Author: admin

26 Jul 2017
P1040526

What Are We Doing About Child Poverty? – WACOSS Community Relief and Resilience Conference 2017.

 

wacoss

The Valuing Children Initiative was established in January 2016 by Parkerville and Centrecare to progress the very simple but important idea that children have value.

The Valuing Children Initiative believes in a society that values all children, not just our own; a society in which children have immense significance, not just for who they can become, but also for who they are at any time in their life’s journey; communities where children are celebrated and which make every effort to help them flourish and maximise their potential; a culture in which they are seen as citizens in their own right and their needs and expectations not melded as one with those of adults.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a society where adults see their responsibility to all children irrespective of who they are and where they are from; where parents, extended families, and decision makers, place children at the forefront of their considerations? In other words, to have a community where everyone’s children are truly loved.

The Valuing Children Initiative believes that in such a society there would be few children living in poverty, abused, mistreated, or having their needs ignored. It also believes that Australia can become such a society. The statistics tell us that there are too many children in Australia today whose life experience is far from ideal. Despite the knowledge we have of the suffering of those children, and society having the know-how and the means to alleviate that suffering, we have been unable to make any significant or lasting change to their lives. It is not that we, as a community, don’t know what to do. There is a great deal of research and understanding of the issues and the importance of early childhood. Our political and community leaders are aware of the problems and what can be done about them. So, the question is, what stops us from making the necessary changes and providing our children with what they need?

The Valuing Children Initiative believes that there are cultural and attitudinal factors that underpin our actions and inactions. Cultural behaviours and attitudes can be blind spots for any society. It is easy to accept ‘what is’ and continue along well-trodden paths wondering why little seems to change.  But let’s be fair some things have changed. The experiences of children in Australia today are not those of the children of the early 20th century. Many attitudes and behaviours have shifted along the way, children are no longer working rather than attending school, infant mortality has decreased greatly even though it remains a significant issue within some Aboriginal communities.

However, we have much more to do.  We need to keep questioning what stops us from doing what we need to do. The economic arguments that are regularly provided to explain why things can’t be done have some merit, but they are used far too often and too glibly to continue to be taken seriously. We know that a society’s priorities are what determines how we use our money. So what is the priority we give to our children? We know we can do better. There are other societies in the world that provide us with examples of what to do and how to do it. Scandinavian countries have a cultural positioning and attitude that allows them to give great focus and commitment to children, their needs and development. Their commitment leads them to provide the means that create the conditions under which children can flourish.

The Valuing Children Initiative Benchmark survey, undertaken last year, sought to gain a better understanding of attitudes to children and childhood in Australia. Our survey, one of the first of its kind in Australia, sought the views of 1,000 adults in response to a number of questions.

The survey showed very interesting results such as these:

  • More than 50% said that issues like jobs and the economy were more important to them than the needs of children.
  • 70% agreed that children ‘belong’ to their parents until the age of 18 years.
  • When asked to describe children, the most commonly chosen words were: spoilt, lazy, and selfish.
  • 63% believe that even today, a child’s word is less likely to be believed than that of an adult.
  • 80% of Australians are concerned about the health and happiness of children and future generations.
  • Only 48% believe that children in Australia all have fair and equal opportunity to flourish, and to maximise on their potential.

It seems that although there is a great deal of concern among Australian adults for the long term wellbeing of children, they are still seen to have less importance than jobs and the state of the economy. Our view of children can be dominated by negative stereotypes, and the majority of us don’t believe that they are afforded the opportunity to maximise their potential.

If we are to address the poverty and associated experiences that are lived by over 700,000 Australian children, with 200,000 of them living in abject poverty, then we will need to place their wellbeing at the top of our list of priorities. We can no longer view such statistics as a given and a state of affairs to be accepted. Children are too valuable for us to allow their hardship to become simply background noise. Noise which, however uncomfortable, is largely tolerated. We need to care and value them enough to respond to their distress seriously, and take the action needed to change their lives for the better.

Child poverty is not simply about economics, it is ultimately about our attitudes and the will to seriously deal with it; and that’s our individual and collective responsibility.

Mr Tony Pietropiccolo AM 

 

 

29 May 2017
Linda Savage ChildAware

When our best efforts don’t seem to be enough – Child Aware Approaches Conference 2017

Thank you for joining me this morning. My name is Linda Savage and I am Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

My Policy Think Space session is titled ‘When our best efforts don’t seem to be enough’. So what do I mean when I say our best efforts on behalf of children don’t seem to be enough despite widespread concern that far too many children are not experiencing the safe, caring and supportive childhood they deserve and have a right to? I certainly don’t mean that people are not trying hard enough.

Quite the opposite in fact, because I believe the focus on children today is unprecedented in Australia’s history. There are hundreds of organisations, thousands of individuals, as well as parents, carers and all levels of government committed to children.

The last decade has seen the launch of the National Framework (for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020) and the National Plan (to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (2010-2022). This year alone there are two Royal Commissions due to report about the abuse and mistreatment of children. The last decade too has seen the appointment of Commissioners for Children and Young People.

Across Australia there are centres of excellence dedicated to children that are conducting research, generating high quality reports, as well as hundreds of peer reviewed articles every year to inform policy makers and practitioners.[i] Efforts to accelerate and translate research into policy and practice, refine service delivery, overcome fragmentation and coordinate state and federal responsibilities are ongoing. Momentum too is growing for a National Plan for all children, and a new collective approach to policy and service delivery.

And when I say our best efforts are not enough, I certainly don’t mean that there is not enough evidence that the first 1000 days of a child’s life are critical to a child’s future life chance.

There have been numerous state and federal government inquiries, as well as independent reports, acknowledging the crucial impact of the early years of a child’s life on a person’s future health and wellbeing.

From mental health to literacy, the critical impact of the early years is well understood. Examples abound such as a recent statement by the AMA on obesity, calling on the federal government to show leadership and saying:

“The AMA recommends that the initial focus of a national obesity strategy should be on children and adolescents, with prevention and early intervention starting with pregnant mother and the foetus, and continuing through infancy and childhood.”[ii]

Yet despite the compelling evidence about the early years, the emphasis is still on treating problems after they arise, crudely  what could be  described as ‘mopping up the mess’, rather than using cost effective prevention approaches that have a far greater chance of improving a child’s life course, as Professor Oberklaid  said  in his keynote address this morning.

You can’t help but wonder just how many more times the 1998 Adverse Childhood Experiences Study needs to be quoted?  How often do we need to quote the work of Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman, [iii] or the World Economic Forum that said as recently as January this year,[iv]  that there is a very strong case for entirely reframing our understanding of human capital based on what we know about the first 1000 days, given its exceptionally high return on social investment. [v]

So what is really going on? With the wealth of evidence about what makes for a safe and supportive childhood, and the unprecedented focus on children today, what accounts for the gap between what we know, what we do and the lives some children have to endure.

A decade ago Harvard Professors Ron Heifetz and Martin Linksy counselled organisations grappling with tough, and seemingly recalcitrant problems, to ‘get on the balcony’ so they could gain a clearer perspective.[vi]

And this is in effect what the Valuing Children Initiative has done since it was established in January last year, and as it has grappled with trying to understand why the best efforts of so many, have not been enough to ensure all children have the safe, caring and supportive childhoods they deserve, and have a right to in modern, affluent 21st Century Australia.

So what has getting on the balcony meant for the Valuing Children Initiative. What it has meant is challenging the very attitudes we have to children and the motherhood statements about children that we hear and often accept – about how precious children are and that children are our future and everything we do is with that in mind.

It has meant asking ourselves what is it, embedded in the cultural attitudes and behaviours of our society, conscious or unconscious, that explains the gap between what we say we want for children, the lives some children endure and the challenges that far too many children are experiencing growing up. It has meant considering deeper issues of causality and asking if the adult world really values children enough, rather than making the assumption that we do.

And this is because how we value children matters. It matters because it determines the worth we assign them, and underpins and shapes our attitudes and behaviour towards them. It is important because it directly impacts on how we treat children, and the priority we give their needs and rights, and in turn on policy, programs and resources.

What we value as a society underpins our culture[vii], our outlook and attitudes. And although sometimes overlooked, it plays a pivotal role in a child’s safety and wellbeing.[viii]

Societal attitudes set expectations about what is acceptable and also drive change. This is obvious when you reflect on how attitudes have changed to the participation of women in public life, to smoking, to the protection of the environment; as well how we view children born to single mothers today compared to the past.

Children themselves, identify being valued as one of the most important aspects of wellbeing.  And in countries such as Sweden, that measure strongly on child wellbeing indicators, a strong culture of valuing children is an important factor. Professor Fiona Stanley, who I am sure is well known to many of you, has said that we need to change the culture in terms of how we value children, if we are going to be more successful in our efforts on their behalf.

Attitudes to children have of course changed enormously over the years, and so correspondingly has our care and treatment of them.

Until the 19th Century children, like women, were the property of husbands and fathers, and not even recognised as a separate legal person. Slowly, over the next century there was growing acceptance of the need for the state to protect children from abuse, neglect and exploitation. By the mid-20th century, laws to protect them were becoming commonplace. In the last 50 years the role of the state in protecting children, providing services and acting in their best interests, has increasingly been embedded in legislation and policy. Today, not even a parent has the right to beat or abuse a child. Once, what went on in the home and how a man treated his wife and children, was considered to be no one else’s business.  Today few would subscribe to this view when it comes to violence and abuse today. International conventions too, most recently the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, have helped to change the way children are viewed. They have led to growing acceptance of children as citizens from birth, with individual rights of their own, including the right to be heard, listened to, and have their wishes taken into account and acted upon.

So changing societal attitudes can be a powerful positive force driving change, but they also impede change.

This is particularly apparent when there are competing rights and interests between different sections of society. WHO is valued most, determines whose rights and needs are given priority.

The evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has provided a striking and chilling example of this. Despite rape and sexual abuse of children being a serious crime, despite children speaking out about their abuse, none of this was any match for the prevailing culture and attitudes of those in positions of power, who chose generally not to believe children, and put the protection of institutions and adults first.[ix] The result was that for decades both institutions, and perpetrators were able to avoid scrutiny. And they were aided in this by societal attitudes that too often involved turning a blind eye or unquestioning deference to the authority of people in positions of power.

It is no coincidence that last year the Prime Minister spoke about the need to look at the culture and prevailing attitudes as part of trying to understand what happened at the Don Dale Juvenile Justice Centre. And not just in regard to the treatment of those children, but also the lack of a more urgent response despite the previous reports, media coverage and the many who knew what was occurring.

Surprisingly, there is not much research available about the wider community’s attitudes to children. To better understand them, the Valuing Children Initiative commissioned a baseline survey about perceptions of children and childhood. The survey has been revealing. At times encouraging, some of the results disturbing and also at times contradictory.

It was encouraging that 86% of those surveyed said that looking after the interests of children was important to them. A classic motherhood statement you might say, so the survey asked questions that dug a bit deeper to see how that translated into something more concrete.

And what the survey found, was that the interests of children actually ranked only ninth out of a list of ten issues. By comparison for example looking after the interests of older people, ranked sixth.[x] Jobs and the economy were ranked highest,[xi] perhaps reflecting the assumption that if it is performing well, the benefits will invariably trickle down to children.

Let me give you another example of the contradiction between the broad statements and the specific when we are talking about children. The survey found that only half believed  children in Australia today all have a fair and equal opportunity to flourish and maximise their potential, yet when asked to describe children, the most commonly chosen words were spoilt, lazy, selfish and fortunate.[xii] Almost half (49%) also thought that children today have too many rights.[xiii]

This harsh characterisation of children, says something about our attitudes to children and at the very least the need to do more to portray children in a more positive light. It certainly points to the invisibility for example, of the 17% of children who live below the poverty line, despite Australia being ranked as the seventh wealthiest nation in the world on a GDP per capita basis.

The survey provided some other thought provoking findings.  For example 70% agreed that children ‘belong’ to their parents until the age of 18 years.[xiv]  One particularly disturbing finding was that 63% believed that a child’s word is less likely to be believed than an adults.[xv]

So all in all it does beg the question have attitudes to children really changed as much as we think they have?

What I do think is true to say is that the failure to value children, whilst glaringly obvious in retrospect, is far more difficult and far more confronting to recognise today. In fact people get quite defensive at the mere suggestion!

But this is at the heart of the work of the Valuing Children Initiative because the VCI believes children are simply not valued enough, and this helps to explain why, despite the uncontested evidence about the early years, our policy settings do not adequately reflect that, because if they did a good start in life would be non-negotiable.

It helps to explain why health budgets in this country are skewed in favour of adults.[xvi]

It helps explain why public debate about high levels of anxiety and depression, childhood obesity, sexual abuse, and the homelessness and poverty children experience in Australia today, are not central to election campaigns.

It explains why it has taken decades, and finally a Royal Commission, for adults to be able to tell their stories of the sexual abuse they suffered as children.

And it helps explain why another Royal Commission has not been established immediately to force us to face up to  the shocking statistic that an estimated one in five children will be sexually harmed in some way before the age of 18, and most often by someone they know in a private residence.

We know that all children must navigate a world they had no part in creating. The childhood they experience is entirely dependent on the circumstances they are born into, and the attitudes and actions of the adults closest to them, as well as the wider society. This is the inevitable consequence of being a child in an adult’s world.

There is only one chance at childhood. As we speak, those babies and children missing out on that good enough start in life do not know the impact it is having on their lives, but one day they will. And they will know that modern, affluent Australia in 2017 knew too, but decided other things were more important.

One day they will ask us what were we thinking and how we let this continue.

So what to do? – Fundamental social change usually occurs because civil society rises up and demands change. Others follow. Let me give you some examples.

Not so long ago it was impossible legally for a husband to rape his wife. Until the 1980s, a bride, whether she knew it or not, in effect entered into a contract to be always  available to have sex once married.

The activism that changed this law, was part of the seismic change in attitudes to women that has occurred since the 1960s.

And evidence too can change attitudes and can eventually prevail over powerful vested interests.  For example by 1957 the evidence implicating smoking as a causative factor in lung cancer had been established to a high degree of scientific certainty, leading to the first official statement from the US Public Health Service implicating smoking as a cause of lung cancer. The tobacco industry also took notice of the emerging evidence, but instead of acknowledging what they knew to be true, hired a public relations firm (in December 1953) to implement a massive campaign to challenge the evidence. Medical doctors and academic scholars were hired to defend the industry’s claim that the evidence was “merely statistical” or based only on “animal evidence”. Similar campaigns were run in Australia. These so called ‘public relations campaigns’ — that extended for over 40 years — were designed with the goal of reassuring the public, especially current smokers, that the question of whether smoking caused harm was an “open controversy”[xvii] But attitudes changed and decision makers began to respond and eventually played a part in creating that change. Australia came to lead the way for example by the introduction in of plain packaging for cigarettes and is now a world leader with smoking rates half what they were compared to 1991.[xviii]

Today it is our attitudes to children that require a seismic change if all children are to have the safe, supportive and caring childhoods they deserve and have a right to expect. That is why challenging and understanding the impact of conscious and unconscious attitudes to children is critical to effective advocacy and influencing policy development, and so requires far greater attention.

 

REFERENCES

[i] This work includes ongoing data collection, linking and mapping: efforts to better and more rapidly translate evidence and best practice into policy and practice: efforts to refine service delivery using models such as collective impact, to scale up successful programs, measure and evaluate, coordinate state and federal responsibilities, overcome fragmentation and efforts to create a new collective approach to policy and service delivery.

[ii] https://ama.com.au/system/tdf/documents/Obesity-2016-AMA-Position-Statement.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=45261

(Accessed 10 April 2017)

[iii] Heckman, JJ & Materov, V.D. (2005). The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children. Chicago: The University of Chicago.

[iv] January 2017[iv] White Paper, ‘Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’,

[v] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_EGW_Whitepaper.pdf

(Accessed 10 April 2017).

[vi] Heifetz R, Ronald, and Linsky, Marty. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

[vii]A culture is a way of life of a group of people–the behaviours, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

[viii] In a power point  presentation to the ARACY Conference, ‘Making Prevention Work’ (2009),  Dr Lance Emerson (CEO ARACY),  and Pam Muth (Allen Consulting Group), described the antecedents of complex problems affecting children and young people beginning with societal values beginning with how we individually and as a community value children, where the primary need to focus is because it directly impacts on attitudes and behaviours towards children, which directly impacts on programs and policies. http://valuingchildreninitiative.com.au/2016/09/23/how-we-value-children-impacts-on-our-attitudes-behaviours-and-actions-towards-them/

(Accessed 23 September 2016).

[ix] In evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Cardinal George Pell said that views held in the 1970’s and 1980s in Ballart in relation to disclosures of child sexual abuse were, “generally not to believe the child.”

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/in-depth/royal-commission/george-pell-testifies-from-rome-for-abuse-royal-commission/news-story/76586670c699496b9ddf160dfc5a8c55

(Accessed 29 February 2016).

[x] Ibid p.6.

[xi] Ibid p.6.

[xii] Ibid p.6.

[xiii] Ibid p.7.

[xiv] Ibid.p.7.

[xv] A Synopsis of The Valuing Children Initiative Benchmark Survey: 2016 – Part A October 2016.

Ibid p.7.

[xvi] (And I say that with some regret as a former lawyer and Member of Parliament who used every opportunity to make the case for policy and investment in the early years. It is evidenced in budgets – particularly health budgets by the fact that for years, successive state governments have only allocated a fraction of the health budget to children. In the Western Australian 2014 -2015 budget for example, children received just 6.3% of the health budget, although they comprise 23% of the state’s population.

[xvi] Cummings, K.M & Proctor, R, N, The Changing Public Image of Smoking in the United States: 1964–2014

  1. Michael Cummings1and Robert N. Proctor2

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3894634/

(Accessed 2 May 2017).

[xviii] http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/tobacco-kff

(Accessed 2 May 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

03 Apr 2017
Baby boy portrait

70% of Australians say that children ‘belong’ to their parents.

A survey commissioned by The Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) has found that 70% of Australians believe that children ‘belong’ to their parents, suggesting a strong consensus on the traditionally subordinate place of the child in the family until they reach the age of 18.

Whilst those surveyed had an overwhelmingly positive view of their own children, only just over half (53%) of Australians said they have a positive view of all children, with 8% saying they had negative feelings to children other than their own and 25% saying they were indifferent.

The survey found that the majority agreed that the wellbeing of children is the shared responsibility of the entire community, and everyone is responsible for the best interests of children, including those who are not their own.

These responses reflected a widespread sense of shared responsibility for children’s safety and wellbeing, Linda Savage, the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) said.

Despite this when asked more specific questions about who was responsible for children, the majority identified parents as the most responsible for protecting and promoting the wellbeing of children. Only 12% of respondents saw “everyone” as being responsible for children, with just 1% of respondents allocating responsibility to the wider community.

In a recent submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse  the VCI called for further research to be undertaken to better understand contemporary attitudes to children and the role that prevailing attitudes play in a child’s safety and wellbeing

Children are still subject to shocking rates of sexual abuse and harm in Australia and their ultimate safety requires a change in attitudes towards them, beginning with how we value them, Ms Savage said.

The VCI has called on state and federal governments to:

  1. Fund campaigns to promote understanding that a society’s attitudes to its children and how we value them impacts fundamentally on their safety and wellbeing.
  2. Undertake research to better understand attitudes to children in Australia today,
  3. Create a dedicated Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations, and a National Plan for Children.
  4. Instigate a rigorous and transparent process to ensure all policy, legislative and decision making processes actively consider the impact on children and future generations.
14 Mar 2017
Care for Kids

Care for Kids Campaign : 1979

Care For Kids TV commercial went to air around Australia in 1979 commemorating the UN’s “International Year of the Child”.

Jingles like this show just how powerful and memorable such campaigns can be to impart information and create awareness.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a similar campaign to once again highlight the value of our nation’s children?

The VCI believes that 2017 marks a critical juncture for Australia’s children. With two Royal Commissions due to report on the abuse and mistreatment of children, it presents a genuine opportunity to reflect on our attitudes to children as part of a commitment to ensuring their safety and wellbeing.

The pending release of Royal Commission recommendations also provides a timely opportunity to promote the inherent value of all children through a much needed, highly visible and innovative public awareness raising campaign.

The VCI continues to advocate for funding to be allocated to a campaign to promote a positive focus on all children, and raise awareness that how we value children and our attitudes towards them, play a crucial role in their safety and wellbeing.

 

08 Mar 2017
Adorable little girl in blooming cherry garden on beautiful spring day

63% of Australians say that a child’s word is still less likely to be believed than that of an adult.

A survey commissioned by the Valuing Children Initiative in 2016 found that 63% of Australians still believe that a child’s word is less likely to be believed than that of an adult.

This raises serious questions about attitudes to children today and goes fundamentally to the question of how to protect children if they are not believed when they speak up, Linda Savage, the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) said.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) has repeatedly heard evidence that children who spoke up about their abuse were not believed and that their credibility continued to be questioned, even as adults.

In a recent submission to the Royal Commission the VCI called for further research to be undertaken to better understand contemporary attitudes to children and the role that prevailing attitudes play in a child’s safety and wellbeing

The role that deeply embedded societal attitudes can play was acknowledged by Archbishop Coleridge in evidence to the Royal Commission who said:

‘We have changed procedures, we have changed protocols, but if we don’t really change the culture at that deeper level, the problem could re-emerge in the future.’

The VCI survey also found that almost one in three of the Australian adult respondents did not believe that the opinions of children should be considered to be as important the opinions of adults. More than half (59%) considered children to be less capable than adults of saying what is best for them.

‘While the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is indispensable to the acceptance and admission of past failures to protect children, it brings with it the risk of unintentionally implying that these concerns are now largely taken care of. Or that better policy and legislation will be enough to bring about the change needed to protect children.’

This mental shortcut would be a grave mistake, Ms Savage said.

Children are still subject to shocking rates of sexual abuse and harm in Australia and their ultimate safety requires a change in attitudes towards them, beginning with how we value them.

The VCI has called on state and federal governments to:

  1. Fund campaigns to promote understanding that a society’s attitudes to its children and how we value them impacts fundamentally on their safety and wellbeing.
  2. Undertake research to better understand attitudes to children in Australia today,
  3. Create a dedicated Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations, and a National Plan for Children.
  4. Instigate a rigorous and transparent process to ensure all policy, legislative and decision making processes actively consider the impact on children and future generations.

 

 

 

How do we perceive children in Australia today? – A synopsis of the Valuing Children Initiative benchmark survey Part B

Are children at the forefront of our considerations? – A synopsis of the Valuing Children Initiative benchmark survey Part A

Essential Research 2016, Valuing Children Initiative Benchmark Survey: 2016 (Full report)

02 Mar 2017
Passionate children's advocate

Professor Fiona Stanley Endorses The Valuing Children Initiative (VCI)

Passionate children’s advocate, Professor Fiona Stanley endorses The Valuing Children Initiative (VCI).

Speaking via video, at the official launch of the VCI, Professor Stanley said  “We need to change the culture in terms of how we value children…there has never been a more important time for this initiative than today”

06 Feb 2017
How many royal commissions VCI

2017 – A crucial moment in time for Australia’s children.

With two Royal Commissions due to report about the mistreatment of children, 2017 marks a critical juncture for children’s safety and wellbeing.

This current focus on how profoundly society and institutions have failed children in Australia, demands that we ask hard questions about how we value children today, the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative (VCI), said Linda Savage.

What we value is reflected in a society’s culture and prevailing attitudes, and plays a pivotal role in ensuring children’s safety and wellbeing.

The pivotal role that culture and embedded societal attitudes play, was acknowledged by Archbishop Mark Coleridge in a message to Catholic school parents and churches, in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

‘We have changed procedures, we have changed protocols, but if we don’t really change the culture at that deeper level, the problem could re-emerge in the future.’

In an article published by the Law Society of West Australia this month, the VCI argues that a change in how we value children is essential to children’s safety and wellbeing, and asks “How many Royal Commissions does it take to keep children safe?”

‘While the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is indispensable to the acceptance and admission of past failures to protect children, it brings with it the risk of unintentionally implying that these concerns are now largely taken care of. Or that better policy and legislation will be enough to bring about the change needed to protect children.’

This mental shortcut would be a grave mistake, Ms Savage said.

Children are still subject to shocking rates of sexual abuse and harm in Australia and their ultimate safety requires a change in attitudes to children and that begins with how we value them.

Rates of child abuse and neglect, poverty and homelessness are further evidence that children are simply not valued enough.

The VCI has called on state and federal governments to:

  1. Fund campaigns to promote understanding that a society’s attitudes to its children and how we value them impacts fundamentally on their safety and wellbeing.
  2. Undertake research to better understand attitudes to children in Australia today,
  3. Create a dedicated Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations, and a National Plan for Children.
  4. Instigate a rigorous and transparent process to ensure all policy, legislative and decision making processes actively consider the impact on children and future generation

 

Media Inquiries

Linda Savage  Convenor                    0409109899    lsavage@valuingchildren.com.au

Emma King     Deputy Convenor       0450101117    eking@valuingchildren.com.au

 

 

06 Feb 2017
Royal commission valuing Children

How many Royal Commissions does it take to keep children safe?

Written by Linda Savage, published by The Law Society of WA – Brief February 2017

A decade ago Harvard Professors Ron Heifetz and Martin Linksy counselled organisations grappling with tough, and seemingly recalcitrant problems, to ‘get on the balcony’ so they could gain a clearer perspective.[i]

In 2016, two leading Western Australian not-for-profit Organisations Centrecare Inc. and Parkerville Children and Youth Care Inc., were grappling with the realisation that, despite their best efforts, the complexity of children’s needs and level of demand for services for children, were continuing to grow unabated. This led them to take the unusual step of allocating resources to, in effect, get on the balcony, and establish the Valuing Children Initiative to consider deeper issues of causality.

In looking for answers, it was clear that a more sophisticated approach was needed than simply blaming ‘dead beat parents’. They have always existed.

It meant putting aside, temporarily, the arguments about funding and whether it is enough. This is always going to be debated.

It also excluded debate about globalisation, neoliberal economics, the rapid pace of change, the so-called nanny state or yearning for yesteryear. The past is the past and leaving fairness to market forces surely is repugnant to civilised societies.

Getting on the balcony meant asking hard questions about the very regard we have for children and how we value them. It meant challenging the attitudes, whether conscious or unconscious, which allow us to tolerate a life for some children that we would never tolerate for our own.

What we value is reflected in a society’s culture and prevailing attitudes, and, although sometimes forgotten, plays a pivotal role in a child’s safety and wellbeing.[ii]

Societal attitudes have always driven change, as well as expectations about what is acceptable. This is obvious when you reflect on how attitudes have changed in the last 30 years to the participation of women in public life, the protection of the environment, acceptance of ‘illegitimate ‘ children and smoking.

Societal attitudes translate too into the priority given to a person’s rights and needs and whose voices and opinions dominate.

Societal attitudes are powerful.

Nothing has provided a starker example of this than the shocking revelations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The truth is that children who complained about their abuse, adults who spoke out on their behalf, and the laws in place that made the abuse a crime, were no match for the prevailing culture and attitudes of those in positions of power, who chose generally not to believe a child, and put the protection of institutions and adults first.[iii] The result was that for decades both institutions, and perpetrators were able to avoid scrutiny.

To better understand Australian’s attitudes to children today, the Valuing Children Initiative recently commissioned a survey about perceptions of children and childhood. Only 48% of those surveyed believe that children in Australia today all have a fair and equal opportunity to flourish and maximise their potential. Of those surveyed, 80% were concerned about the health and happiness of future generations.[iv]

These are reasonable concerns. More than 600,000 children in Australia live below the poverty line[v] and one in five children are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains on commencing school.[vi] One in four is obese or overweight, and as a result are part of a generation that is predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents’ generation because of the chronic diseases that result.[vii]

So where is the sense of urgency by decision makers to do better for children? Given the well documented evidence about the adverse and long term impact of abuse, poverty, obesity and mental illness on future health and wellbeing, not to mention the significant financial and social cost for the whole society, where is the ongoing outrage?

Part of the answer lies in the tendency to focus on the short term and the inability to govern for the future that has been identified as characterising much of modern politics, especially in democratic countries like Australia.

This focus on the short term is routinely described as damaging to economic reform and efforts to address issues such as climate change. Yet, the damage it does to children and future generations barely rates a mention, despite the fact that there is only one chance at childhood, and this influences so much of a person’s future. For children, this short termism impedes policy development, as well as the continuity of the provision of resources and services. It undermines exactly what makes for a good start in life: consistency of services and support for children when they need them, rather than the whims of fluctuating funding and policy.

The 2013 report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, ‘Now for the Long Term’, called for a radical shakeup in politics and business to embed longer term thinking in order to create a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable future. In particular it urged decision makers to be innovative, and reinvigorate how institutions work to better serve the needs of those too young to vote, as well as future generations.[viii]

Leadership is needed. It is time for the government to get on the balcony too and question the priority it gives to children. The Federal Government should ask why, amongst the 42 Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries of the 45th Turnbull government, not one portfolio includes the word ‘child’.

It is just not enough to point to portfolios that provide services for children and assume that this is adequate. Two concurrent Royal Commissions into the abuse and mistreatment of children, and a 31 percent increase since 2009-2010 of substantiated cases of abuse and neglect, say otherwise.[ix] Furthermore there can no excuse for the government being caught unaware of the concerns about the treatment of children at the Don Dale Juvenile Justice Centre.

The Valuing Children Initiative has called for a dedicated Minister for Children and Future Generations. [x] This would ensure that children, if not at the forefront of considerations, are at least always on the radar. In addition a Minister could lead the development of a national plan for all Australia’s children.

It is also time for the instigation of a rigorous, methodical and transparent process to ensure that all policy, legislative and decision making processes by government and public bodies, actively consider the impact on children and future generations.

This would ensure that children, who make up almost one quarter of the population, have their interests explicitly taken into account. Consideration of the impact on children and future generations should be seen as integral to sound decision making and include the views of children whenever possible.

What is needed is not just motherhood statements, but more rigorous economic modelling, for example to ensure decision making processes are not dominated by exigencies of today, and the interests of adults. Not just glib statements, but an understanding that a feature of our evolving democracy has been its capacity to enable more and more of its citizens to have a way to be heard and participate. Today that must include children and future generations.

No child can choose the circumstances of their birth or their childhood. They must navigate a world they had no part in creating. It is no achievement to be born with greater opportunities or less challenges in life than someone else. It is merely luck.

With two Royal Commissions due to report in 2017, we are at a critical juncture for children in Australia. While indispensable to the acceptance and admission of past failure to protect children, Royal Commissions bring with them the risk of unintentionally implying that these concerns are now largely taken care of. Or that better policy and legislation and more inquiries, essential as they are, will be enough to bring about the change needed to protect children.

This mental shortcut would be a grave mistake. Getting it right for every child now, and in the future, will always depend on the attitudes of the adult world. There is no set and forget when it comes to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children, not your own child, nor any other child.

 

 

[i] Heifetz, Ronald A., and Linsky, Marty. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

[ii] In a power point  presentation to the ARACY Conference, ‘Making Prevention Work’ (2009),  Dr Lance Emerson (CEO ARACY),  and Pam Muth (Allen Consulting Group), described the antecedents of complex problems affecting children and young people beginning with societal values beginning with how we individually and as a community value children, where the primary need to focus is because it directly impacts on attitudes and behaviours towards children, which directly impacts on programs and policies. http://valuingchildreninitiative.com.au/2016/09/23/how-we-value-children-impacts-on-our-attitudes-behaviours-and-actions-towards-them/

(Accessed 23 September 2016).

[iii] In evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Cardinal George Pell said that views held in the 1970’s and 1980s in Ballart in relation to disclosures of child sexual abuse were, “generally not to believe the child.”

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/in-depth/royal-commission/george-pell-testifies-from-rome-for-abuse-royal-commission/news-story/76586670c699496b9ddf160dfc5a8c55

(Accessed 29 February 2016).

[iv] A Synopsis of The Valuing Children Initiative Benchmark Survey: 2016 – Part A October 2016.

http://valuingchildreninitiative.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ARE-CHILDREN-AT-THE-FOREFRONT-OF-OUR-CONSIDERATIONS-A-synopsis-of-the-Valuing-Children-Initiative-Benchmark-Survey-2016-Part-A.pdf

[v] Poverty- Poverty in Australia Report 2014 http://www.acoss.org.au/poverty-2/

(Accessed 20 September 2016).

[vi] Australian Early Development Census 2015  https://www.aedc.gov.au/

(Accessed 6 October 2016).

[vii] Prescott, S. 2015 ‘Origins: Early –life solutions to the modern health crisis.’ Crawley, Western Australia. UWAP, p.39

[viii] Now for the Long Term’. The Report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations. Oxford University. October 2013  http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/commission/Oxford_Martin_Now_for_the_Long_Term.pdf

(Accessed 18 March 2016).

[ix] Australian Institute of Family Studies: Child abuse and neglect statistics. July 2015

https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-neglect-statistics

(Accessed 6 October 2016).

[x] http://valuingchildreninitiative.com.au/2016/09/13/how-many-royal-commissions-does-it-take-to-keep-a-child-safe/

(Accessed 13 September 2016).

 

30 Jan 2017
Concept of communication and communicating a message between two head shaped trees with birds perched and flying to each other as a metaphor for teamwork and business or personal relationship with 3D illustration elements.

Submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

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The Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) is grateful for the opportunity to make a submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission), and wishes to acknowledge the work of the Royal Commission in this landmark inquiry.. This submission is in response to the Terms of Reference of the Royal Commission, in particular clauses a, d and f, and based on the advocacy and research the VCI has undertaken relevant to broader issues raised by the work of the Royal Commission.

Executive Summary.

This submission focuses on highlighting the role that deeply embedded societal attitudes about children have played in creating a cultural context, both in institutions and in the wider community, which enabled the widespread sexual abuse of children to be concealed, and allowed perpetrators and institutions to deny any wrongdoing, and evade efforts to hold them accountable for decades.

(more…)

04 Jan 2017
child cute little girl and mother holding hand together with love in vintage color filter

Tomorrow’s adults may well feel let down by us – Media Release

Growing frustration amongst voters, and a sense of disempowerment, has led to calls for politicians to find new ways to respond to voters’ concerns that they are not being heard, or risk being punished at the ballot box.

Children, however, are unable to vent their feelings or voice their concerns through the ballot box, the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative, Linda Savage said.

Without a vote, children suffer the unconscious bias that relegates their rights and needs to a lower priority, just as women and indigenous Australians experienced before they gained the right to vote.

The Valuing Children Initiative Benchmark Survey: 2016 confirms this bias. When asked to rank issues of importance such as climate change, taxation, the health system and the economy, children were ranked only ninth, Ms Savage said.

Older Australians were ranked sixth.

This bias also helps explain why it has taken decades, and finally a Royal Commission for people to finally be able to tell their stories of sexual abuse as a child and the lifelong impact it has had.

To propel and reflect changing attitudes to women, governments appointed dedicated Ministers for women.

The Valuing Children Initiative has written to state and federal members of parliament calling for a dedicated Minister for Children and Future Generations. Ideally this portfolio should be held by the Prime Minister and state Premiers so they can command the authority to elevate the priority given to children’s’ rights and needs and engender a whole of government response.

Despite having 42 Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, the 45th Turnbull government does not have a single portfolio that includes the word ‘child’.

The Valuing Children Initiative believes it is not enough to point to portfolios that provide services for children and assume that this is adequate.

Two Royal Commissions and an increase in substantiated cases of abuse and neglect, says otherwise, Ms Savage said.

The Valuing Children Initiative is urging state and federal MPs to reinvigorate the role they play in ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children. This includes supporting:

  • The creation of a Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations.

‘A dedicated Minister, ideally for the entire term of government, is needed to ensure children are at the forefront of considerations and that issues of concern about children, wherever they occur, are brought to the attention of the Cabinet. In addition, a dedicated Minister would play a role in countering short term and crisis driven responses which are particularly detrimental to children, by encouraging high level engagement in futures thinking and planning, reflecting the evidence about what is critical to a child’s ability to thrive, Ms Savage said.

  • The instigation of a rigorous and transparent process to ensure that all policy, legislative and decision making processes actively considers the impact on children and future generations.

‘This would ensure that children, who cannot vote and are excluded from influencing the political process, will have their interests explicitly considered. Considering the impact on children and Future Generations should be integral to sound decision making and should include the views of children whenever possible.’ Ms. Savage said.

 

Full article ‘Tomorrow’s adults may well feel let down by us’ can be accessed here

Media Inquiries

Linda Savage     Convenor                     0409109899    lsavage@valuingchildren.com.au

Emma King       Deputy Convenor        0427963392    eking@valuingchildren.com.au

Essential Research 2016.The Valuing Children Initiative Benchmark Survey 2016

www.valuingchildreninitiative.com.au