The NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) has shared with us news of a documentary soon to premiere on SBS called The Department.

The documentary, due to air on 10 October at 8.30pm, follows the work of NSW DCJ caseworkers and the children and families it supports. It features footage from the Child Protection Helpline, through to pre-natal, child protection, restoration, out of home care and leaving care support.

The production company that made the film – Shark Island Institute – is philanthropic and independent of DCJ. They approached the department a few years ago with the vision of going behind the scenes into the world of child protection.

DCJ feels it’s the right time to be more transparent about their work, as they continue to change their practice with families through the permanency principles, the NSW Practice Framework, and work to address the injustices of the past.

Shark Island has a strong track record of making ethical films with a big social impact, yet there were many legal and ethical considerations to manage. DCJ needed to consider the impact on the children who are featured in The Department and the reaction the community may have.

“We wanted families who consented to being involved in the documentary to feel empowered to have a voice in their stories, and have the opportunity to review footage and ultimately be in control of their portrayal,” said Simone Walker, Deputy Secretary, Strategy, Policy and Commissioning, NSW DCJ.

“It was also important to give participants the option of withdrawing from being filmed if they changed their mind.

“For our staff, it took courage to allow cameras to follow their work over many months, and we’re grateful to those that stepped up to the challenge.

“The result is real and raw. It shows families grappling with grief and loss, caseworkers under pressure to make big decisions, and the ups and downs of child protection. There is also a lot of hope as we see increased safety and belonging for children through parents making significant changes, foster, family and kinship carers providing love and security, and the support and intervention from DCJ.”

While it focuses primarily on DCJ, it looks at themes pertinent to all their work.

“Our hope is that the film will create discussions in the community about the underlying reasons children and families become involved in the child protection and out of home care system,” said Simone Czech, Deputy Secretary, Child Protection and Permanency, District and Youth Justice Services, NSW DCJ.

“The film will look at how domestic violence, trauma, drugs and alcohol, mental health, poverty and the ongoing impact of the Stolen Generations affects the safety of children. We hope it will make people think about the role the system plays, and what everyone in the community can do to support children in their own lives to be safe.

“We are also optimistic it will inspire people to pursue rewarding careers across the whole sector; choose study pathways that bring them into social work and related professions, or consider fostering and adoption.”

You can learn more about the film on the SBS website.