Over the past week I have had the privilege of visiting Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney to convene forums on the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 – the national plan of action to reduce child abuse and neglect.
Around 100 representatives from the non-government, research and government sectors discussed the state of play in implementing the National Framework’s Third Action Plan 2015-2018 and ways to improve children’s safety and wellbeing at the national level.
The latter question was provocative. One widely-expressed theme was that we must continue to prioritise early intervention and prevention efforts, that is, actions that seek to prevent child abuse and neglect by addressing its causes, especially adult alcohol and substance misuse and family and domestic violence. Here it is important to encourage adults to seek help early and that support services are accessible and well resourced.
the forums revealed a strong sense that we can turn these statistics around…
Another major theme was that we must keep working to reframe public discourse about children. Many participants talked about how the media played a crucial role in changing community perceptions about the centrality of children in society. Many spoke about the need for positive, encouraging stories that support parents rather than stigmatise them.
Some participants talked about the importance of local communities in encouraging child safe, child aware environments. Schools and local health services were frequently mentioned as places that could play an even greater role in helping families that struggle to access services. The importance of seeking out and truly hearing and responding to the voices of children and young people came through in all forums.
There was optimism. We know that the number of substantiated child abuse cases has risen by 36% in the past six years alone and that a record $4.8 billion was spent in 2014-15 on child protection, out-of-home care and allied family support services. Against that background, however, the forums revealed a strong sense that we can turn these statistics around, especially through more concerted and integrated whole-of-community efforts. There was urgency, yet realism that this will be a long journey that requires making child safety and wellbeing everyone’s business.
In the coming weeks more forums will be held in Brisbane, Darwin, Alice Springs, Adelaide and Perth.
Dr Brian Babington
16 March 2017