A: My goals, and those of all the team at Families Australia, are to:
Australia faces a crisis in relation to child abuse and neglect. It is a matter of national concern that over 40,000 children suffer abuse and neglect each year. The number of children in out-of-home care—that is, in foster, relative and other forms of non-parental care—has almost doubled over the past decade to around 41,000.
An estimated 17% of women in Australia have experienced violence by a partner (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012).
Our society must do far better to overcome the key drivers of child abuse and family and domestic violence, in particular, substance misuse and behavioural and attitudinal problems amongst adults.
That is why Families Australia strongly supports the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children and the National Plan of Action to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, two of the most important current national initiatives aimed at driving down rates of violence and abuse.
The gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is estimated to be 9.7 years for women and 11.5 years for men (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were seven times as likely as non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be receiving child protection services in general, or to be the subject of substantiated abuse or neglect, and over nine times as likely to be on a care and protection order or in out-of-home care (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015).
These are just two of many statistics that tell us how much ground we have to make up in terms of greater social justice and equity when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Families are the most important building block of communities, societies and nations. Yet, I think that sometimes we can take our families for granted, rather like we can take for granted how fundamentally important the environment and our planet are to life.
I believe strongly that we need to think more about the value of families and do more to support our and others’ families, whatever form they take. What does your family mean to you? What do you give and get from your family? While at times family life can undoubtedly be challenging, families are the best places to raise children, to share and to be understood.
In May each year for over a decade Families Australia has hosted National Families Week to celebrate the vital role that families play in our lives. Over those years, more than a million people have participated in National Families Week community events around the country.
National Families Week in Australia is timed to coincide with the International Day of Families on 15 May, the day set aside each year by the United Nations to mark “the importance which the international community attaches to families as basic units of society as well as its concern regarding their situation around the world”.
A: I think, first, about Families Australia’s catalytic role in advancing the case for, and now helping to implement, Australia’s first-ever national plan of action to tackle child abuse and neglect.
Second, I am proud of the work we did over eight years to help establish the Alliance for Forgotten Australians (AFA). ‘Forgotten Australians’ is the term now widely used to describe those who were in orphanages and institutions as children in Australia during the 20th century.
There may have been up to 500,000 Forgotten Australians. Many survivors of institutions still suffer multiple disadvantage in their adult lives, such as poorer health outcomes than many other Australians in their age group. Families Australia helped AFA to grow into an organisation that has a truly national voice and speaks to those in power about the wrongs of the past and about ways to improve the lives of their fellow Forgotten Australians.
Third, I am very proud of our work to help build stronger professional practices within the NGO sector in terms of working with families, children and adults who are experiencing vulnerability and marginalisation. The annual Child Aware Approaches Conferences are a great, living example of how Families Australia helps to bring together workers, researchers and policymakers from around Australia to share their ideas and best practices to make a positive difference for families who are struggling.
A: While many families are doing well on a range of indicators such as healthy and supportive relationships, many others face significant challenges.
At the risk of omitting many other important issues, below is a snapshot of some key issues facing some families and children in Australia today.
A: I think our impact can be seen in at least four ways. Foremost, I think that Families Australia has established itself as an organisation that ‘stands’ at the national level for the importance of families whatever form those families take.
We make numerous submissions to the Federal Government and Parliament about ways to improve family wellbeing. While not all our ideas are accepted as final government policy, I firmly believe that the existence of a well-informed, collaborative and practically-oriented organisation such as Families Australia keeps political and bureaucratic attention on ‘family’ as a key focus in the policymaking process.
Our job at the national policy level is to add our voice to those of others who work to improve the wellbeing of families who experience the greatest vulnerability and marginalisation.
Second, our work to develop the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children and assist the Alliance for Forgotten Australians has undoubtedly focused national policy attention and resourcing, respectively, on current and historic instances of child abuse and neglect.
Third, by bringing together NGO workers, researchers and policymakers from around the country each year in the Child Aware Approaches Conference, Families Australia helps to spread ideas about best practices in working effectively with families and children. We know from delegate feedback that these conferences deliver real, tangible improvements in the ways that practitioners work alongside families.
Last and certainly not least, Families Australia has hosted National Families Week each May for over a decade. In that time more than a million people have joined together in community events around Australia to celebrate the vital role that families play in their lives and in making communities stronger. Once again, the feedback from participants is clear: National Families Week means a lot to people because it publicly reaffirms important messages about the strengths, joys and challenges of families on which our society is built.
A: It’s easy to see that families today take incredibly diverse forms. In my view they all deserve respect and support. Rather than pine for an ideal family type, we need to look at and acknowledge the reality of how families actually are today, their great strengths as well as the issues and challenges they face.
Look at the diversity of families. We know, for example, that today that there are many grandparent-headed households where grandparents provide primary care for their grandchildren, families based around same-sex relationships, couple families with children, single-parent households, and single-person households, to name a few.
I think we should honour and support all these families. The real question is not what form families take, but how can all families enjoy the greatest possible wellbeing in areas such as personal safety, secure housing, adequate income, family-friendly work hours, harmonious relationships, meaningful connections with the wider community, and optimum physical and mental health.
A: My family, my friends, my fellow workers, and a belief in our shared responsibility to improve the intertwined human and planetary condition for future generations. There is a great deal to be concerned about—and many errors are made along the way—but I see that much progress has been made and remain optimistic about the future. To me, this quote from American historian, playwright, and social activist, Professor Howard Zinn, is important:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.
It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.
If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”