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