02 September 2013

Shadows of a child and adultWhen it comes to child protection, the simple act of approaching a child or parent in distress and asking them if something is the matter can make all the difference.

This is the message that Professor Fiona Arney, Director of the Australian Centre for Child Protection (ACCP), will spell out in a unique forum during National Child Protection Week (1-7 September).

The call for greater individual responsibility in addressing and supporting the needs of vulnerable children follows research which indicates that in South Australia alone almost a quarter of all children by the age of 15 have been subject of notifications to the child abuse report line.

With just a quarter of those notifications resulting in an investigation, Prof Arney says there needs to be a broader community response to concerns about children’s safety and wellbeing.

“Too often child protection is viewed in isolation as a crisis-driven issue offloaded to the courts or child protection services to manage, usually once a serious incident of abuse or neglect is reported,” Prof Arney says.

“Few people feel they are able or have ‘permission’ to do anything to help in difficult situations. Unless the child is your own, it is as though children are “invisible” and this is one of the issues we’ll be exploring at the forum. 

“The reality is that everyone has a role to play in ensuring that young people in our community are safe and alright. This isn’t about being a busy body or judging others, it is about recognising that people benefit from caring. Sometimes a simple…“are you OK” or “can I help”… is all parents or children in distress need.

“The scope of what we see as harmful to children has radically increased and today we acknowledge that children witnessing family violence or the impact of parental substance misuse in the home environment can be harmful. We are more aware of what damaging environments exist for children but our systems haven’t really evolved to cope with that increase in knowledge.

“We have more reports being made to child protection systems which are sometimes seen as a first port of call when people have worries, rather than people thinking about what they can do to help the family themselves.

“Those systems are struggling to respond to that level of demand.  What we risk with high levels of reporting and low levels of general community and family care and support, is that children at risk of severe harm are not prioritised in a system awash with thousands of reports.”

Through the University of South Australia, the ACCP produces evidence-based research which informs and influences policies and strategies adopted by service providers and governments to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect.

“Prevention is far better than cure when you consider both the emotional legacy and financial cost childhood abuse creates, including problems such as mental illness and substance misuse,” adds Prof Arney.

“That is why everyone has a duty to recognise child welfare in the community.” 

The Play Your Part forum, which is being jointly organised through the ACCP, The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) and Healthy Development Adelaide will be held on September 3 from 2.30pm – 6pm.

Further information about the event can be found here

Contact for interviews: Professor Fiona Arney office (08) 8302 2918 

Media contact: Kelly Stone office (08) 8302 2986 mobile 0417 861 832 email kelly.stone@unisa.edu.au

Will Venn office (08) 8302 2986 email will.venn@unisa.edu.au

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