Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of holding discussions with hundreds of people around the country on ways to advance child safety and wellbeing, especially through to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 (the ‘National Framework’). My report on the ‘national roadshow’ was recently presented to the National Forum on Protecting Australia’s Children (more information below) and is also reproduced here.
In summary, ten forums were held in all capital cities, as well as in Alice Springs, to discuss the National Framework and seek ideas about ways forward. In all, 404 people attended. Of this number, 77% were from the non-government and research sectors and 23% were from Commonwealth, State or Territory government. Participants were briefed on the status of the National Framework and asked two questions: ‘As a nation, what more must we do to improve child safety and wellbeing?’ and ‘How can we get the Australian community at large to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of children?’
There was wide support for the National Framework as a key national initiative to enhance child safety and wellbeing that seeks to prioritise prevention and early intervention efforts based in a public health model. Participants appreciated efforts to build a strong model of collaboration across government, non-government and research sectors and in helping to strengthen uniformity across differing levels of government, the non-government and research sectors.
There was an overwhelming consensus that far more needed to be done. In terms of the frequency with which suggestions were made during the workshops, the main themes concerned ways to improve current systems, new areas that needed emphasis, tackling root causes, and valuing children.
In terms of improving existing systems, ideas for improvement mentioned with particular frequency concerned the operation of out-of-home care, co-location of services, strengthening linkages between and across governments and policy areas, increasing the availability of trauma informed practice and services, developing greater national consistency in areas such as working with children and workforce development, and engaging local government. The overarching importance of prioritising efforts to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities was highlighted by many participants.
Under suggested new and additional areas, the most frequent recommendation was for more support for effective parenting. Also, the case was strongly put for better understandings about, and responses to, the needs of children with disability. Strong emphasis was placed by many participants on responding to the needs of children within culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
Another frequently-expressed theme concerned the importance of addressing the causes of child abuse and neglect. Several participants urged more effort to raise public awareness about, and for policymakers to address, factors such as poverty and homelessness. For many participants, it was particularly important to see, hear and respond more effectively to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people who faced far greater disadvantage than the non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cohort.
Several participants raised the issue of how society values and cares for children. Many spoke about the need to put children ‘at the centre’ of society, to more truly recognise their importance, hear their voices and respond more fully to their needs including through, for example, champions for children. There was considerable discussion about the important role that could be played by the media in presenting more positive messaging around children and parenting.
As I mentioned above, the report was presented to the National Forum for Protecting Australia’s Children last month. The National Forum comprises senior Commonwealth, State and Territory Government officials, senior non-government and research sector representatives, and several Commonwealth and State/Territory statutory office-holders. The National Forum decided to establish a working group to advance thinking about the fourth action plan under the National Framework for the period between 2018 and 2020, using the report on the workshops as an important basis for the working group’s deliberations.
Finally, I wish to record my sincere appreciation to all participants in the workshops.
Dr Brian Babington
16 August 2017