ADJOURNMENT;Child Protection – 16 Jun 2010

Tonight I rise to speak once again on the important issue of child abuse and neglect. I want to pay tribute to two organisations working in this area. Those two organisations are Barnardos Australia and the Australian Childhood Foundation. Both these organisations play vital roles in supporting Australian children and I believe it is important that they get some recognition for the great work they undertake. I should use this opportunity to point out that there are also many other organisations that work for the benefit of children, and each and every organisation working in this area is valued for its efforts.

As a mother and a former childcare worker, the welfare of children is of the utmost importance to me. Barnardos has been protecting children for more than 120 years and is known for its slogan, ‘We believe in children.’ It was founded by Dr Thomas Barnardo in England after he was disturbed to find out how many children did not have families and lived on the streets. In 1870, Barnardo was forced to turn away children as he did not have the money or space to care for them. Sadly, a child known as ‘Carrots’ died a few days after being turned away and Dr Barnardo stated that ‘no destitute boy or girl ever be refused admission’. Dr Barnardo opened homes and a small hospital, arranged for children to be fostered by families and expanded his program to Australia and New Zealand.

Under the heading ‘Barnardos’ Vision’, the Barnardos website states that:

All children and young people will have caring families, in which they can grow safely and fulfil their potential. Families and young people will be valued and supported by quality services and engaged communities.

Under the heading ‘Barnardos’ Mission’ it states:

Barnardos builds relationships between children, young people, their families and the community. It advocates for children and young people and contributes to community knowledge about their issues.

Barnardos Australia has Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, as its patron. Well-known TV personality and mother of two Noni Hazlehurst AM is the national ambassador. She states:

Every one of us has a responsibility to look after children and their carers in our community, in our nation and worldwide. I admire the work that Barnardos does in caring for children and families. The Barnardos Australia’s Mother of the Year Awards recognise the importance of mothers and highlight the remarkable achievements of mothers all around Australia.

During April, I had the pleasure of attending the Barnardos Tasmanian Mother the Year Award, held in Hobart. Every mother nominated had an amazing and inspiring story to tell. Jenny Piemontese of Sandford in southern Tasmania was one of three finalists, along with Aileen Charles and Delwyn Polden, both of Burnie. Jenny was declared the Tasmanian Mother of the Year and I would like to share her story with you.

Jenny has combined raising her three biological children, Tamara, Matthew and Brianna, and her stepson Nathan, with fostering many others. Jenny became a foster parent not long after her youngest child was born. Originally Jenny and her husband, Vince, only planned to foster one child, but they knew there was great need for foster carers and Jenny decided not to return to her job. The children Jenny has cared for have often been babies suffering from drug and alcohol withdrawals because of substance abuse during pregnancy. Jenny delights in seeing the babies in her care become stronger but finds it challenging sometimes to give up the children as many of them will have been in her care for 12 months or longer. Jenny has also fostered older children. As well as her busy life as a mother, Jenny has been a volunteer for Lifeline and Calvary Hospital and helps in the school canteen. If that were not enough, Jenny also has her 17-month-old granddaughter, Hannah, who lives nearby, and the family pets.

Like Jenny, both Aileen and Delwyn have biological children as well as being foster carers and both take on that wonderful role of caring for children with disabilities. All three women have shown remarkable courage and compassion by caring for children from difficult circumstances—particularly when it has involved the added challenge of a disability or substance withdrawal.

Barnardos is a wonderful organisation and it is for this reason the federal government provides funding under a number of initiatives. These include the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Jobs Fund and the Protecting children is everyone’s business: national framework for protecting Australia’s children 2009-2020.

The second organisation I want to mention tonight is the Australian Childhood Foundation—the ACF. This organisation provide education, training and counselling, and work to give parents the skills they need to be effective. They assist foster parents and undertake fundraising as well as doing advocacy work. I visited the ACF a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to talk to staff about the important work they carry out. David Boon MBE is a former member of both the Tasmanian and Australian cricket teams, and coincidentally was born in Tasmania, and is an Ambassador for the ACF. Mr Boon states, ‘I decided to become involved in this campaign because children really deserve better. All kids need to be safe.’ How right he is. The foundation has directly helped 4,000 children, with their specialist counselling aimed at assisting a child in the recovery process who has suffered as a result of abuse, neglect and/or family violence. It is a long process in which the children have to deal with their feelings and learn to trust again. Sometimes, as we know, this can take years. The foundation has supported more than 400,000 families through its parenting education and resource programs. It has helped more than 200,000 parents from different cultural backgrounds to improve their knowledge and confidence through the distribution of parenting information, which is available in 16 languages.

When children are removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect they have a range of issues to deal with that often result in behavioural problems. The foundation provides support to foster parents to help them cope with the child in their care and to find the best possible ways to communicate with them and to build a relationship—despite the many barriers. Another area the foundation is involved in is offering training to people who work in education, criminal justice and child protection. Education focuses on the neurobiology of trauma, attachment and related practice issues. The foundation argues strongly for policy and legislative reform that will make a real difference to the ways that the community can keep children safe from violation. The ACF strives to be a fearless advocate for children and their need to feel safe, respected and cared for.

In 2009, the ACF and Monash University launched the report Doing nothing hurts children. The report focused on a survey of 722 adults conducted in July 2009. This was the third such survey over a six-year period. The survey found that one in four Australian adults have identified a case of child abuse and neglect in the preceding five years. Dr Joe Tucci, CEO of the ACF states, ‘This makes child abuse the most significant problem facing our community.’ Forty-four per cent of those people who had identified a case of child abuse were worried about the child’s safety to the extent that they felt it was necessary to involve the authorities. Twenty-one per cent felt the need to discuss the situation with a professional, while 16 per cent had chosen to ignore the problem. Of the people who chose not to act, 24 per cent were unwilling to become involved while 53 per cent did not know what they should do or who to talk to. The report also found that 26 per cent of cases involved physical abuse and 21 per cent involved sexual abuse. More than half of the cases involved children under eight years old. In a 12-month period, only 45 per cent of those people surveyed who recognised abuse took action on the same day.

Research by the ACF in combination with Access Economics and Monash University found that child abuse costs Australia between $10 billion and $30 billion each year. Dr Tucci states that there are a number of obstacles in protecting children. These include the fact that children are not always believed and people are not confident of recognising the signs of abuse. Others do not know what action they should take to help the child. Tasmania is fortunate to have the service of both Barnados and the Australian Childhood Foundation. I would like to thank all those people who support children in times of need and say a special thank you to the foster parents, carers and staff of these two organisations. Our children need protecting and we all have a role to play in offering that protection. I urge everyone to open their eyes, to take action if needed and to support the work of Barnardos, the Australian Childhood Foundation and the other organisations working for the benefit of our children.