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The public health model for child protection and wellbeing

Our sector sits on a spectrum of service delivery, often referred to as the public health model. There are three layers of service delivery in the public health model: Primary or universal services, secondary services, and tertiary services.

A diagram of the public health model.

A text alternative to the Public Health Model diagram is available.

Primary or universal services

Primary or universal services target whole communities or populations to strengthen protective factors and diminish risk factors that might contribute to child abuse and neglect. Prevention programs are generally primary or universal. Examples include:

  • The ‘There’s no excuse for abuse’ campaign, developed by Our Watch, aims to challenge public assumptions about domestic and family violence through television and other public campaigning. By shifting public attitudes, social awareness becomes a protective factor that mitigates violence.

Other examples of universal services that contribute to prevention are mainstream education and health care services, such as antenatal services and quality child care.

Secondary or targeted services

Secondary or targeted services support children and families with certain vulnerabilities or who are at greater risk of experiencing violence, abuse and neglect. Early intervention services are generally secondary or targeted. Some examples of these services include supported playgroups that offer family worker support for families who need it, or targeted parenting support for families with specific risk factors.

Tertiary services

Tertiary services are specialised intensive services working with children and families where some form of child abuse or neglect is already happening. Statutory child protection services and intensive family based therapeutic services are in this group.

People often move between layers of service fluidly

In reality, the children and families we work with often experience all three of these service types, separately, or sometimes all at once. Prevention and early intervention is key to the long term reduction of child abuse and neglect, and tertiary services do absolutely essential work with families with more complex problems. Risk factors families are experiencing change over time, and families’ needs change. A coordinated approach that involves services working together has the best possible chance of reducing child abuse and neglect.

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Last updated: 03 May 2021