Foster Care Week is celebrated in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia from 11-17 September. We are both humbled and amazed by the enormous contribution of our village of carers who open their homes, their hearts and their lives giving back to the community so selflessly.
Let’s give parents a fair go too
by Dr Lisa J. Griffiths, OzChild Chief Executive Officer
While National Child Protection Week reminds us that every child, in every community, deserves a fair go, parents must be afforded the same right.
Protecting children is everyone’s business, but sadly unless you’re exposed to the statistics, are familiar with the rising number of children and young people receiving child protection services, the magnitude of the problem is understood by very few Australians.
The need for a dedicated week that focuses on child protection should be enough for all Australians to stand up and say, enough is enough, we must, and we can do better when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable. Endless reports, Royal Commissions, and shocking headlines tell us what has been done is not working.
Across Australia, many parents are struggling with mental ill health, unhealthy addictions and relationships, domestic and family violence and poor health and access to services that can treat them.
Parents must be given a fair go, so children have every chance to thrive and be healthy, and it starts with specialised support, support that is accessible and focuses on whole of family treatment.
For too long our child protection system has broken families apart into silos, sending parents in different directions and separating children from them under the guise of protecting children.
A child protection system alone cannot keep children safe, and those who work within the system suffer the criticism when a child known to them tragically loses their life, regardless of whether that child has also been known to health, police, or the education department as a child at risk. There may have been many other opportunities for intervention, yet it’s always the child protection system at fault.
The silos we have built do not serve families well. They do not consider the interrelated issues and family dynamics but rather take a threshold approach as the leaver to intervene in the life of the individual. Each silo has its own threshold for entry for that individual and it can take weeks, months, or years for an individual to hit that threshold for a response.
Consider the weeks, months, and years that a child must wait if their parent waits for a response, what impact, what damage, what trauma do they experience while the adult in their life waits hopelessly for help?
In addition to this, is the response or intervention offered based on evidence? How does that response consider that adult as a parent and caregiver to a child who by now has likely developed complex trauma or behaviours from their parents’ afflictions and inability to cope without the support they need?
What if, instead of failing these kids so catastrophically, we intervene much earlier, we truly listen to what parents, children and families say they need to succeed and look at what the research and evidence tells us works.
Parents don’t set out to fail. I’m certain, there is not one parent around who wants their child to be removed from their care. Yet the government on behalf of the taxpayer seems to prioritise things like infrastructure over the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. Child protection isn’t a vote winner, you only have to look at successive election commitments over many years by both sides to see the truth in this.
Now more than ever we need to advocate for parents, for children and young people. To encourage conversation and challenge attitudes. Providing the right support at the right time for families facing vulnerable times will not only help to improve prospects for children and young people but provide benefits for the whole community.
I think the pandemic has generated a greater sense of goodwill within the community. I had hoped greater understanding and conversation around vulnerability would ensue, and an awakening would follow, whereby all children would be viewed as everybody’s responsibility, because that age old saying, that it takes a village to raise a child has never been more pertinent.
It’s now well and truly time we examine the need for a co-creation approach which involves collaboration between researchers, policy makers, agencies, intersecting systems, young people, and families. To deliver programs and services that work, that drive down the rates of child abuse and neglect, keeping children and young people with family.
Greater investment in early intervention and prevention, evidence-based models that focus on treating families together, is not negotiable. We all want the best possible service system for children, young people, and families in need and that system must include solutions that are evidence-based.
I want to imagine a world where we don’t need a week called Child Protection Week, a world where parents have the capacity to keep their children safe and happy in their care. I would like to work my way out of a job, out of the lives of families and children because they don’t need a child protection system.
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.
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.
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