Tonight I rise to speak about the issue of child protection and in particular the fact that between 4 and 11 September it was National Child Protection Week. The theme for National Child Protection Week this year was ‘Play Your Part’. As a parent, a former childcare worker and the co-convenor of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, child protection and welfare is of the utmost importance to me. Every year in Australia, in excess of 30,000 children are abused and neglected. I know that is of great concern to many other senators present tonight on both sides of the chamber and, obviously, some that are not present. I know that other senators here tonight play an important role in helping reduce that number.
The Gillard government provided funding to the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, or NAPCAN as it is well known, to host National Child Protection Week events and activities around Australia. As part of the week, NAPCAN and Google launched a YouTube channel. The channel showcases what people are doing to reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect. I would encourage people to take the time to have a look at this site.
In 2009, NAPCAN conducted a survey of more than 21,000 people to help understand the level of awareness people have regarding child abuse and neglect and the actions they would take to protect a child they thought was being abused. I have spoken about that survey previously in this place but I want to remind people that the results found that less than half the Australian population would take appropriate action to ensure a child’s safety when faced with clear indications of abuse and neglect. Many of the survey participants indicated that they wanted to help but they were not sure what action they should take.
This year, 2011, the focus is on educating people so that they can make a difference. As a parent you need to educate your own children about the importance of being safe and what they should do if they are feeling unsafe. It is also important to educate ourselves about the signs of abuse and neglect in order to give ourselves the best chance of spotting a problem that a child might have. Quite often a child can have loving and attentive parents but is being abused by someone else, and if a child does not understand that what is happening to them is wrong or if they are scared to speak up a parent may not always notice the problem.
It is also important that members of extended families take an active interest in the lives of their grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and brothers and sisters. This is because sometimes it may be the parents who are abusing or neglecting the child. They may be doing it deliberately, or perhaps they are struggling with being a parent and need some guidance to help them become better parents.
Another important role for adults to play in the lives of children is to be an attentive listener and provide emotional support because a fear of rejection and not being taken seriously may mean a child keeps quiet even if they know that what is happening to them is wrong. It is also important, obviously, for teachers, doctors and neighbours to be aware of the children they come into contact with and of what is normal behaviour for a particular child because a change in behaviour may well indicate a problem that needs attention.
Another important factor in providing a safe environment for children is the need for facilities that accommodate the parent-child relationship. This could mean, for example, flexible working hours for parents, restaurants that cater for children and schools that encourage parental involvement and participation. Effective communication between caregivers is also important. Parents need to have a strong relationship with the teachers, early childhood educators and health professionals providing care for their children.
NAPCAN has a number of programs dealing with child welfare and I will mention just a few of them tonight. The LOVE BITES program was developed to educate young people about respectful relationships and to reduce the incidence of relationship violence in the community. The program is delivered in an interactive manner with workers engaging the young people through activities in every session. Its workshop ends with a creative afternoon session to consolidate the material learnt during the day. LOVE BITES is usually for young people between the ages of 14 and 16.
The KiDS CAN program focuses on the right for children and young people to participate fully in life, including building resilience, developing healthy relationships and breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect. The program helps children and young people build positive approaches towards challenges and potential conflict and works to develop a sense of belonging. Through KiDS CAN, children and young people are encouraged to have a voice on matters of concern to them and to make decisions and take responsibility for the operation and completion of a project.
Another NAPCAN program that I know about is SOSO, which focuses on keeping children safe while using the internet. As the Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, this is an issue of particular importance to me. Cybersafety continues to be a key concern for Australian parents, teachers and caregivers. I know that many of the school newsletters I receive cover cybersafety on a regular basis. It is really great to see schools taking that action. SOSO recognises the fact that keeping children safe online is a joint responsibility between parents, teachers, government, the wider community and the digital media industry. SOSO has been developed so that children and young people are communicated to in a way which they can understand and relate to.
SOSO’s first campaign was focused on raising awareness about the dangers of online predators. An independent evaluation of this campaign found that it was delivered to 80 per cent of its target market and that it achieved significant shifts in awareness, attitude and intended behaviour. SOSO’s second campaign focused on online bullying. This campaign seems to be making an impact with children, according to an external evaluation of the anti-cyberbullying campaign. The Cyber Bullying—Bystander Behaviour program uses a YouTube video and an educational game called Web Warriors. The evaluation shows that the program has had a significant impact on intended behaviour change. Over 80 per cent of online Australians between the ages of 10 and 15 have had the opportunity to see the SOSO campaign. Around nine in 10 of those who were involved thought that it had had an impact on how they felt about cyberbullying and that it had made them more aware of the effect of cyberbullying on others. The Cyber Bullying—Bystander Behaviour YouTube video has had about 79,000 clicks and the Web Warriors page has over 8,000 children registered to play the game. SOSO works because it operates within social networking sites and utilises the space, style and format traditionally reserved for commercial advertising. SOSO also has its own website where users can learn more and report suspicious behaviour.
Technology such as instant messaging, email, mobile phones and voice over internet protocol can all be used with the aim of compromising children’s safety, either through bullying, predation or online grooming. The Australian government commissioned a national research audit to examine research on child protection in Australia and to help target future research. The audit, conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Social Policy Research Centre, was released on 5 August 2011. It provided directions and priorities to help determine future research, including the government’s National Research Agenda for Protecting Children, which is to be finalised by the end of this year. It found that Australia needs more research into understanding the neglect and the emotional and physical abuse of children, as well as the impact that parental substance abuse and mental illness can have on child safety and wellbeing. Other areas that were identified included Indigenous-specific issues and solutions, kinship care, and the role of community education on child abuse and neglect. The risks to and abuse of children with disability and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds were also identified as being areas in need of research.
The National Research Agenda for Protecting Children is one of the key components under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. The framework provides a national approach to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Australian children. The Gillard government has made significant progress in the first two years of the framework, including: National Standards for Out of Home Care; eight new Communities for Children Plus sites across Australia for children at risk; increased payments for young people leaving care; and establishing a network of 25 grandparent peer support groups and another for other issues. The government continues to build on its progress through programs such as the new Family Support Program, with a more than $1 billion investment in support and services over the next three years, particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged families.
The directions and priorities in the National Research Audit will be critical in helping build an evidence based approach to inform our thinking and actions to achieve better outcomes for children. The National Research Audit has been supplemented by an online register that will enable users to access the audit information more easily and to keep up to date with the latest research. The Protecting Australia’s Children Research Audit is available online at the National Child Protection Clearinghouse.
This year, to mark National Child Protection Week, NAPCAN has partnered with the Australian Federal Police, state and territory police forces, Think U Know, Bravehearts, Kids Helpline, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and Crime Stoppers to produce a poster. The poster puts it very simply: ‘When a child is abused, the physical and mental pain can last a lifetime … report it immediately.’