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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

VCI_Favicon_152x152

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.

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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

03 Jan 2017
Silhouette of a angry mother and daughter on each other.

Tomorrow’s adults may well feel let down by us

The recent focus of The West Australian on vulnerable and neglected children, raises challenging questions about how modern, affluent 21st century Australian society can tolerate a life for other people’s children that we would never tolerate for our own.

It comes too, when a sense of disempowerment and eroding faith in institutions, is causing anger and frustration. Some are even questioning whether something is fundamentally wrong with our existing political, social and economic order.

Politicians in particular, are being urged to find new ways to respond to voters’ concerns that they are not being heard, as well as find new solutions in today’s rapidly changing and globalised world.

Children though, cannot vent their anger, frustration and hopes for the future through the ballot box.

Without a vote, children suffer the unconscious bias that relegates their rights and needs to a lower priority than adults, making them second class citizens just like women and indigenous Australians were before they gained the right to vote.

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29 Nov 2016
linda-frsa-conference

Conscious or Unconscious Barriers to Success

Thank you for joining me this afternoon. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

My name is Linda Savage and I am the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative. Today I will be talking about the work of the Valuing Children Initiative which was established this year by two large West Australian NFP organisations, Centrecare (Inc.) and Parkerville Children and Youth Care (Inc.)

Both these organisations provide a wide range of services for children, families and communities, and have done so for decades. Their evidenced based services are underpinned by a commitment to measuring success, and have resulted in many positive outcomes. But despite this, they, like many other organisations, face the reality that the complexity, and level of demand for services, continues to grow unabated. The reality is that successes at the individual level, have not been matched by success at the societal level.

For children this is borne out by the data that shows far too many are not faring as well as they should be in affluent, modern 21st Century Australia, as this slide shows.

Across Australia efforts to improve outcomes for children are ongoing on many fronts.

Measuring and evaluating success is very much part of that. So too is data collection, linking and mapping: research and accelerating its translation into policy and practice: refining service delivery and  using models such as collective impact, finding ways to overcome fragmentation, as well as better coordination of  state and federal responsibilities. We have the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, SNAICCs Family Matters campaign, Royal Commissions, and Commissioners for Children and Young People. There are hundreds of articles and reports. There are hundreds of organisations, thousands of individuals, parents, carers and all levels of government working to ensure the wellbeing of children – all part of what I think can be described as an unprecedented focus on children.

There is also indisputable evidence about what children need to flourish and to be able to maximise their potential. For years there has been compelling evidence, that the experience in the womb, and the quality of care and relationships in the early years – and  in particular the first 1000 days  – not only has a major impact on brain development, but also on  physical, cognitive and emotional health and wellbeing.  We know early childhood plays a crucial role in a person’s future – determining whether the foundations of a person’s life are fragile or robust. These years are built into us – and it is well established that disadvantage, and the failure to provide adequate support in this phase of a person’s life, is often where inequality begins. This evidence compliments traditional wisdom and learnt experience over centuries.

So given all we know, and all that is being done, it begs the question why aren’t we making more progress to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all children? What else is there that we are not seeing, what are we missing or not giving adequate attention to get better outcomes for children?

Some of you I am sure are familiar with the work of Professors Ron Heifetz and Martin Linksy. They counsel organisations grappling with tough problems like this, to ‘get on the balcony’, to get a clearer perspective. Very broadly getting on the balcony means recognising when it is time to look for new ways of achieving goals, and often involves challenging deeply held beliefs.

And in effect this is what Tony Pietropiccolo the Director of Centrecare, and Basil Hanna, the CEO of Parkerville Children and Youth Care did at the beginning of this year, by allocating precious resources to establish the VCI and employing me and Emma King to develop the Valuing Children Initiative.

For the VCI, ‘getting on the balcony’ has meant considering deeper issues of causality.

In particular it has meant asking what it is about our culture and our attitudes, whether conscious or unconscious, that allow us to tolerate a life for some children, that we would never tolerate for our own.  It has meant questioning how we value children in Australia today, the very worth we assign to the youngest citizens of our country.

We know that children themselves identify being valued as one of the most important aspects of wellbeing.  And in countries such as Sweden, that perform well on child wellbeing indicators, a strong culture of valuing children has been identified as an important factor.

As this slide by ARACY shows, how we value children individually and as a section of society, directly impacts on how we treat them, the priority we give their needs and rights,  and this in turn impacts on policy, programs and resources.

This why the VCI has focused on asking how we value children, because although sometimes forgotten, it plays a pivotal role in children’s wellbeing.

Societal attitudes are underpinned by what we value and societal attitudes are powerful – even more powerful at times than our laws and our justice system.

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 spoke up about their abuse, the adults who spoke out on their behalf, and even the laws that made sexual abuse of children a crime, were no match for the prevailing culture and attitudes of those in positions of power, who chose not to believe children, and put the protection of institutions and adults first. The result was that for decades, both institutions, and perpetrators, were able to avoid scrutiny.

The lack of value assigned to these children and their lives, is glaringly apparent.

Of course it always so much easier to see this in retrospect and wonder how people could have possibly believed what they did, or behaved in the way that they did. It is easy to be incredulous in hindsight. A far greater and more confronting challenge is to identify it in ourselves, and in our own time.

There has been recent example that has caused many to ask how we value children in Australia today, and that has been the revelations of the treatment of children at the Don Dale Juvenile Justice Centre. It prompted the PM to speak about the need to look at the culture and prevailing attitudes, to try and explain what happened. And not just in regard to the actual treatment of those children, but the lack of any urgent, or more effective response despite previous reports, media coverage and the many who knew what was occurring.

So the first challenge then for the Valuing Children Initiative, has been to make  the case that  societies attitudes to children, how we value them,  is critical to understanding children’s place in our society and what they experience. On the table you will find copies of the Foundation Paper that provides the rationale for the initiative. It has been the basis for discussion and engagement with a wide range of stakeholders. It is also available on the website.

Now it is true that attitudes to children, what could be described as how we value them – have changed enormously over the years, and so correspondingly our care and treatment of children.

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 been embedded in legislation and policy. Today, not even a parent has the right to beat or abuse a child. And international conventions, most recently the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, have changed the way children are viewed, leading   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 what they want, acted upon.

So what drives changes in attitudes?  What drives what we value as a society?

These are an important question for the VCI.

We know that attitudinal change can rarely be attributed to one course of action, individual or group. Influencing attitudes is usually the work of many people, and often over decades. Today’s focus on domestic and family violence for example has taken decades to become part of mainstream discourse, beginning with the refuge movement in the 1960s. Changing attitudes to smoking took many years too, and at times had wait for a Minister, or government, either prepared to stand up to powerful opposition, or respond definitively to the evidence. It is invariably a complex mix of inputs, the work of many over decades, unexpected opportunities, and even a crisis that can seem to suddenly add up and be the impetus for change.

It is complex, but in the area of organisational change and leadership, there appears to be agreement that the quest for broad systemic change most often ignores one crucial variable, and that is cultural change. In particular beliefs, values and attitudes. This is the territory of shared assumptions, unwritten rules and beliefs.

So what do we know about Australians attitudes to all children? With surprisingly little data available, the VCI commissioned a benchmark survey earlier this year.

The survey results have been revealing. In designing the survey questions, we learnt that standard nationwide polls, do not usually list children as a separate to the family unit. That has meant that when Australians are asked to rank issues by importance like taxation, climate change, or the health system, children have not been included as an option. Needless to say we did include children. So it was encouraging then, that 86% said looking after the interests of children was important to them.

Despite that, they still placed the interests of children only ninth out of a list of ten. By comparison looking after the interests of older people ranked 6th. More than 50% said that jobs and the economy, were more important to them than looking after the interests of children.

The survey also asked respondents to choose from 20 words to describe children today. Respondents could choose as many words as they liked from a list that was equally weighted with both positive and negative descriptors. The four most commonly chosen were spoilt, fortunate, lazy and selfish. The word vulnerable came fifth.

This rather harsh characterisation of children, I think lends weight to the need to do more to portray children in a positive light. It is also very much at odds with the fact, that more than 17% of all children live below the poverty line, despite Australia being ranked as the seventh wealthiest nation in the world on a GDP per capita basis. It suggests at least, that many Australians simply do not know the circumstances of a significant number of children in Australia today.

Despite the harsh description of children, only 48% of those surveyed believe that children in Australia today all have a fair and equal opportunity to flourish and maximise their potential. And 80% were concerned about the health and happiness of future generations.

The survey asked too, whether a child’s word is less likely to be believed than that of an adult. It is concerning that even today, 63% still believe that a child’s word is less likely to be believed. And also of real concern was that 70% agreed that children ‘belong’ to their parents, until the age of 18.

The survey also asked about the role of government and decision makers. Nearly half were of the opinion that Governments give too little consideration to children. This is consistent with the findings of the  Australian Child Health Poll, also conducted this year, that reported  over half of those surveyed believed that federal politicians should take more action on issues relating to the wellbeing of Australian children and teenagers.

With a Federal election being held earlier this year the VCI took the opportunity to write to all MPs, calling for specific action and institutional change to make children a greater priority. It included:

Calling for the creation of a Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations. The VCI believes this would be a tangible sign that children are valued at the highest level, as well as ensuring they have a place at the Cabinet table. Ideally this position would drive the creation of a National Plan for ALL Children, and so counter the short termism and crisis driven responses of modern politics that is particularly damaging to children. It would promote high level engagement in futures thinking and planning.

It is interesting to note that of the 42 Ministers and parliamentary Secretaries of the federal government, not one portfolio includes the word child, or children. Of course I know some will point to portfolios that provide services for children and say this is adequate. But I would argue that two current Royal Commissions and an increase in substantiated cases of abuse and neglect, says otherwise, as does the incidence of childhood mental health issues, and diabetes.

Language is important. There are portfolios for Women, Sport, Aged Care, Defence Personnel even Sport to indicate and ensure there is sustained and particular focus.

The VCI has also called for the instigation of a rigorous, and transparent process by state and federal governments, to ensure that legislative and decision making processes, actively considers the impact on children and future generations. Something comparable to an environmental impact statement. This would ensure that children, who cannot vote, and so are excluded from influencing the political process, have their interests explicitly considered. This process should include the views of children whenever possible; risk analysis for particularly vulnerable children; and be evaluated and reported on. Consideration of the impact on children and future generations, is integral to sound decision making and would help translate some of the rhetoric, virtue signalling and motherhood statements into more tangible and accountable action.

The work of the VCI is best described as advocacy and rights based work, because of its focus on deeper issues of causality by questioning societal attitudes to children. From the start we have grappled with how we would measure our impact and success. This is because the VCI’s ambitious vision and objectives defy easy or conventional measurement.

For the VCI, success means cultural change. We believe children are simply not valued enough. As I said earlier, attitudes are complex and shaped by many factors, many of which we do not understand. Nor can we easily identify and understand the forces that come together to precipitate, and lead to changes in attitudes.

Social impact models of measurement such as Social Return on Investment, Most Significant Change and inputs/activities/outputs models, are not readily applicable.

The most relevant type of evaluation for the VCI is probably ‘impact evaluation’, which attempts to provide an objective test, to the extent possible, of what change has occurred, and the extent to which that can be attributed to a specific intervention. To have validity impact evaluation requires a counterfactual – that is what those outcomes would have been in the absence of the intervention, for example the work of the VCI.

So, if for example the federal government adopted the very specific changes recommended by the VCI it could be taken as some measure of success or impact.

Similarly if the calls we have made for community awareness raising, and education campaigns as part of encouraging debate about how we value children, were instituted, and their impact was shown  to benefit children on certain indicators, we might be able to claim we played some part, however small and difficult to quantify.

To date though, as with much measuring for success, we have focused on measuring activity.

So for example the numbers of meetings held to discuss and promote the VCI, including contacts with elected and public officials with authority to influence policy. Meetings with not for profits and members of the judiciary, community groups, publications of articles, media releases, and opportunities to speak to the media. Distribution and requests for copies of the Foundation Paper. Speaking engagements to promote the VCI, website traffic and number of contacts and collaboration with other organisations.

The ambitious vison of the VCI is to inspire Australians to value all children, understand that a child’s wellbeing is the shared responsibility of the entire community and to ensure children are at the forefront of our considerations.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that all children must navigate a world they had no part in creating. The world they find themselves in, and experience, will always depends on the attitudes of adults and what they value.

In closing let me say we have been encouraged by the support and positive feedback we have received, particularly as work of this kind, work that cannot easily be measured, risks being seen as less important.

For that reason we were especially pleased to have Professor Fiona Stanley support for the VCI. I am sure Fiona Stanley is well known to you all. She has tirelessly championed the need to put children at the centre of our society and for cultural change to ensure all children have the childhoods they deserve and have a right to experience. So I will end with a short video, available also on the VCI website that she made for the launch of the VCI.

Thank you.

CLICK HERE to view powerpoint presentation slides

06 Oct 2016
seen-but-not-heard-2

Children are seen, but are they really heard? – Article

A recent survey by the Valuing Children Initiative has revealed 80 per cent of Australians are worried about the health and happiness of future generations of children.

Childhood obesity and mental health were highlighted as issues of concern.

In Australia today, approximately one in four children are overweight or obese. As a result, for the first time children in affluent countries such as Australia are predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, because of the chronic diseases that result.

In 2013-2014 almost one in seven between four and 17 years old was assessed as having mental disorders in the previous 12 months.

If this wasn’t enough, there are currently two royal commissions examining the abuse and mistreatment of children. Before we comfort ourselves with the belief that these are yesterday’s problems, it should be noted that the Australian Institute of Family Studies reported that in 2013-2014 over 40,000 children were the subject of substantiated reports of neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. This represented an increase of 31 per cent since 2009-2010 and experts believe it is likely an underestimation of the number of children being abused or neglected.

Add to this the more than 600,000 children in Australia living below the poverty line and cause for concern appears reasonable.

Yet 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 effects abuse, poverty, obesity and mental illness have on future health and wellbeing, not to mention the significant financial and social cost for the whole society, where is the outrage?

Part of the answer lies in the inability to govern for the future that characterises much of modern politics.

This focus on the short term is routinely described as damaging to economic reform and efforts to address issues such a climate change. Yet the damage it does to children and future generations barely rates a mention, despite the fact 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 can undermine exactly what makes for a good start in life and that is consistency of services and support when they need them, rather than the whims of funding and policy.

The 2013 report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, Now for the Long Term, called for a radical shake-up in politics and business to embed longer-term thinking 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.

The Valuing Children Initiative has written to all State MPs seeking their commitment for the creation of a ministerial portfolio for children and future generations. It would be a tangible sign to the community of the value placed on all WA’s children.

A dedicated minister would ensure children are at the forefront of considerations and would lead the development of a Statewide plan, with measurable outcomes to drive policy development, adequate resources and a commitment to implementation. Responsibilities should include the establishment and oversight of a Cabinet subcommittee that includes all ministers with responsibilities for children.

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

This would ensure that children, who make up almost one quarter of the State’s population, have their interests explicitly considered. It should include the views of children whenever possible.

Nearly 50 per cent of those surveyed believe governments give too little consideration to children.

With the State election just months away, WA has the opportunity to take the lead to ensure children’s needs and rights are front and centre.

 

Written by Linda Savage – Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative

This article was published in the West Australian 6th October 2016.

06 Oct 2016
seen-but-not-heard

Children seen – but are they really heard?

The Valuing Children Initiative Benchmark Survey: 2016 (the Survey) has found that 80% of Australians are concerned about the health and happiness of future generations of Australian children.

‘Childhood obesity and mental health were highlighted as being particular issues of concern,’ Linda Savage, the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative said.

‘In Australia today approximately one in four children are overweight, or obese, and as a result for the first time children in affluent countries like Australia, are predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, because of the chronic diseases that result.’

‘In 2013-2014 almost one in seven, 4-17 year olds were assessed as having mental disorders in the previous 12 months.’

The Survey also found less than one in five believe that Australia is a safer place today than when they grew up.

With two royal commissions currently examining the abuse and mistreatment of children, Ms Savage said this result was probably not surprising.

‘And before we comfort ourselves with the belief that these are yesterday’s problems, it should be noted that the Australian Institute of Family Studies reported in 2013-2014  that 40,844 children  were the subject of substantiated reports of neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, representing a 31 percent increase from 2009-2010.’

The Survey also found that less than half of those surveyed believe that all children in Australia have a fair and equal opportunity to flourish and to maximise their potential.

Nearly 50% believe governments give too little consideration to children.

The Valuing Children Initiative has recently written to all State MPs urging them to reinvigorate the role they play in ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children and urging them to give children’ rights and needs greater priority.

This includes the creation of a Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations.

‘A dedicated Minister is needed to ensure children are at the forefront of considerations, to  develop a State wide plan with an inspiring vision to ensure all children experience the safe, supportive and caring childhood they deserve and have a right to, and to  establish and oversee a subcommittee of Cabinet that includes all Ministers with responsibilities for children.

This would play a role in countering fragmentation, and short term and crisis driven responses which are particularly detrimental to children. It would also be a tangible sign of the value of all Western Australia’s children, Ms Savage said.

The Valuing Children Initiative has also urged 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 should include the views of children whenever possible.

‘This would ensure that children, who cannot vote and are excluded from influencing the political process, have their interests explicitly considered. Considering the impact on children and future generations should be integral to sound decision making.’

The Valuing Children Initiative has also called for funding of community awareness activities to inspire Australians to value all children, to understand that a child’s wellbeing is the responsibility of the entire community, and ensure children are at the forefront of our considerations.

 

 

Media Inquiries

Linda Savage  Convenor                    0409109899    lsavage@valuingchildren.com.au

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

 

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

Lawrence, D. et al. (2015) The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health. Canberra.

https://www.health.gov.au/internet/publishing.nsf/Content/9DA8CA21306FE6EDCA257E2700016945/4File/child2.pdf

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

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

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

23 Sep 2016
Dr Lance Emerson ARACY (2009)

How we value children impacts on our attitudes, behaviours and actions towards them.

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 and how we individually and as a community value children,  because this directly impacts on attitudes and behaviours towards children, which directly impacts on programs and policies.

13 Sep 2016
How many Royal Commissions does it take?

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

With two Royal Commissions currently examining the mistreatment of children, the Valuing Children Initiative believes we must ask serious and challenging questions about how we value children in Australia.

We are at a critical juncture for children in Australia today, the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative, Linda Savage said.

“Notwithstanding the current focus on children, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that in 2013-2014 there were 40,844 substantiated reports of neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children. This represented a 31% increase from 2009-2010, and experts believed it was likely an underestimation of the number of children being abused or neglected.”

The Valuing Children Initiative has written to all federal MPs urging them 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.

“Despite the 42 Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries of 45th Turnbull government, not one portfolio includes the word child.”

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 Benchmark Survey: 2016 (the survey) found that only 48% of Australians believe that children in this country all have a fair and equal opportunity to flourish and to maximise their potential. Nearly 50% believe governments give too little consideration to children.

The Valuing Children Initiative has also called for funding of community awareness activities to inspire Australians to value all children, to understand that a child’s wellbeing is the responsibility of the entire community, and ensure children are at the forefront of our considerations.