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Time to focus on root causes of widespread child abuse

CONGRATULATIONS to Justice Margaret Nyland and her team for their terrific examination of some of the uglier parts of our community. Her report should be required reading for anyone wanting to deepen their understanding of human services, and the protection of vulnerable children.

But today I am left contemplating why we always seem to wait for something horrific to occur before we finally attend to things we should have been doing years ago.

What annoys me is that it takes a Royal Commission and report to focus the minds of governments — no matter of what persuasion — on investing in the leadership and resources required to ensure proper protection of our children.

While Justice Nyland’s analysis is erudite and helpful, many of the issues that plague our system of care and protection have been well known for years.

It is regrettable that we were only jolted into action by the widespread public attention to horrendous instances of abuse.

We are now seeing something similar in the Northern Territory with the announcement of a Royal Commission following the 4 Corners program and the shocking images of kids being maltreated in detention.

Again, the issues of maltreatment and abuse, as well as the terrible over-representation of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in our detention centres nationwide is something we have known for many years.

It is regrettable that we were only jolted into action by the widespread public attention to horrendous instances of abuse.
There is, of course, a broader context to all of this. One thing that is missing and was beyond the scope of the Nyland analysis is a detailed discussion about the social conditions that result in kids needing protection and an alternative system of care at all.

We know for example that a lack of family income and extended experiences of impoverishment sometimes result in unavoidable neglect. We know that poor parenting skills, mental health issues, addictions, family violence, unemployment, lack of purpose and self-worth, and poor education are some of the key drivers behind the arrival of kids in child protection.

And please let’s not fall into the trap of thinking this is just an issue for people who are poor. Rich families can equally harbour instances of child abuse and neglect, as they too live with the challenges of mental health issues, family violence and dysfunction, and alcohol and drug addictions which are out of control.

But unlike many people on very low incomes, they often have direct access to a whole range of resources that they can bring to support them which can often mask from public review, the deep turmoil within.

In the end these life preconditions are the ones we really need to address if we are serious about wanting to prevent kids from coming into our systems of care.

This is still the biggest piece of work we need to be undertaking while at the same time working to give life to the wide ranging set of recommendations Margaret Nyland has made that aim to fix the child protection system itself.

We will need our justice, health, education, childcare and welfare systems to work in concert. And as individual members of the community, as police officers, as health workers, as educators, as neighbours, it’s up to all of us to step up and share the responsibility.


Published Date: 
Wednesday, 10 August 2016