Informing Permanent Care Discourses: A Thematic Analysis of Parliamentary Debates in Victoria

Research paper by Mackieson P, Shlonsky A, Connolly M.

Indexed on: 11 Dec '18Published on: 14 Mar '18Published in: British journal of social work


The policy, legal and service configuration of a child and family welfare system reflects the historically predominant ideological perspectives relating to children, families, community and state. Examination of parliamentary debates provides a window on the discourses relating to policy and legislative change in a jurisdiction. This article presents a document analysis of parliamentary debates in the Australian state of Victoria using Applied Thematic Analysis to investigate the key issues and ideas that informed consideration of the Bills associated with the 1989 introduction of Permanent Care Orders—a special form of guardianship preferred to adoption for children drifting in out-of-home care. Four primary themes were identified: the rhetoric of rights; the ‘hierarchy of family’ debate; child protection is everybody’s business; and the politics of influence. Interpreted using Fox Harding’s typology of ideological perspectives in Western child welfare, these findings reinforce that different views about family formation emerge at times of social transition, in turn, influencing the political discourse that shapes the policy and legislative approach to child and family welfare. Permanency planning policies supporting children’s connections to their biological families were established in Victoria in the 1980s, but now appear to be shifting to more paternalist protectionist and laissez-faire orientations.