33,000 reasons to act on child abuse
This week is National Child Protection Week 2010 and this year NAPCAN is highlighting the stark fact that when we know 33,000 children are abused each year, child protection is everyone’s business.
And they are just the ones we know about. These statistics have no place in 21st century Australia.
What would happen if, in a single year, 33,000 Australian children became ill in an epidemic, with some children dying and many children being damaged for life? There would be a national outcry to intervene and stop it. Why isn’t there a similar outcry for children who have been abused or neglected? The abuse and neglect of children continues year after year, yet it seems no one hears these children.
Last year, NAPCAN conducted a national survey to gauge community attitudes to child abuse and neglect. Our survey results reveal that far, far too many people say they would not take any formal action if they think a child is being abused or neglected.
We surveyed 22,000 people, which made it the biggest survey of its kind in Australia. Despite being a well-educated, interested group who were reasonably knowledgeable about child abuse as an issue, less than half the respondents said they would take action to protect the child by ringing the child protection authorities or the police. Even more alarming, if a child disclosed sexual abuse, only one-third of respondents would call the police.
Why are people so hesitant to step in to protect a child? Respondents gave a range of reasons, including: fear they may be wrong, being worried about what might happen to them or the child, and a reluctance to upset the parents. Because they were unsure of what is the right thing to do, most were only sure they’d discuss the situation with their partner. One of the reasons organisations like NAPCAN exist is to let people know what they can do - what steps they can take.
Perhaps most concerning, more than 40 per cent of people just didn’t think it was their business. That’s a really disturbing thought.
So who should take responsibility to protect children? Not surprisingly, almost everyone surveyed thought parents were mainly responsible for children’s safety and wellbeing. The big surprise is the groups people thought were not responsible at all: 31 per cent thought that business, and 17% thought that the media, were not at all responsible to help keep children safe, as if somehow business and the media stand outside society. Particularly concerning, 11 per cent thought neighbours are not responsible at all for protecting kids.
You may ask yourself what you can do to help the children in your community. First and foremost, we need to change our mindset and accept that protecting children is everyone’s business. We all have a role to play, whether we are a parent, relative, neighbour, policy-maker, journalist or employer. Don’t turn a blind eye. Don’t pass the buck. Get involved.
Australia needs an ongoing and large-scale public education campaign – one that everyone can understand. It needs to focus not just on reporting child abuse to authorities, but on showing people how to help families who are struggling.
People can show their willingness to be part of the solution by learning more about child abuse and neglect, and understanding what the warning signs are. They are not always obvious. If you’re worried about a child, don’t be silent, you must do something, you must tell someone.
But for most of us, preventing child abuse won’t be about picking up the phone to report an incident of abuse or neglect. Taking action will be about how we help and support the parents we know, as they raise their children, in our street and in our community.
It may be offering to babysit so a mum can do the shopping or have a nap. It can be as easy as taking the time to organise a street party where parents and children can get to know each other. It might be providing child-friendly shopping centres and accessible local drop-in centres for parents who need some company and a caring word. Overall, it is about letting parents and children know that it is okay to ask for help. Parenting is hard, and all parents will benefit from help from time to time.
Child abuse prevention needs to be supported by government policy. In order to create an Australia which is more supportive of children, we need substantial and sustained investment in prevention of child abuse and neglect. NAPCAN advocates for:
• immediate measures to reduce the level of parental alcohol abuse. The message that kids and grog don’t mix has not got through to thousands of Australian families.
• far more parental education and family support services in areas where there is a high level of child abuse and neglect.
• home visits by qualified child and family health nurses to all Australian families with a new baby.
• a large-scale public education campaign focused on prevention.
Child abuse and neglect has no place in a civilised country. The NAPCAN website provides tips on how we can all play a part to protect and support children and their families. I’d encourage you to empower yourself with these tips, and help us make Australia safer for all our kids. Visit: www.napcan.org.au.
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