How we value children matters

| October 12, 2016

What attitudes do Australians have towards children and childhood? Linda Savage, Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative, shares results of a recent survey and says we need a commitment from Government to form a Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations to ensure children are at the forefront of considerations.

In 2016, not-for-profits, Centrecare (Inc.) and Parkerville Children and Youth Care (Inc.), were grappling with the realisation that despite their best efforts, the complexity of childrens’ needs and level of demand for services for children, was continuing to grow unabated. It led the organisations to take the unusual step of allocating resources to establish the Valuing Children Initiative (VCI) to consider deeper issues of causality.

The VCI believes we must ask challenging questions about our attitudes to children, and the priority we give their rights and needs, and whether they have kept pace with what we want for children believe they deserve and have a right to expect.

How we value children and our attitudes towards them matters.

Nothing has provided a starker example of this than the shocking revelations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The truth is that children who complained about their abuse, adults who spoke out on their behalf, and the laws in place that made the abuse a crime, were no match for the prevailing culture and attitudes of those in positions of power, who chose generally not to believe a child, and put the protection of institutions and adults first. The result was that for decades both institutions, and perpetrators were able to avoid scrutiny.

To better understand Australians attitudes to children today, the VCI commissioned a survey about perceptions of children and childhood.

Less than half (48%) of those surveyed believe that children in Australia today all have a fair and equal opportunity to flourish and maximise their potential.

Eight per cent were concerned about the health and happiness of future generations.

Cause for concern is reasonable given that today over 600,000 children live below the poverty line. One in five children are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains on commencing school. One in four are obese or overweight, and as a result are part of a generation that is predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents’ generation because of the chronic diseases that result.

If this wasn’t enough, there are currently two royal commissions examining the abuse and mistreatment of children.

So where is the sense of urgency by decision makers to do better for children? Given the well-documented evidence about the adverse and long term impact of abuse, poverty, obesity and mental illness on future health and wellbeing, not to mention the significant financial and social cost for the whole society, where is the ongoing outrage?

The Valuing Children Initiative has written to all Federal and State MPs seeking their commitment for the creation of a Ministerial portfolio for Children and Future Generations.

A dedicated minister would ensure children are at the forefront of considerations and would lead the development of a national plan.

It is also time for the instigation of a rigorous and transparent process to ensure all policy, legislative and decision-making processes actively consider the impact on children and future generations. This would ensure that children, who make up almost one quarter of the State’s population, have their interests explicitly considered.

Around the world momentum is building to find ways to ensure the impact of decision making on children and future generations is given more than lip service. With both Royal Commissions due to report in 2017 we are at a critical juncture for children in Australia. It is an opportunity for decision makers to listen to all those concerned about the wellbeing and happiness of children and make them the priority they should be.

Linda Savage

Linda Savage has a BA (Hons) in Political Science from University of Western Australia, a law degree (MA Law) from Cambridge University and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She was previously the Director of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (WA) before being appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. She is also a former member of the Western Australian State parliament. She is currently a Director on the boards of the Black Swan State Theatre Company, Youth Legal Services and the National Drug Research Institute. In January 2016 she was appointed as the inaugural Convenor of the Valuing Children Initiative.