Throwing money at child abuse won’t make it go away
Abused kids deserve better than spin.
As the Federal Convenor of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, I applaud the Baillieu Coalition Government for making the welfare of all Victorian children a priority in 2011.
The announcement last week of an inquiry into the systemic problems in Victoria’s child protection system is overdue and welcome. Such an inquiry is much needed not only for all those who work in the child protection system but more importantly, for those who are living with abuse.
If you are not directly affected, this is one of those issues that is easier swept under the carpet. The social and economic consequences of this human evil is difficult to comprehend let alone measure.
The facts speak for themselves. In the last year some 46,187 cases of ‘substantiated’ child abuse in Australia were reported – the size of a capacity crowd at Etihad Stadium.
It was encouraging to read a new report released last month by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, entitled Child Protection Australia 2009 -10, indicating that the number of ‘substantiated’ cases of child abuse in Australia has declined by 15 per cent.
While the statistics show a decline, they raise more questions than answers.
Of the 286,437 notifications or reports of child abuse, only 16 per cent were ‘substantiated’. This means that some 240,607 cases were not ‘substantiated’ and it begs the question, why? Were these reports comprehensively investigated, assigned case workers with visits being made to the individuals and families concerned or was another bureaucratic and administrative measure applied to test the validity of the claim?
While I am hopeful that not every claim of child abuse when reported is valid, the statistics just don’t add up.
In my home state of Victoria, the report documents that 71.3 per cent of the 48,369 notifications of child abuse were ‘dealt with by other means’. The definition of this provided in the report is spurious to say the least. “(Dealt with by other means)…includes notifications that were responded to by means other than an investigation…”.
Any concerned mother or father, grandparent or carer would be reasonable in interpreting this as code for a department in crisis.
After two damning Ombudsman’s Reports, the former Premier Brumby committed an additional $77 million in extra funding. Yet concerns continue about huge caseloads on too few case workers causing inevitable “burnout”.
Merely throwing money at a complex situation like this won’t make it go away.
A report in The Australian newspaper last year highlighted this fact. The story included first hand accounts of Department Heads wanting numbers of cases closed by Friday afternoons so that bureaucratic targets could be reached.
The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, announced by former Prime Minister Rudd and agreed to by COAG in April 2009, should be considered in this Inquiry.
The politics of spin does nothing to protect vulnerable children in our society and frankly, these kids deserve so much better than that.
A comprehensive Inquiry is a good start in untangling the mess left by the previous Victorian State Government. Any solution must be reached in a spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship.
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