The issue of violence against children should never be ignored
26 January 2022 at 11:30 am
Violence against children exists on a scale that is not acceptable, and we as a community could be doing much more to prevent it, writes Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare.
Last week the horrendous death of a nine-year old in New South Wales marked the fifth child death in Australia over a three-week period. The quick succession in which these children have sadly passed has shocked many and is cause for great sadness for the impacted families and communities, as well as all those who care about the safety and wellbeing of children across Australia. It is also a cause for doubling our efforts to keep children safe and visible.
A child’s death is always tragic, overwhelmingly saddening, and difficult to process. Yet every year children die as a result of family violence, child abuse and neglect. Could the five recent deaths have been prevented? Were there warning signs that were missed? We may never know for sure. What we do know is that violence against children exists on a scale that is not acceptable, and that we as a community could be doing much more to prevent it.
Reflecting on the difficult news from the last few days, it struck me that the phenomenon of child abuse and neglect only makes the news when a child dies. This posthumous way of reporting acts of violence and abuse against children often overlooks the significant shortfalls that allow it to keep happening at an alarming level.
As a mother, grandmother, former nurse, and advocate for children’s safety, I am impassioned to see change. It is clear that we need stronger systems that put greater emphasis on the impact of family violence, child abuse and neglect on children and our community. This requires proper investment in child protection and child welfare systems that identify and monitor potential risks to children, as well as valuing the amazing work that child protection and welfare agencies undertake to support parents and keep children safe. We need a heightened focus on family services, universal recognition of the effectiveness of early intervention, and greater collaboration between government and community to prevent avoidable child deaths from occurring. Lastly, it is vitally important that we listen to children.
The issues associated with family violence and child abuse are incredibly complex, and there is sadly no easy answer. But the situation is by no means hopeless, and it is pleasing to see it being addressed by some governments in Australia.
The Victorian government has started to shift its focus towards more proactive measures in child and family services, including early intervention and the use of evidence-based models, which have been proven time and time again to promote child safety. We now need to scale up these initiatives across the country, supporting more families, and relieving the burgeoning pressure on child protection systems, which provided support to 174,700 children in Australia in 2019-20 alone.
The issue of violence against children should never be ignored, and in the wake of such a tragic few weeks, we should double our efforts to come together to protect the children who need it most. Australian activist and last year’s Australian of the Year Grace Tame has spent the year fearlessly campaigning for greater awareness of child sexual abuse and justice for survivors. We must continue her fight.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more difficult to protect children than before, as barely visible victims of abuse and neglect have faded from view. Yet the pandemic has also created a great opportunity for us to renew our focus on what kids need to keep them safe and help them thrive.
I call upon parents, carers, families, communities and governments to recognise the need for a more dedicated and consistent focus on children and their families. We must find ways to improve the system and to work together to protect children from abuse and violence. They are relying on us all to listen and act.