Save the Children Australia is calling for a radical shift in the national approach to child protection to address chronic failures in the current system.
In National Child Protection Week (5-11 September), the agency is calling for children’s rights to be placed firmly at the centre of child protection to end the system’s harmful tendency to intervene too late.
In a submission to the Federal government Save the Children and Child Wise have recommended the expiring National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children be replaced by a new national approach based on upholding children’s rights.
The submission urges Federal and State governments to meet their responsibilities to support families and children, genuinely prioritise children’s best interests, focus on preventing harm to children before it occurs, and strengthen children’s agency in their own lives.
Matt Gardiner, Executive Director of Australian Services, Save the Children Australia:
“The current child protection system should be scrapped,” said Mr Gardiner.
“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.”
“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 lifespan of the National Framework.”
“We urgently need a child rights-based approach rather than the current system which is all about reinforcing children’s vulnerability.”
“Through a child rights approach, we can prevent harm before it occurs.”
“Too often the system itself causes harm, by failing to intervene early enough and then traumatically removing children from their families.”
“As the repercussions of COVID-19 reverberate across the country, more and more families are falling into economic hardship. Around one in six Australian children are living in poverty, and family stress caused by poverty, isolation and fatigue is a key risk indicator for child abuse and neglect.”
“We need to address poverty as a root cause of child abuse and neglect,” said Mr Gardiner.
“We simply cannot remove children from their families for being poor and under stress. In Australia, children are involved in the child protection system every day because their families are trapped in poverty.”
“This is disproportionately affecting families that are struggling for reasons outside their control, including far too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The current approach does not address root causes.”
“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, Managing Director of Child Wise, said:
“The pandemic has shone light on how absent children’s own points of view are from the policies that impact them. Most of what we hear is adults deciding solutions for them and about them, without them,” said Ms Sieg
“In recent weeks, policy makers have started talking about vaccines, mental health and wellbeing for children but we have not heard how children have been informed about these issues, let alone their views heard and taken into account.
“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 right now, and to ask ourselves whether we have even pitched our information and policies in a language they can understand. Have we all just decided they are not capable of understanding or partaking in a view about what happens to them?”
“Instead of seeing children as subordinate and incapable of having any agency in their own lives we need a system that is about centering children’s rights. Giving them a voice is pivotal to that. This will make children safer.”
Save the Children and Child Wise’s joint submission about the successor plan to the expiring National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children can be read in full here.
National Child Protection Week runs from Sunday 5 September to Saturday 11 September.
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