Category: Other Communications

07 Nov 2017
Parentingisforever_linda

LAUNCH OF ‘PARENTING IS FOREVER’ – BY DR. ELIZABETH GREEN

LINDA SAVAGE, CONVENOR OF THE VCI, LAUNCHED THE BOOK ‘PARENTING IS FOREVER’ – BY DR. ELIZABETH GREEN,  ON WEDNESDAY 1st NOVEMBER 2017 at UWA CLUB.

Let me begin by welcoming you, and acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Wadjuk Noongar people, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and future.
My name is Linda Savage, I am the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative, and it is my great pleasure to be here tonight to launch Dr Elizabeth Green’s book, ‘Parenting is Forever’.

Many of you here tonight are friends and colleagues of Elizabeth’s, and so know that there are few people more qualified than Elizabeth, to write a book about parenting.
Elizabeth is a specialist paediatrician whose many years of professional experience with children has included working both in cities, as well as rural and remote Australia, including with the Flying Doctor Service. At the same time she has raised a family, and in recent years has also added a growing media profile to her achievements because of her talent in providing evidence based commentary on the challenges facing children and parents, and her ability to offer sound, supportive and calming advice.

Elizabeth and I first met at an Early Childhood Conference some years ago, and connected over our mutual passion for promoting greater understanding of the critical impact the early years of a child’s life, including in the womb, has on their future health and wellbeing. For me, learning about the science of early years brain development and attachment, was a revelation. It completely reorientated my understanding about what should underpin policy in this country to ensure a fair start for all children. It also reinforced the vitally important role of parents and carers of children, a role that still fails to be valued as highly as it should be.

But not by Elizabeth, who I think can be fairly described as a champion not just of children, but of parents.

What shines through this book from the beginning is her respect for, and her genuine care for parents. Not only does she provide advice about what to expect at each stage of a child’s life and what might be of concern, but from the very first words of the book she seeks to empower parents to trust themselves, and to be kind to themselves.

When you pick up a copy of her book you will find the Introduction begins with words:

‘Parenting is not a competition.’

I didn’t really appreciate just how important that simple sentence was until last week, when I was meeting with a number of Community Health Nurses and asked them what they saw as the biggest challenges facing parents today. What they said was that many parents felt they were being constantly judged, particularly with social media offering so many opportunities to compare every aspect of parenting. And although as they said, comparisons and competition has always existed, it is now so amplified and so continual, they believe it is having a noticeably negative impact on parenting. And parents of children who I have spoken to recently, have also said that for all the benefits of social media and the connectedness it brings, the constant sharing also feeds into anxiety and a sense of rivalry. This is all part of the world of parenting today for parents who are also increasingly time poor, and at the same time, overwhelmed with information of all kinds, including about the pitfalls of parenting.

Elizabeth calls this ‘social shift’ and describes it as:

‘.. the result of evolved technologies and frenetic lifestyles. It changes the way we talk, listen and socially connect with each other. This ‘shift’ she writes – replaces kindness with selfishness, hypersexualises our children and takes respect out of relationships. Children sense and feel these emotions and become anxious.

These are powerful words, but she is not alone in her concerns that children are in a range of ways, signalling to us that the world we have created for them, and they are forced to navigate, is having an adverse effect on them. Not just in their increasing anxiety and depression, but their rising levels of obesity, and the diminished social skills and regulation they are exhibiting.

I personally believe that we all have a role to play in standing up to the forces that undermine children’s right to a safe and healthy childhood, something they deserve and have a right to expect. And I also believe that every adult who comes in contact with a child, as well as the culture and society they grow up in plays a significant part in what a child experiences. But no one plays a greater role than a parent. These are the people who most need to be empowered, and encouraged to do the job they have chosen and overwhelmingly want to get right.

I am always in awe of anyone who can write a book, and especially a book like ‘Parenting is Forever’ It combines the highest quality of advice and information in a style that is easily read, and is underpinned by a soothing narrative to reassure that no one is a perfect parent, that parenting changes as children grow and become adults, and that parenting is a continual process of learning, not to be feared, but to be embraced.

It is why Elizabeth’s book is so special. It provides guidance and advice about what to expect in parenting, the do’s and don’ts and what might require the assistance of experts. Yet at the same time it urges parents to take a deep breathe, and believe that by and large they do have the intelligence and common sense to parent if they trust themselves, and are prepared to grow and learn alongside their child.

It is a book that provides wise counsel, encouragement to all parents and carers of children, and inspires confidence.

So it is a great pleasure then to join with you this evening for the launch of ‘Parenting is Forever’, and to now introduce Professor Wai Chen, Professor of Child Psychiatry at the School of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Western Australia, to say a few words.

 

LINDA SAVAGE

 

01 Nov 2017
round table

Valuing Children Initiative – Roundtable discussions

The focus of the VCI is on society’s attitudes towards children because they play a pivotal role in a child’s safety and wellbeing.  Attitudes to children, how we value them individually and as a section of society, directly impacts on how we treat them, and the priority we give their needs and rights.

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

RoundtablesThe VCI has co-hosted three Roundtables in the last year bringing together experts and leaders committed to the wellbeing of children. Each Roundtable has been tailored for attendees across a range of areas including the not for profit sector, the government sector, the corporate sector and philanthropists.

The purpose of the Roundtables has been to generate discussion that promotes a focus on children, to consider strategies that ensure the safety and wellbeing of children is a greater priority, consider the evidence that supports the proposition that investing in children is not just a matter of fairness but benefits everyone and consider what drives attitudes to children. To date more than 55 people have participated in these Roundtables.

ROUNDTABLE ONE

CO-HOSTED BY THE VALUING CHILDREN INITIATIVE AND THE MCCUSKER CENTRE FOR CITIZENSHIP

Effective strategies to change attitudes towards valuing children in our community.

The discussion was led by Professor Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University and Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute and the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth.  Professor Daube is an internationally recognised expert in driving change in the public health sector.

Professor Daube provided a road map based on his four decades of experience in changing attitudes to smoking and alcohol, and shared The 10 commandments needed for social change.

ROUNDTABLE TWO

CO-HOSTED BY THE VALUING CHILDREN INITIATIVE AND THE CENTRE FOR PARENTING EXCELLENCE

Rethinking how we ensure children’s needs and rights are at the forefront of our considerations.

Professor Carmen Lawrence, first woman Premier and Treasurer of a State government and former Federal government Minister, led the discussion by speaking about the forces driving significant social change in key areas of contemporary challenge and the effects of inequality on children’s wellbeing.

ROUNDTABLE THREE

CO-HOSTED BY THE VALUING CHILDREN INITIATIVE AND THE MINDEROO FOUNDATION.

Realising human potential in a rapidly changing world begins with children.

Donna_CrossProfessor Donna Cross, leading child health researcher and the Director of the Early Childhood Development and Learning Collaboration (CoLab), opened the discussion with a presentation on how quality early childhood learning and development programs, especially for disadvantaged children, can foster valuable skills, strengthen Australia’s workforce and reduce lifetime inequality, while growing the Australian economy, and reducing social spending. Donna also shared research snapshots on Brain development in early childhood and Poverty and the developing child.

23 Oct 2017
Chart1-1

How I wish I could give you better news.

How I wish I could give you better news about child abuse in Australia but I cannot. Simply put, the latest tranche of national statistics shows that we are not going in the right direction.

Earlier this month the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare issued Child protection Australia 2015-16. The following charts highlight trends on key fronts, from child abuse substantiations, to the number of children in out-of-home care, and the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on care and protection orders compared with children from non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

I think these charts speak for themselves: clearly we continue to face a major national problem. Amongst the “green shoots” however, is the growing attention that responding to child abuse and neglect is being given in the work of Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and the non-government and research sectors.

The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 is one of the central planks of this response. The National Framework’s Third Action Plan 2015-2018 is making an important contribution, especially in emphasising early intervention and prevention approaches. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, whose final report is due in mid-December this year, is another key response to child abuse and neglect through its rigorous analysis of the issues in historical and contemporary senses.

It is also encouraging to see a number of non-government initiatives taking root. These include the important SNAICC Family Matters initiative which draws attention to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in out-of-home care and the Valuing Children Initiative which aims to focus community and political attention on the importance of valuing children far more than we do as a society.

Finally, having convened workshops involving non-government and government representatives over the past month in several capital cities, I have been struck by a shared determination to expand collaboration in order to improve child safety and wellbeing. A key message from these forums is that we need to stay impatient for change while recognising that we are doing longer-term work of shifting large policy and programmatic systems, strengthening families and turning around adult behaviours.

Dr Brian Babington, CEO Families Australia
4 April 2017

How I wish I could give you better news

 

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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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

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.