Radical rethink urged on child protection

·3-min read

Australia's approach to child protection is irretrievably broken and a radical shift is needed to halt escalating rates of neglect and abuse, advocates warn.

Save the Children Australia says kids are no better protected than they were in 2009 when federal, state and territory governments committed to a shared, long-term framework to safeguard the youngest Australians.

That framework is due to expire and must not be replaced with something equally ineffective, executive director Matt Gardiner has warned.

In a joint submission to the federal government, Save the Children Australia and its child safety group Child Wise call for a new approach, that puts the rights of children at the centre of protection strategies.

"Rates of neglect and abuse, children in out-of-home care, and the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care have all increased over the 12-year life span of the national framework," Mr Gardiner said on day one of National Child Protection Week.

"What we need is a system designed for a contemporary Australia. One that actually protects children and gives them the chance at life with their parents who are supported and resources to care for them."

He said time and time again, the system did not intervene early enough to address risk factors such as poverty, and the result was often the traumatic removal of children from their families after the damage had been done.

"We need to address poverty as a root cause of child abuse and neglect," he added.

"Governments need to make a commitment that no child will be removed from their family due to poverty or before every possible effort has been made to address this underlying cause of harm."

Natalie Siegel-Brown is the managing director of Child Wise, which works to prevent child abuse and exploitation.

She says the views of children are never involved in the drafting of policies that will directly affect their lives.

"We should use National Child Protection Week as an opportunity to truly ask ourselves what voice we have really given children in deciding what happens to them," she said.

"Instead of seeing children as subordinate and incapable of having any agency in their own lives we need a system that is about centring children's rights. Giving them a voice is pivotal to that. This will make children safer."

Online consultation is currently underway to inform the successor plan to the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children.

Federal Assistant Minister for Children Michelle Landry said the framework achieved important reforms, including national standards for out-of-home care and the improved sharing of child protection information among states and territories.

But she said there is much still to be done to make significant and sustained progress in improving outcomes for children and families in need.

"We want to hear from families, children, young people, foster and kinship carers, government and non-government organisations and people with a passion for child protection and child wellbeing," Ms Landry said earlier this year.

The National Children's Commissioner Anne Hollonds has been tasked with leading targeted consultations with children, young people and families to ensure their views are reflected in the next plan.

National Child Protection Week runs until September 11.

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Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)

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