Category: Articles

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).

 

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.

(more…)

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.

14 Jul 2016
shutterstock_87736888

Short Termism – The enemy of Children and Future Generations

The tendency to focus on the short term, and the inability to govern for the future, has been identified by the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations as characterising much of modern politics in democratic countries such as Australia.

Focus on the short term has been identified as damaging to economic reform and efforts to address issues such as climate change. Yet the impact on children, and future generations of children, has received little attention despite the fact that there is only ever one chance at childhood, and that determines so much of a person’s future. In its report ‘Now for the Long Term’, the Oxford Martin Commission has 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.

Today the evidence is overwhelming that policies that support good maternal health, invest in the early years of life and provide high quality support and services throughout childhood, enable children to thrive, underpin desired wellbeing, health, educational and employment outcomes, and provide a real basis for tackling a range of social problems.

Yet in Australia, a wealthy and sophisticated democracy, the ACOSS ‘Poverty in Australia Report 2014,’ reported that 17.7% of all children live below the poverty line.

Children in Australia are not faring as well as they should be. One in four Australian children are overweight or obese. Today children in countries like Australia are predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to obesity and the chronic diseases that result. The Australian Government’s 2015 report ‘The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents’ reported that one in ten teenagers had engaged in self-harming behaviour. Shockingly, the Australian Human Rights Commission 2015 report, ‘All want is a life free from violence’, estimated that one in 28 children will be first sexually abused by a family member before the age of 15 years.

The Valuing Children Initiative has written to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Greens, urging a moment of unity during the election campaign in the interests of all children and future generations of children, and to counter the tendency to focus on the short term.

It is calling on the country’s political leaders to commit to the creation of a Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations and annual meetings of Federal, State and Territory Ministers to discuss policy development across portfolios for children and future generations.

The Valuing Children Initiative also proposes the establishment of a set of measurable outcomes determined by independent experts that guide policy development, and in consultation with children where appropriate; and the implementation of a rigorous and transparent process to ensure that in all government’s legislative and decision making processes the impact on children and future generations is considered. This process should include the views of children wherever possible, risk analysis for particularly vulnerable children; and be evaluated and reported on.

It is also time to fund community awareness raising activities to inspire Australians to value all children, understand that a child’s wellbeing is the responsibility of the entire community and ensure children are at the forefront of our considerations.

Ensuring children are at the forefront of considerations requires continuity of policy and resources, as well as rethinking attitudes and how institutions work. When children’s needs are prioritised it is reflected in decision making. The United Kingdom recently provided example of this, when in a surprise move, the conservative government introduced a sugar levy on soft drinks specifically to improve children’s health, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying;

‘I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job and say to my children’s generation… I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing.’
This marks a significant change in attitude to tax reform, in part prioritising the best interests of children and future generations, as well as rebalancing immediate interests and returns for the market, against costs in the longer term for the health budget.

Valuing children must be demonstrated at the highest level. Children are powerless to choose the circumstances they are born into, or the childhood they experience. All children 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 the attitudes and decisions of adults, and the cultural norms of the time that determine much of what a child experiences.

Children who thrive have the best chance to become happy, healthy, responsible and contributing members of society. It is hard to imagine what the role of government is, if it is not to ensure all children get that opportunity.
………………………………………………………….
› by Linda Savage, Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative.

01 Jun 2016
Initiate calls for a minister for minors

Initiative calls for a minister for minors

In Australia, almost 18 per cent of kids live below the poverty line. One in four are overweight or obese. And an estimated 1 in 28 were sexually abused by a family member before they were 15.

Particularly given young people’s lack of agency and the fact that they comprise almost 25 per cent of our population, the Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) reckons these figures are pretty dismal.

In response, VCI has written to the leaders of the three major political parties, calling for the establishment of a ministerial portfolio ‘for Children and Future Generations’.

“Given the issues facing children, clearly not enough is being done to adequately provide for them”, said VCI’s convenor, Linda Savage. “There are ministers for women, environment, sport and even tourism. Having a children’s minister would reflect its importance.”

Savage also emphasised that having a children’s minister would encourage policy long-termism. “The tendency to focus on the short term characterises much of modern politics, and has been identified as damaging to economic reform, as well as to efforts to address issues such as climate change. The detrimental impact of short-termism on the nation’s children receives far less attention, despite the fact there is only one chance at childhood and this influences so much of a person’s future”, she said.

The letters are part of VCI’s broader campaign, urging the government to do more for children. Rather than “asking for money”, Savage clarified that the group seeks to challenge the culture around how we value kids, as, in her opinion, we clearly don’t value them enough.

“That is incredibly important because we know it’s the culture and the attitudes that affect a child’s life,” she said. “Bearing in mind children have no choice about the circumstances of their birth nor their childhood, we have a responsibility to all children to ensure that they have the childhoods they deserve, which in the long run will benefit all of us.”

Spearheaded by Western Australian agencies Centrecare and Parkerville Children and Youth Care Incorporated, the initiative commenced in January. It will be officially launched in August. Along with advocacy, Savage and her team have commissioned research into understanding how children are valued in Australia. “We don’t really know where they fit into people’s priorities,” she explained.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, opposition leader Bill Shorten and Greens chief Richard Di Natale haven’t responded to Savage’s letters but she hopes media coverage will bring the group to their attention, despite it being election season.

Apparently validating the group’s point, children haven’t been politicians’ recent media priorities. “It’s telling during election campaigns whose voices are heard,” Savage mused. “If you look at the coverage in recent days, zero to 17-year-olds [nearly 25 per cent of the population] aren’t in the headlines.”

By: Loren SmithJune 1, 2016

 http://www.earlylearningreview.com.au/initiative-calls-for-a-minister-for-minors/

04 May 2016
shutterstock_114704281

Valuing children crucial to safety and wellbeing

With recent reports of children and young people committing suicide, the spotlight turns yet again to what more could and should have been done. There is heartfelt sorrow, talk of more support and services, expression of the genuine desire to do better, and honest reflection that these deaths underscore complex societal problems. Problems to which politicians, families, the community and the many organisations dedicated to ensuring children have a safe, caring and supportive life, are struggling to find answers.

The Valuing Children Initiative is asking people to pause and ask how we value children in Australia today. How we value children has been identified as directly affecting our attitudes towards them, and our behaviour and action on their behalf.

The third three-year action plan (2015-2018) of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, described Australia as a wealthy nation “that ranks well in comparison with other developed countries on many measures of health and wellbeing.

“However, evidence indicates that many children and young people face a range of issues including behavioural and emotional problems and mental health issues, living in jobless families, witnessing or experiencing violence in their family, starting school poorly equipped to learn and being homeless.”

It is clear our children are not faring as well as they should be. Something is missing. It is the time to question whether our attitudes and the priority we give children’s rights and needs have kept pace with what we want for all children, and believe they deserve and have a right to expect.

How we value children and our attitudes towards them matters. Nothing illustrates this better than the shocking revelations at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Knowing what children have endured, and that those who dared to speak up were so rarely, if ever, believed, seems light years away from what we hope would be the response today and what the law demands.

Yet even today children are not safe in their own country and in their own homes. The National Children’s Commissioner in her Children’s Rights Report 2015 estimated that one in 28 children first experience sexual abuse by a family member before age 15. There is no room for complacency.

The social conditions in which a child is born, their experience in the crucial early years of life, and the services and supports available to them as they grow up all rest upon the decisions and the attitudes of adults and on the cultural norms of the times.

The Valuing Children Initiative believes that children should be at the forefront of our considerations and given greater priority. Nordic countries identify a culture of valuing children as crucial to achieving high levels of child wellbeing. Children too have singled out being valued and respected as key to their wellbeing.

When children’s needs are prioritised this is reflected in decision making. In Britain, for example, the conservative Government has introduced a sugar levy on soft drinks specifically to improve children’s health, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying: “I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this parliament, doing this job and say to my children’s generation ‘I’m sorry, we knew there was a problem with sugary drinks, we knew it caused disease but we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing’.”

This marks a significant change in attitude to tax reform, in part prioritising the best interests of children and future generations, as well as rebalancing immediate interests and returns for the market against costs in the longer term.

Meanwhile, Australian children are predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to obesity and the chronic diseases to which it leads. No child can choose the circumstances of their birth or their childhood. It is no achievement to be born with greater opportunities or less challenges in life than someone else. It is merely luck. All children must navigate a world they had no part in creating. For some, navigating this world is proving to be beyond them and, for too many others, it is far more of a challenge than it should be.

………………………………………………………………………………………
By Linda Savage, Convenor. Featured in West Australian 4.5.16

http://enewspaper2.smedia.com.au/wandaily/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=WAN%2F2016%2F05%2F04&entity=Ar03801&sk=2ECAA004