become lost and irrelevant, too little detail leaves you less competitive.

And if they make it to interview, who is a candidate most likely to meet on an interview panel at DFFH?

Our child protection interview panels consist of a Hiring Manager, Senior Practitioner or Director in Child Protection who pride themselves on being our subject matter experts, and a workforce services officer from our People and Culture team.

Our Aboriginal Staff Support Network, unique to DFFH, provides Aboriginal employees support in the recruitment process, and our Diversity team offers support if you have identified a disability and require advice and support with the recruitment process.

What advice would you give candidates to improve their interview skills?

Do your research. Know who DFFH is and what a role in child protection looks like. Be familiar with our core purpose, vision and values. Our vision and values underpin everything we do, they guide our behaviour and work practices.

Review the position description, our interview questions are based on the key selection criteria. Align your work history with the role you are applying to and highlight any transferrable skills.

Be familiar with the Child Youth and Family Act 2005 and review our child protection websitethere is a wealth of information available there.

Also: Be yourself, listen to the question presented, and engage, be curious, ask questions. 

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to work at DFFH but perhaps doesn’t have the right qualifications or experience?

Our CPP2 roles do not require qualifications or experience, so we welcome applicants working towards a qualification to apply.  Our entry level CPP3 roles, require qualifications, however do not require experience. 

If you hold a recognised qualification, please apply, we support you in your career journey in child protection. 

Our child protection program also offers a Vacation Employment Program (VAC) throughout the year, which is a fixed term paid employment opportunity for students studying a recognised degree or Diploma.

The 450 hour placement enables VAC employees to experience a quality learning opportunity whilst engaging in real work with experience and scenarios upon which you can reflect on in your studies. 

Finally, the Australia Community Workers Association lists eligible qualifications acceptable for child protection. We would advise you to refer to their website should you be considering taking up study in the near future. 

Thanks Melissa!

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