The shocking case last week of a two-year-old Victorian girl being savagely beaten has once again raised the issue of child abuse into the headlines.

It has started an important debate about when to remove children from their parents and what constitutes a child at risk.

Despite some horrifying high profile cases in recent years, child abuse is a problem that many Australians still think is limited to a certain section of the community.

While this view might make it easier for us to sleep at night, it does nothing to protect the more than 30,000 Australian children who were abused or neglected last year.

This appalling statistic is made even more startling because these are only the cases we know about. Experts believe that some forms of abuse, particularly sexual and psychological abuse, are still significantly under reported.

Sadly, this is not a problem that is isolated to a small number of dysfunctional families – child abuse is endemic across the whole Australian community.

It’s easy for society and some commentators to wash their hands of the issue and lay the blame at over-stretched child protection workers and claim they are not doing their job or have been hijacked by ideologically driven do-gooders, but it does little to solve the problem.

Simply arguing we should take more children does little to deal with the scale of the problem and takes the pressure off all of us to help prevent child abuse from happening in the first place.

We need to be willing and determined to do both.

The difficult and sad reality is that no child protection system can possibly save every child.

Child protection workers have an incredibly difficult, and at times harrowing, job. We must give them our full support and the resources to do their jobs.

Determining if and when to remove a child from their family is a complex decision which is deeply traumatic for all involved. It needs be made by well-trained professionals who have the ability to assess the situation with a range of resources and options available to them.

We need to reduce the burden and stress on child protection workers so that when they are making that tough decision they know they have the full support of their superiors, the community and even the media.

Every decision must be made on the basis of the child’s needs and rights; for many it will mean their removal, for others it may be family support programs and assistance to parents is required.

And as a community we need to start taking child abuse and neglect seriously and sustain the effort to counter it at every level – not just when a terrible case makes the headlines. 

We can start by inspiring more families to foster children, because right now we simply do not have enough foster places in Australia for the children who have already been removed from their families.

In 2008 more than 26,000 Australian children were in out-of-home care. Finding suitable placements for this number of children is extremely difficult.

We hear the stories of children in unsuitable temporary arrangements and we know that more than 75 per cent of children in out-of-home care have been in three or more placements.

But the real key to addressing child abuse is to throw everything at preventing it from happening in the first place. We need to start the work back up stream with early intervention, to stop families reaching breaking point – and all of us have a role to play.

People often talk about parental responsibility, but the responsibility rests with more than just parents. It rests with the community.

There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. In the hustle and bustle of today’s modern world we seem to have forgotten that. We’ve forgotten about neighbours looking out for each other, extended families are dispersed and families are often left to fend for themselves.

Rearing a child is the most stressful time in anyone’s life. With sleep deprivation, economic stress and often isolation, it’s little wonder we have such a serious problem on our hands.

By dealing with the problems early – preventing abuse before it starts – we can take steps in the right direction.

Providing good postnatal care and support, accessible child care and a community that is truly “child friendly” we can go a long way to help those families who are struggling.

And for the sake of the children it’s important to look at the causes of abuse. We need to address the “adult issues” like drug and alcohol addition, domestic violence and mental illness. These are all causes or underlying factors in child abuse or neglect.

I have seen some fantastic examples of effective intervention programs.

I’ve met parents who were on the brink and who, with the right help, have turned their lives and those of their children around.

These kids won’t become simply statistics. They won’t need to be in out-of-home care.

Prevention and effective intervention is not easy or cheap. But if, as a society, we truly value children we must be prepared to put kids first and make the level of investment required.

And if we truly value children we also must be prepared to take the hard decision to remove children from their families when we have to. Their safety, their wellbeing and their rights must always come first.

Most commented


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    • Liz says:

      08:32am | 22/07/09

      Most sensible article on this subject in a long time..don’t blame, do something! it’s up to us all to report anything we see or hear that we think is untoward and take responsibility for the protection of children, there are many struggling parents out there.Governments need to get real on the actual cost of protecting children and put the money in for more properly paid,professional foster parents,social workers and supporters.Some children will need years of support,counselling etc to become fully functioning adults who don’t repeat the cycle, don’t become part of the users of the psychiatric services which are so under funded and behind the times in methods.Would you believe ECT is still being used??
      Time to get real and get caring.We have a long way to go just to catch up with other countries as we’re at least 20 years behind.

    • Jeremy says:

      09:14am | 22/07/09

      The Senator can’t even sustain logic over the course of one oped.

      ‘Sadly, this is not a problem that is isolated to a small number of dysfunctional families – child abuse is endemic across the whole Australian community.’

      This then becomes:

      ‘And for the sake of the children it’s important to look at the causes of abuse. We need to address the “adult issues” like drug and alcohol addition, domestic violence and mental illness. These are all causes or underlying factors in child abuse or neglect.’

      This is typical from a former union who is more interested in ensuring the drug addict parents of abused kids become the clients of public sector unionised social workers and counsellors.

      As for this: ‘The difficult and sad reality is that no child protection system can possibly save every child.’

      Well the child protection system can save the kids who are reported and the authorities do nothing about, as in the ‘Ebony’ case.

      Can the Senator show one study which shows a prevention programe actually reducing child abuse - that is a controlled study and measures outcomes for children ?

    • MA says:

      10:07am | 22/07/09

      I might be too tired to leave an educated reply, child abuse in Australia, like a variety of social issues is over looked in favor of using our police services for the raising of revenue. In the case of reports on the issue like the Mulligan report where out of hundreds of deaths, over 100 hundred were of a serious criminal nature “NOTHING WAS EVER INVESTIGATED”..where ever we look, in regards to any abuse or subjects of a criminal nature we find inaction, “investigate” replaced by reports and inquiry.  glancing back over the ‘good old days’ where all reports of crime where met by investigation, did we feel safer? Maybe the results were no better, but at least it was feel good community safety.At least I feel safe in the knowledge that all those dangerous drivers doing 55kph in a 50kph zone are being fined.

    • Jay says:

      12:33pm | 22/07/09

      Jeremy, has there been a study into prevention programmes? And would the hoi polloi & politicians take notice of it anyway, after all it would be written by ‘ivory tower’ academics who are probably ‘left-wing do-gooders’ to boot.

      It is all well and good to call for studies like that but concidering the anti-intellectual bias and preference for knee-jerk “something has to be done about it” solutions in Australia I doubt that such a study would result in intelligent action on the issue.

    • formersnag says:

      08:06am | 23/07/09

      Social talkers are the problem, there are no social workers in Australia. The universities training them have been infiltrated by Lesbian Feminazi Paedophiles who train them to get it wrong. But lets lighten the mood with a joke. What does ALP stand for? Its not what you think, Answer, Associated Lesbian Paedophiles.

      Every woman not living in a harmonious relationship with the biological father of her children is abusing them, full stop. Everybody knows this but is too gutless to talk about it for fear of upsetting the women’s electoral lobby. Well i have news for you, feminism is why large numbers of working class men deserted labour for the coalition parties and were only scared back to labour briefly by work choices. Since then the Lesbian Feminazi Paedophiles from the loony left factions have been hard at work grooming more children for abuse with revisions of all law relating to families.

      Everybody i talk to is voting coalition again now that work choices is dead and the coalition has admitted their mistake in taking workplace reform to far. A vote for labour has always been a vote for child abuse and always will be until they get the Lesbian Feminazi Paedophiles out of the party and undo the family law damage, they have been doing since 1975.

    • G says:

      01:58pm | 27/07/09

      formersnag I can tell you’ve been burned but so much anger and offensive language only shows you to be part of the problem.

    • Rick says:

      11:29am | 10/08/09

      The community is not responsible, the parents are! If you think society is the problem then it is time for society to take action and remove the rights of some people to have children (i.e. Sterilisation) .

      If you think it can’t be done then stop blaming the government for this situation and blame the low life who abuse their children because usually by the time that the community can do something the child is already broken!

    • Anon says:

      04:21am | 15/12/09

      Jeremy: There are scientifically proven prevention programs that reduce child abuse. Many of the times they are not available or not implemented correctly.

      Rick: You’re an idiot. The welfare of the community (including children) is everyone’s responsibility and not just the parents. If the parents are not coping and all you are doing is blaming them then you are just as bad as they are. Guess what mate - not everyone is perfect like you think you are. I guess you have never been sick and required community funded or supported health care to look after yourself.


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