A strengths approach to child-protection education

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Teachers face many competing responsibilities and barriers to protect children, which consequently presents many challenges for pre-service teacher preparation. This thesis outlines a research project in teacher education, that explores the use and potential of a strengths approach to enhance the area of child-protection education. The broad context of child protection and the development of a strengths approach were joint catalysts for planning and implementing a strengths-based research project and methodology. The prevalence and negative effects of child abuse on children’s development and teaching practices are well documented, yet there is a conspicuous lack of literature on successful child-protection education strategies. In contrast, the use of a strengths approach in social services yields positive results and this suggests potential for using the approach in education. This thesis explores that potential as a research opportunity examining connections between the strengths approach, teacher preparation and child protection both in literature and practice.

The research project charts teacher-education students’ responses to a strengths-based child-protection module that was newly developed for pre-service teachers by the researcher. The author occupied the dual role of teacher and researcher. The thirteen-week module was designed for students to explore issues and perspectives of abuse and safety, learn how to identify their own and children’s strengths and formulate teaching strategies for child protection. Responses from the pre-service teachers, during and after the module, were analysed to elucidate meanings, understandings and implications of this practical application of a strengths approach to education. The research developed and used a strengths approach to methodology. Qualitative data collection techniques of individual interviews, focus groups and electronic research were modified using strengths principles. Modifications were made in order to maximise collaboration and to allow participants to explore, demonstrate and share their own strengths whilst giving responses to key research themes. The data were examined by contextual and thematic analysis. Interpretations were shaped by principles articulated in strengths literature and research in the field of child protection and teacher education.

The research findings confirmed the significant practical and moral demands of child-protection education for pre-service teachers, as identified in child-protection education literature. For many participants the dialogue focussed initially around the issues of child abuse and protection as well as their personal needs and feelings when preparing to be teachers. Participants affirmed the need for practical solutions to protect children and saw existing teacher preparation as a barrier to protection. They appeared to welcome and value the opportunity to vision, and explore strengths, resources and strategies as they were presented in the teaching module. The strengths approach studied by the participants appears to have contributed to an increased awareness and confidence in child-protection education both during and after the module. Some participants explained that they used an explicit strengths approach during teaching practice, while others reported that they felt they had used specific elements of the approach more implicitly for a broader range of teaching issues. The participants’ reactions to a strengths approach to child-protection education were multi-layered, positive, critical and pragmatic. For some participants, reactions indicated that the approach influenced or complemented their personal and professional philosophy and together with their knowledge of broader education theory, could have wider use than in child protection. Other participants expressed limitations and the need for adaptations in the use of the approach. Overall, the participants’ reactions appear to support claims that the strengths approach has potential beyond the social-service sector and may be translated from a largely therapeutic context to an educational one. Most participants found that identifying their own strengths was challenging yet confirming. The difficulty expressed by one participant in examining their strengths prompted further investigation of this element of the strengths approach. Post teaching-practice data revealed that participants used solution-focussed strategies, recognised individual strengths and were confident when discussing and planning for complex ethical issues of child protection. Unexpected findings from the research emerged, not from the data collected but from determining the research methodology. In attempting to match research subject and method, surprisingly, the strengths approach also emerged as an enhancement to conducting research. As well as prompting the expected rigorous examination of researcher subjectivity and ethics, strengths principles also influenced the choice and appropriateness of data collection and consequently provided a guide to developing new research adaptations. By drawing on the strengths of existing paradigms, theories and methods, especially those that adhered to strengths principles of social justice and empowerment, a strengths research framework was developed. Although influenced by a multi-layered theoretical foundation, the singular strengths framework was designed to elucidate rich meaning and understanding from the data collected. The single framework provided a consistent reference point for determining methods and guiding analysis.

This research indicated that a strengths approach to pre-service child-protection training could provide a positive alternative, or addition, to the single, adjunct child-protection workshop currently offered by most teacher-education courses. The research findings suggest that an extended strengths approach assisted the cohort of pre-service teachers to understand, develop strategies and connect with child-protection issues in their careers. Additionally, the findings suggest that a solutions-based, strengths approach helps to relieve the reported anxiety felt by teachers in dealing with child-protection issues. Rather unexpectedly, using a collaborative, strengths-based research process also provided an opportunity to develop and use new techniques to work with research participants.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • James Cook University, Australia
  • Alloway, Nola, Co-Supervisor, External person
  • Vick, Melissa, Principal Supervisor, External person
Award date28 Feb 2013
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2012


Dive into the research topics of 'A strengths approach to child-protection education'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this