ADDRESS TO THE ANNUAL COALITION OF ORGANISATIONS COMMITTED TO THE SAFETY AND WELLBEING OF AUSTRALIA’S CHILDREN

Thank you Brian, thank you ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great pleasure to be with you all this morning.

Last month the Melbourne Herald Sun published a series of self-portraits by children who have been victims of abuse.

Drawn right here in Melbourne, they tell the stories of real children.

And they are searing.

The images are difficult to forget.

Rebecca was sexually abused by an uncle, rejected by her parents when she reported the abuse and has been deeply pained.

She portrayed her pain with a drawing of a little girl paralysed with fear but for tears dropping into two dark pools.

A little boy blacked himself out with crayons.

He wanted to disappear so he could not witness the violence between his father and mother.2

These are the images of children our society has failed.

Today, I want to thank Families Australia and the Coalition of Organisations Committed to the Safety and Wellbeing of Australia’s Children for taking a stand on behalf of such children so tragically affected by violence, abuse and neglect.

When I addressed this gathering last year as shadow Minister, I recognised the significant work you were doing to enhance the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children.

Your work reaffirms my belief that civil society is the engine room to develop and drive solutions to address the needs of children and families.

The Government will continue to focus on how we can further strengthen civil society to provide the services that are so important for the protection of children; so important for eradicating the shocking evils that rob an unconscionable number of children – like those right here in our own country, who have shared their trauma through their paintings – of a happy, healthy childhood.

We will work to encourage community members at all levels to work together to address issues such as child safety and wellbeing in their own neighbourhoods, their own streets, their own families.

This is a focus that I know you share and which reflects the goals of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.

The NGO Coalition – and its progenitor, Families Australia – played a leading role in advocating for, and negotiating, the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children which was agreed to by all Australian Governments in 2009.

The concept grew from two national forums funded by our Government when we were last in office.

We all have a moral and economic imperative to keep our children safe and well, including by building strong families and strong communities.

The social and economic costs of child abuse and neglect are well documented both nationally and internationally.

Research undertaken for the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows that child abuse and neglect comes at great cost to individuals and the wider society.

Future problems include drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, poor health, homelessness, juvenile offending, criminality and incarceration.3

Some years ago researchers estimated that the cost of child abuse and neglect in Australia alone was more than $4 billion a year. 4

The emotional cost, from the very first moments of abuse, as evidenced in those graphic paintings, cannot be calculated in dollars and cents.

That is why the Government remains firmly committed to working with your NGO Coalition and the state and territory governments to make “protecting children everyone’s business” through the National Framework.

A key strength of the National Framework is the National Forum for Protecting Australia’s Children.

The Forum is a flagship example of Commonwealth, state and territory governments working in partnership both together and with civil society to progress national priorities and actions under the Framework.

This is about going beyond commitment.

It is about turning commitment into action; to make sure that the systems and processes we talk about at our meetings and conferences actually work, out there, behind the closed doors where perpetrators of abuse – always cowards – cause such shocking pain.

I announced earlier this year that we will continue to support the Forum.

I am also pleased to see the needs of children are being addressed through other national reform agendas.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

One of its Commissioners, Justice Jennifer Coate, joined you earlier today.

The lessons we take from the Royal Commission will guide us all to identifying the best practices both in responding to child abuse and in making institutions safer for children.

Ladies and gentlemen, the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children is another significant social reform agenda that has the needs of vulnerable children and families at its centre.

Last month the Prime Minister launched the Second Action Plan under the National Plan.

The Plan has 26 practical actions to transform attitudes, support respectful relationships and hold perpetrators of violence to account.

Importantly, there is an emphasis on getting support services and systems to work effectively together and to help us learn more about what works for women and their children experiencing, or at risk of, domestic and family violence and sexual assault.

Strong community engagement is critical if we are to drive changes in attitudes and behaviour and this is one of the strengths of the Second Action Plan – the call to civil society to play its part.

I am also pleased that the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children will deliver a project under the National Plan that links to a specific action under the Framework.

This is to respond to concerns about the impacts of the sexualisation of children on their cognitive and emotional development, health and wellbeing.

The Second Action Plan focuses too on diverse groups who can be more vulnerable to abuse and violence in our community – those from Indigenous communities, families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and people with disability.

Around $200 million has been committed to the National Plan – from 2009 to 2017 – and the Government has allocated more than $100 million over the next four years to support the Second Action Plan.

I am pleased to say that both the National Plan and the National Framework have a strong focus on early intervention and prevention.

The importance of investing early in the pathway of an issue cannot be over-emphasised.

We all know this.

The question is, “can we be bold enough to ensure it happens?”

The Child Aware Approaches initiatives will be an important barometer here.

Child Aware Approaches under the National Framework supports civil society to undertake grassroots, early intervention and prevention activities to foster safe and nurturing environments for children.

You heard this morning about the good work being delivered by NGO Coalition members – Families Australia and the Australian Centre for Child Protection – through the Child Aware Local Initiative pilot.

I was pleased to announce the first two of the eight trial sites for the Initiative in Townsville and Lismore at the Child Aware Approaches Conference hosted by Families Australia earlier this year.

The initiative is a great example of how local communities want to embrace early intervention and prevention around social issues and are best placed to identify and fix problems in their own backyard.

I know that Families Australia and the ACCP are working closely with representatives from my Department, and leading consultations with state and territory governments, to identify the final six sites that will be rolled out by the end of this year.

I look forward to hearing of examples of best practice that will be identified through this project and how the findings can be shared more broadly with other local communities across Australia.

The Child Aware Local Initiative is a great example of how the expertise held by one sector of the community can be harnessed to help build capacity and facilitate action in other sectors.

This approach links closely with the work of Professor Ross Homel from Griffith University, who, together with a broad group of researchers, government agencies and non-government organisations, is implementing an ARC funded project Creating the Conditions for Collective Impact: Transforming the Child-Serving System in Disadvantaged Communities.

This project seeks to improve the wellbeing of children from birth to 12 years old living in 52 disadvantaged areas across the country through collaborative partnerships to empower schools and community agencies to solve local problems.

I strongly support the sharing of expertise across services and sectors to help build capacity within communities to help them implement local solutions to local problems.

Researchers reporting in the United States Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect have found in fact that:

20 years ago the US Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect pointed to neighbourhoods as a critical focus of action for reducing child maltreatment.5

Within my own department we are streamlining programmes and processes that support children, families and communities.

We are also reshaping our programmes and service delivery to focus on early intervention and prevention.

Many of you will be aware of this through our new grant arrangements.

Another matter I would like to mention briefly is our reforms to the welfare system as they affect families and children.

The Government’s welfare reforms are vital to family wellbeing.

We are making changes to ensure those most in need will be able to access support, build life skills, parent their children responsibly and improve outcomes for children.

The current income support system does not support people, including families, as effectively as it could at key points in their lives.

Our review of the system is about ensuring Australia has a sustainable welfare system into the future and that we do not fall into the same welfare trap that many European nations have.

That is a harbinger of family dysfunction.

We want our welfare system to support strong cohesive families where healthy role models, such as a parent going out to work, give children the best possible chance in life.

Child abuse and neglect are more prevalent in dysfunctional families and communities.

But let us not delude ourselves.

Both victims and perpetrators come from all levels of society.

We all know children and young people who have been so severely betrayed and who, through no fault of their own, are removed from their families.

We know these children and young people continue to face stigma and feelings of social isolation and disempowerment.

Ladies and gentlemen, I began today with a graphic illustration of the effects of abuse on children. Let me conclude with an example of the outstanding work being done to help these children heal.

I refer to initiatives such as the CREATE Foundation’s recent ‘The Power Within’ exhibition.

The Australia wide exhibition involved 22 young people with a care experience; encouraging them to create works that shed light on the many challenges they face and tell positive stories of how these challenges can be overcome.

We need to work together to break down any barriers that may prevent these young people reaching their full potential and growing into independent, successful individuals in their own right.

Most of all we need to stop the damage before it occurs.

That is why the National Framework’s theme – keeping children safe and well is everyone’s responsibility – is so important.

This is a whole of society challenge.

You are doing your part.

We must bring others on board.

In this country, we have a history of successfully tackling the most difficult of problems.

We need to confront the scourges of child abuse and neglect with the same will.

Our children deserve no less.

Thank you.