At a special event held in Perth on 7 November 2019 I was delighted to be appointed a Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) Ambassador, joining a growing list of VCI Ambassadors that includes the 2019 Senior Australian of the Year and Families Australia Board member, Dr Sue Packer AM (photographed with VCI Founder Tony Pietropiccolo AM, on left).
VCI aims to inspire Australians to value all children, understand that a child’s wellbeing is the shared responsibility of the entire community and ensure children are at the forefront of our considerations. Its vision is the creation of a society in which all children can flourish, have a safe, caring and supportive childhood and maximise their potential. The VCI website is here.
Most Australian children grow up safe and well, but many tens of thousands are not getting what they need to have good lives. Official figures tell us that the number of children in out-of-home care has more than trebled in the past 20 years. The nation’s annual expenditure on child protection and related family support efforts has reached $6 billion and is growing at 10 per cent per annum.
Australia needs to do far better for children who experience vulnerability and disadvantage. Why? Because we cannot build a just, fair and compassionate society while we leave some lagging behind. And, failure to address today’s problems will only compound difficulties for future generations.
I have had the privilege of convening the National Coalition on Child Safety and Wellbeing for the past 12 years. The National Coalition comprises over 200 non-government organisations and researchers who support Australia’s first-ever plan to be agreed by the Council of Australian Governments to improve child safety and wellbeing – the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020.
Based on the concept of shifting investments toward early intervention and prevention, the National Framework has been the umbrella for the establishment of the first-ever National Standards for Out-of-Home Care, the office of the National Children’s Commissioner, the Child Aware Conferences, and the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.
While a good start has been made, far more needs to be done. Work has commenced on building a bigger, bolder national child and family wellbeing plan to succeed the National Framework after 2020. Such a new national plan must find ways to encourage us to place children firmly at the centre of our thoughts and actions. A society that cherishes and values children as children lays down solid foundations for future prosperity. It makes us question our adult preoccupations. We should not expect governments alone to give momentum to these ideas. Valuing children starts with individuals, families, workplaces and communities.
VCI is an excellent reminder of the pressing needs of many of Australia’s children and the tremendous gains we can all make by taking more time to reflect on the joy, vitality and meaning of childhood.
Dr Brian Babington