Child protection should be a national priority

Reading some of the reports of the latest massive failures by state agencies responsible for child protection is very distressing. See these media articles for examples:

I know this is an area where very fraught judgements have to be made, and it is impossible to stop all abuse and neglect of children, but there is no doubt we as a society fall far short of what we can achieve in protecting children at risk.

The fact that there are no failsafe solutions cannot be used an excuse for the lack of political priority given to the issue, which directly links to the chronic underfunding and bureaucratic incompetence that has happened in many states over many years. It’s sufficiently frustrating that I put out a media release on it today, which you can read below, to try to help build some pressure for wider action



Democrats’ Deputy Leader, Senator Andrew Bartlett, has renewed calls for a Royal Commission into child abuse and neglect in Australia following the latest spate of major failures by State Government agencies to protect children at risk.

“Three years ago, the Senate agreed to a resolution urging for a Royal Commission into child sexual assault, but the Federal Government took no action, preferring to leave the issue to the States” Senator Bartlett said.

“Many of the States and Territories are continuing to fail in this most fundamental of tasks to help children at risk and protect them from serious harm.” “It is time this issue was made a national priority and given a national focus.”

“Whilst nationally uniform child protection laws, as being suggested by Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, would assist, what we really need is more commitment to enforcing those laws and adequate resourcing for agencies to ensure our duty of care to vulnerable children is met.”

“Child protection agencies at State and Territory level have failed time and time again. The current controversies over failures to protect children in WA, NSW and the ACT are just the latest in a long line.”

“I know from my training as a social worker how incredibly difficult it can be to balance what options are in the best interests of a child at risk. It is an area where it is very easy to find fault but very hard to fix.”

“However, there is no doubt we can do far better than we currently are. It is time to properly examine how we do that, and get all levels of Government and politics to commit to it.” “A consistent factor in every inquiry by Coroners, Ombudsmen and others is severe under-resourcing and dangerously overworked staff.”

“We must look at whether Governments are really providing the necessary resources, and whether we as a society are really treating this issue as seriously as we should.” “Providing those resources would be very expensive, but we need to remember that the cost of failure in this area is much greater.”

“A child harmed through abuse and neglect is often harmed for life, and society pays the price along with the individual for decades to come,” Senator Bartlett said.

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  1. Do not just look for the specific incidents of institutional abuse. Join the dots, make the connections and look for systematic underlying causes. for example, are the incidents of child abuse in church run institutions of the past a result of a few bad apples amongst loving caring people? Or is there something in the nature of religious institutions that turn loving caring people into monsters? Are there predictible patterns in institutions with some commonalities such as a submissive ideology as the basis for communal life?

    I used to work with people with physical disabilities. As a worker with moods and personal demands and no commitment to do anything other than what I was paid for, my personal needs allways came before my clients as soon as knock off time happens. after work I got on with my own life. Yet my “clients” did not see me as such a machine to be turned on and off at certain times. Relationships and dependencies develop which have to be managed to protect the proffessional without dismissing the needs and realities of the client.

    Such proffessional detatchment that is a proffessional discipline working in institutions is no way to bring up children. Holistic, unconditional bonding is what children do naturally. We either allow them to bond with their family or we graft them on to the institution where they identify with it or rebel against it for the rest of their lives.

    I suggest that the process of institutionalisation itself, including the merry-go-round of the foster parent system holds all the necessary ingredients for abuse. Firstly and most impportantly the child is disconnected from those with an innate bond with them, making them vulnerable. There is nobody on the child’s side keeping an eye on the situation. With foster families abuse may well come from other children in the family, not necessarily the adult. Such peer abuse is less likely to be reported to parents but if it is there is a conflict of interest between the foster child and the regular family member to be adjudicated by the regular parent. It is easy to dismiss claims of abuse as attention seeking or challenging behaviours as a result of trauma. It is easy for a parent to believe and empathise with the family member rather than the new outsiders.

    whether the residential situation is a foster home or an institution, the oversight of the children is the responsibility of a detatched unrelated bureacrat, so overworked they can barely keep up with the paperwork let alone building a relationship of trust with the child to be able to truly listen to them and read between the lines to find out how they are going and what is happening in their life.

    It would be better to resource extended families with innate bonding and concern for children, those who are most on the childs side and concerned for them as a whole person, not just a casefile and putting them in filing cabinets.

    Keeping kids in their own families is better just because it is better. However if children are to be removed from families there needs to be a guarantee that they are going into a better situation than what the family can provide. Simply taking kids out of a family crisis and throwing them into an institutional crisis does not progress the interests of the children, only the political and legal demands of the child protection agencies.

    take the money off the social workers who operate in paradigms prone to abuse and give the money to families so they can afford to look after their own. Even if it means paying a good wage to be a stay at home parent so they can give up their job to look after children. I bet it would still be significantly cheaper than institutional care.

  2. p.s.

    possible terms of reference for inquiry

    *To identify systemic and underying causes of, or facilitators of abuse in present child protection regimes or aspects of them.

    *To explore alternative paradigms of child protection and welfare to better facilitate the needs of children in crisis than present modes, in particular direct support of extended families as the mode of achieving goals and objectives.

  3. Interesting the lack of interest in thsi topic. Most of what your realese says it accurate, althouhg I wouldn’t agree that a legisltavie framework holds much hope of generating any real chnage. Whiel I have strong views, due to my professional experience, I will not bore others who have heard them before.

  4. ken – I know I’ve heard some of your views on this topic before, but I’d appreciate seeing them again. Both you and John Tracey have a lot to contribute here. Please don’t hold back.

  5. I would love to know of anybody’s experience with any families with ADHD children who are denied access to public health services for their children’s multitude of developmental health problems- then have their children involuntarily(The Courts) fostered out as neglected children and are then become able to receive the necessary health care services as wards of the state.

  6. The problem of child abuse and neglect is very complex, due to a number of causes.

    We must not overlook the role of the Family Court. I personally know of sole parents who are forced to send their children to absent parents who are drug addicts and paedophiles.

    I also think there are plenty of misguided social workers around. I know of a very promiscuous 14-year-old girl who was fostered by a couple in which the man was a very well known “sleazebucket”.

    The girl kept stripping off when his wife wasn’t home, and the man ended up in jail after having sex with her.

    By the time children are institutionalised, a lot of them have multiple problems. I’m sure there would be times when children needed firm discipline or restraint for the safety of others.

    Sometimes foster children are so ill-behaved that the foster parents just lose their tempers when they can no longer cope.

    On the TV, we see social workers nitpicking some excellent foster parents and taking children away. One couple said they were criticised for feeding a child food that was too good. The child was taken away.

    An aboriginal foster couple had a baby taken away because it had a virus and they had taken him/her to a doctor.

    It also doesn’t help when we live in a society that is so soft on discipline that a large number of children are out of control.

    By the age of 10 (sometimes a lot sooner), today’s children think they are here to rule the adults.

    What is deemed to be child abuse these days is sometimes quite ridiculous.

    I have worked in the scouting movement with boys referred from Child Guidance. Some have had ADHD and numerous other problems.

    They needed to know who was in charge, be managed with a firm set of enforceable (and enforced) boundaries, some attention and love, and opportunities to learn.

    Our society no longer seems to have a good balance of these things.

    People need to be able to differentiate between a smack and a bashing; and a friendly pat and a sexual assault.

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