In recent years there has been much work and discussion on the issue of child safety and wellbeing in Australia. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was a stark reminder to the Australian community that not all was well with its children. The launch of the Fourth Action Plan for Protecting Australia’s Children and the work of Children Commissioners around the country brought further focus on the many issues that matter to children and their guardians. The last few years has also seen a continuing emphasis on the importance of the early years and a shift towards perceiving child safety within the broader context of the societal value of children and their wellbeing.
However, there has generally been an absence of discussion and action regarding child poverty. The existence of child poverty in Australia is undeniable. There are many credible reports demonstrating both its prevalence and gravity. The ACOSS Poverty in Australia 2018 Report showed that 739,000 children were living in poverty and it is estimated that approximately 200,000 of them experience severe poverty. The negative impact of poverty on a child’s development and life outcomes is significant and well documented. Despite these harrowing figures and their well-known negative impact, there is relatively little overt community expression of concern or concerted government action to reduce child poverty.
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At a special event held in Perth last week I was delighted to be appointed a Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) Ambassador, joining a growing list of VCI Ambassadors that includes the 2019 Senior Australian of the Year and Families Australia Board member, Dr Sue Packer AM (photographed with VCI Founder Tony Pietropiccolo AM, on left).
VCI aims to inspire Australians to value all children, understand that a child’s wellbeing is the shared responsibility of the entire community and ensure children are at the forefront of our considerations. Its vision is the creation of a society in which all children can flourish, have a safe, caring and supportive childhood and maximise their potential.
Most Australian children grow up safe and well, but many tens of thousands are not getting what they need to have good lives. Official figures tell us that the number of children in out-of-home care has more than trebled in the past 20 years. The nation’s annual expenditure on child protection and related family support efforts has reached $6 billion and is growing at 10 per cent per annum.
Australia needs to do far better for children who experience vulnerability and disadvantage. Why? Because we cannot build a just, fair and compassionate society while we leave some lagging behind. And, failure to address today’s problems will only compound difficulties for future generations.
I have had the privilege of convening the National Coalition on Child Safety and Wellbeing for the past 12 years. The National Coalition comprises over 200 non-government organisations and researchers who support Australia’s first-ever plan to be agreed by the Council of Australian Governments to improve child safety and wellbeing – the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020.
Based on the concept of shifting investments toward early intervention and prevention, the National Framework has been the umbrella for the establishment of the first-ever National Standards for Out-of-Home Care, the office of the National Children’s Commissioner, the Child Aware Conferences, and the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.
While a good start has been made, far more needs to be done. Work has commenced on building a bigger, bolder national child and family wellbeing plan to succeed the National Framework after 2020. Such a new national plan must find ways to encourage us to place children firmly at the centre of our thoughts and actions. A society that cherishes and values children as children lays down solid foundations for future prosperity. It makes us question our adult preoccupations. We should not expect governments alone to give momentum to these ideas. Valuing children starts with individuals, families, workplaces and communities.
VCI is an excellent reminder of the pressing needs of many of Australia’s children and the tremendous gains we can all make by taking more time to reflect on the joy, vitality and meaning of childhood.
Dr Brian Babington
Lance Chadd, a Nyoongar Aboriginal artist from the southwest town of Bunbury, paints under his traditional tribal name Tjyllyungoo ( Old Man ). The landscape paintings represent the artist’s personal claim of spiritual unity with the land, rather than political restitution of Aboriginal land ownership. It is this very genuine and authentic emotional involvement that lends to Tjyllyungoo’s paintings their special appeal and poignancy, and which renders them highly accessible to any responsive audience. His breathtaking work is highly acclaimed in Australia, America and Japan. Lance has painted professionally since 1981 and his works are in many collections worldwide and locally including the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Berndt Museum Collection.
Later this year, Lance in partnership with the Historic Heart -East End Perth will create a masterpiece on the external wall of Centrecare Inc and Valuing Children’s HQ (Hay Street, Perth) around the theme of Valuing Children in our Community.
Please see Lance’s website for more details: https://www.tjyllyungoo.com.au/
We are delighted to announce that Dr Sue Packer, AM; Australian of the Year is supporting the Valuing Children Initiative as an Ambassador. With over 40 years of valuing children – Dr Packer is a true Valuing Children Champion!
Since starting her career as a paediatrician in 1972, Dr Sue Packer AM has worked tirelessly to advocate for the rights of children. Sue has been a leader in child abuse prevention and treatment and a champion of the importance of early childhood environments in the healthcare system and in the wider community.
Sue was one of the driving forces behind the acknowledgement of the importance of creating child-friendly spaces in hospitals and the value of play in recovery.
Presenting papers at conferences internationally and still volunteering on a number of boards to improve health and well-being of children, Sue maintains an interest in the adult lives of children she has seen. Sue stands up for the rights of children at every opportunity and encourages others to do the same.
It is an honor to have such a Champion in our Valuing Children team.
On 29 May, the Valuing Children Initiative and Community Health Nurses WA teamed up to host a round table discussion on ‘E-Brain: How Nature is Being Replaced by Screen Time’, held at EY offices. The evening was a great opportunity for valuing children advocates from a wide range of backgrounds to come together and discuss ways that Australia can better address screen use in our schools, homes, and communities. Guest speaker Professor Desiree Silva and PhD candidate Rebecca Hood provided valuable insight into the damage that excessive use of screen time can have on child’s physical, mental, and emotional development.
As accessibility and breadth of technology has expanded, it has touched Australians across all industries, reflected in the diversity of the group which included teachers, nurses, speech pathologists, and child wellbeing advocates. However, the group noted that it was important to recognise that technology is not a ‘be all and end all’ bad influence, but rather is a tool that needs to be responsibly used in partnership with parent-led problem solving.
Professor Silva stressed the importance of unstructured play and creating green spaces in our local communities, which was a recurring theme in the responses from the group when considering where Australia can improve in helping children.
Another key theme was that the language surrounding technology should be as straightforward and accessible as possible, inviting parents and families into the discussion rather than ‘blaming’ parents. Language should explain the ‘why’s’ behind health education, focusing on the impact that parents can have on development in the first five years. The relationship that children have with technology is closely impacted by the relationship their parents have with their own devices, so it is important to empower adults to be physically and emotionally present with their child without technology from the get-go.
Ultimately, technology was seen by the group as only one element that Australian society needs to address to help our kids. It speaks to a larger problem of valuing individuality over community, being materially successful, and getting good grades.
Valuing community and connectedness at every stage of life will help make stronger communities and help children thrive. Moving forward, the group prioritised making a network between the organisations represented at the Round Table, and work towards more nature-based play initiatives and encouraging common language communication with parents on the issue.
Thank you to EY, Prof Silva, Community Health Nurses WA and the fantastic contributions of our roundtable attendees.
A survey commissioned by The Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) has found that 70% of Australians believe that children ‘belong’ to their parents, suggesting a strong consensus on the traditionally subordinate place of the child in the family until they reach the age of 18. Whilst those surveyed had an overwhelmingly positive view of their own children, only just over half (53%) of Australians said they have a positive view of all children, with 8% saying they had negative feelings to children other than their own and 25% saying they were indifferent. The survey found that the majority agreed that the wellbeing of children is the shared responsibility of the entire community, and everyone is responsible for the best interests of children, including Read more…
A survey commissioned by the Valuing Children Initiative in 2016 found that 63% of Australians still believe that a child’s word is less likely to be believed than that of an adult. This raises serious questions about attitudes to children today and goes fundamentally to the question of how to protect children if they are not believed when they speak up, Linda Savage, the Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) said. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) has repeatedly heard evidence that children who spoke up about their abuse were not believed and that their credibility continued to be questioned, even as adults. In a recent submission to the Royal Commission the VCI called for further Read more…
Passionate children’s advocate, Professor Fiona Stanley endorses The Valuing Children Initiative (VCI). Speaking via video, at the official launch of the VCI, Professor Stanley said “We need to change the culture in terms of how we value children…there has never been a more important time for this initiative than today”
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. Read more…
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 Read more…
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 Read more…
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 Read more…
The Valuing Children Initiative believes that the ongoing pattern of failure to protect children risks defining our nation. Serious allegations of abuse on Nauru, disturbing images of the treatment of children in the Don Dale Juvenile Justice Centre, and the ongoing revelations of institutional child sexual abuse reveal a darker side to life in Australia. This pattern of failure, driven by a culture of cover ups and crisis driven responses, demands that far more attention must be given to our attitudes to children, and how we value them. Societal attitudes, although sometimes forgotten, play a pivotal role in ensuring a child’s safety and wellbeing, the Convenor of the VCI Linda Savage said. At the recent launch of the Valuing Children Read more…
LOOKING AFTER THE INTERESTS OF CHILDREN RANKS ONLY 9TH OUT OF 10 PRIORITIES FOR AUSTRALIANS. The Valuing Children Initiative Benchmark Survey: 2016 (the survey), has revealed that Australians ranked looking after the interests of children only 9th out of a possible 10 options, in order of importance. By comparison, looking after the interests of older Australians was ranked sixth in order of importance. More than 50% said that issues like jobs and the economy were more important to them than the needs of children. When asked to describe children today the most commonly selected words were spoilt, fortunate, lazy and selfish. The Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative, Linda Savage said this harsh characterisation of children today seemed at odds Read more…
The Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) says that one thing we must take from the abhorrent events at the Don Dale Centre, is the Prime Minister’s public acknowledgement that the culture and prevailing attitudes of a society plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children. VCI Convenor Linda Savage said that questioning underlying assumptions about how we value children in Australia is more urgent than ever following the outcry about the treatment of children at the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre. How we value children is critical to ensuring the wellbeing and safety of children in Australia and directly impacts on attitudes, action and behaviour towards children. Nothing has provided a starker contemporary example of this, said Read more…