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Building a Safer Future for Australian Children: Child Protection Week 2023
Building a Safer Future for Australian Children: Where we start must include connecting research to action
by Dr Lisa J. Griffiths, OzChild Chief Executive Officer
Child maltreatment is a pervasive issue that casts a long, dark shadow over the lives of countless young Australians. It’s a problem that transcends social, economic, and cultural boundaries, leaving a lasting impact on victims and society as a whole.
This Child Protection Week much focus will be placed on the recent findings from the Australian Child Maltreatment Study, and with good cause. The findings have shed light on the extent of this crisis, emphasising the urgent need for effective early intervention and prevention programs.
Fortunately, evidence-based models like SafeCare, Functional Family Therapy (FFT), and Multisystemic Therapy (MST) offer hope for a safer future for all children.
The Australian Child Maltreatment Study, conducted with rigor and dedication, serves as a stark reminder that child abuse and neglect are not isolated incidents but deeply rooted societal issues. The study’s findings underscore the harsh reality that too many children continue to suffer in silence, enduring physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that can have lifelong consequences. However, in the midst of this troubling data, there is reason for optimism in the form of evidence-based interventions that can make a real difference.
Evidence-based interventions delivering a better start for kids and greater support for parents.
SafeCare, one of these interventions, focuses on strengthening parenting skills. It recognises that many parents want to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children but may lack the necessary knowledge and support. By providing targeted training and guidance to parents, SafeCare equips them with the skills and resources needed to ensure their children’s safety and well-being. This approach is a crucial step toward preventing child abuse and neglect before it occurs, addressing the root causes and mitigating future harm.
If we are to break the cycle of disadvantage and turn the tide on the number of children experiencing neglect or abuse it must start with educating and improving parenting skills and supporting healthy family interactions, all of which are fundamental to prevention of child maltreatment, early intervention must include intensified support for vulnerable families.
The ACMS findings also highlight the massive female/male disparity in child sexual abuse. Girl’s experience double the rate of child sexual abuse than boys. We cannot ignore the need for the inclusion of education programs and greater support services like Family Therapy (FFT) and Multisystemic Therapy (MST) that target inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment perpetrated by adolescent males.
These evidence-based models recognise that young offenders often need intensive, family-centred interventions to address their harmful behaviour patterns. FFT emphasises family communication and problem-solving, while MST focuses on addressing the broader ecological factors contributing to delinquency. By working with young people and their families, these programs aim to break the cycle of abuse and violence, providing a path toward rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
The connection between these evidence-based programs and the findings of the Australian Child Maltreatment Study is clear: prevention and early intervention are critical to addressing the complex issue of child abuse and neglect. We cannot afford to wait until the harm is done; instead, we must invest in proactive strategies that empower parents with the tools to provide safe and nurturing environments for their children. Where we start matters!
It is crucial that policymakers, communities, and organisations come together to support and expand these evidence-based programs. This support includes funding, training, and awareness campaigns to ensure that every child in Australia has access to the protection and care they deserve. The Australian Child Maltreatment Study has provided us with a wake-up call—a call to action. We must heed this call, not just by acknowledging the problem but by actively working to implement effective solutions.
In conclusion, the findings of the Australian Child Maltreatment Study demand our attention and action. We cannot ignore the suffering of our children, nor can we afford to be complacent in the face of this crisis. SafeCare, Functional Family Therapy, and Multisystemic Therapy offer tangible solutions that can prevent child abuse and neglect, providing hope for a brighter and safer future for our children. It is our responsibility as a society to bridge the gap between research and action, ensuring that every child can grow up in a safe and nurturing environment, free from the shadows of maltreatment.
Dr Lisa J. Griffiths is the Chief Executive Officer at OzChild, Victoria’s longest-running child welfare organisation and Australia’s largest provider of evidence-based programs in child protection, family violence and youth justice.
Lisa has a Doctor of Business Leadership, researching evidence-based ethical leadership models for the community services sector and teaches the principles of Evidence-Based Leadership across Australia.
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