When details of a terrible case of abuse or neglect become public, it's often the child protection system that gets blamed for failing to intervene early enough, or to remove children from danger.
But have other organisations and the public also failed to intervene and help a family or child in need?
Morag McArthur quietly argues that child protection is "just a tiny sliver at the top of quite a significant service system'', but "always gets the blame".
"We don't blame police for the murder rate, we don't even blame police for the rate of crime, or psychiatrists for people taking their own lives,'' she says.
"But … the child protection system gets the blame for any of the systems failures when really there are multiple systems involved.''
Professor McArthur sits in a conference room at the Australian Catholic University's Watson campus, from where she runs the Institute of Child Protection Studies.
She combines a passion for child welfare with a common sense approach to what can be done to protect children from harm.
McArthur says ACT child protection authorities sift through 15,000 reports a year. She says enough money can never be spent on statutory child protection.
"You can never, ever, have enough case workers, staff and everything else,'' she says. "The only way to deal with it is through early intervention and prevention.
"We know what the risk factors are. We know what causes families to be under stress and to cause concerns for children's safety. We know about that. We know it's mental health, we know it's substance abuse, we know it's domestic violence. Poverty compounds all of those issues.''
McArthur has headed the Institute of Child Protection Studies since it opened in 2005 with the goal of becoming a centre for research excellence in child, youth and family welfare.
She is a sociologist and social work academic who began her career as a social worker.
McArthur is married and has a son and two stepchildren.
The ACT government and the university established the institute after the Vardon report into the ACT child protection system recommended closer ties between the government and academic researchers.
The only other equivalent body in Australia is the Australian Centre for Child Protection at the University of South Australia.
The institute receives $100,000 in funding each year from the territory government.
It currently has six academic staff, four PhD students and several adjunct and casual researchers.
Recent projects have included assessing children's courts, looking at what programs work for homeless children and workforce trends in child protection.
One of the organisation's strengths is working with children on what are termed "sensitive issues''.
This has included talking with the children of homeless families, indigenous children and the children of prisoners in Canberra's jail.
Surprisingly, McArthur says very little academic work is conducted that actually involves speaking with vulnerable children.
"People are worried about upsetting children. Our argument is that being involved in research is not necessarily something that's going to upset them. In fact, it can be actually be a really positive experience for them,'' she says. "When you're talking to kids, it's about their lives. It's not as if it's something that they don't know about.''
A study into homeless children and their families found support workers were anxious about talking to children.
"They feel like they don't have the skills and the capacity to do it,'' McArthur says.
As a result of that study, the institute developed a tool kit with federal and ACT funding to help workers engage children and assesses their needs.
A survey of children in out-of-home care found that only 63 per cent were at least sometimes involved in decision-making.
One area where McArthur says more work needs to be done to ensure children's voices are heard is in the courts dealing with child protection issues.
"Children understand that they're not the final arbiters of these things. But hearing what children wish and want is really important.''
When conversation inevitably turns to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, McArthur returns to the importance of children's voices being heard.
She says some of the reforms to institutions needed to reduce the risk of child abuse have already been made.
But McArthur says change needs to occur in the way society sees children.
"Either they're invisible and adults' needs and wishes are always dominant because they're adults and these are children, or there's the 'precious childhood' model where we're all helicopter parents.
"There's a bit of work to do I think about seeing children in a way that's neither ignored nor precious.
''I think that's where the work has to be done.''
The needs of adults too often been paramount to those of children, McArthur says.
"And that's why children have reported things and priests' reputations, or the church's reputation, or the organisation's reputation was still seen as more important.''
McArthur's colleague Dr Tim Moore agrees the voices of children are often unheard.
Moore has worked on projects with children who are homeless, have parents with drug and alcohol problems and child carers.
Moore is evaluating projects that address intergenerational trauma in indigenous communities.
He recalls an ice-breaking activity where children were asked which actor would play them in a movie.
A 14-year-old responded: "I wouldn't be able to watch it because it would have adult themes. You know: drugs, language, violence.''
Moore says young people are often frustrated by the fact no one listens to them.
"I think it's often the case for kids who know that things aren't going well in their families to get frustrated that they can't have a say.
"If the kids' parents have drug and alcohol issues they say, 'We called Care and Protection, or we tell teachers or we ask for help and no one would listen to us. No one would believe us because we're kids.' ''
One of the institute's current projects is trialling a new model for improving contact between children in out-of-home care and their birth parents.
Lead researcher, Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin, says it is not appropriate for children who have been victims of serious abuse to have contact with the perpetrator.
But in many cases where children have been placed in out-of-home care, continuing contact can be positive.
"The research shows that if done well it improves child outcomes, gives them a sense of identity and a sense of where they come from,'' Taplin says.
"Often when they're older they do choose to go home so having those relationships go well helps.'' But Taplin says contact can be better managed.
"Even if the child's in care and everything's okay, often it's the contact that is problematic,'' she says.
So how do we prevent the kinds of family problems that can lead to child abuse and neglect in the first place?
McArthur says there is a common belief that looking after children is a private responsibility and outsiders should not interfere.
Yet many parents, especially sole parents with no family connections, lack the support they need.
"People have really fragile and ambiguous networks,'' she says.
A study in north Canberra conducted by the institute found that sole parents were unlikely to access services which could be helpful. Often this was because they feared being judged.
Meanwhile, well-educated parents with small children took advantage of free or subsidised playgroups or music classes.
"We know very well why vulnerable people don't use services,'' Macarthur says.
''They're worried, they're judged, they don't know, they can't get there, they don't know what it costs and if it costs anything they can't afford it.''
The way for professionals to reach vulnerable families and offer help may be through "universal settings'', such as preschools, school, childcare and Centrelink, McArthur says.
And maybe the rest of us need to be more willing to step in and help vulnerable families before things go wrong.
McArthur asks: "If you hear a crying baby next door would you go and knock on the door and say is everything okay? I hope I would.''
Peter Jean is Chief Assembly Reporter