Today marks the start of National Families Week (15-21 May) and the final week of the Federal Election campaign. It’s a time when politicians appeal to ‘working families’ about their vision for the future. Families are vital for children to be able to grow up safely and thrive. No doubt many families will welcome some short-term financial relief on offer as cost of living pressures rise. What we need even more than that is a long-term plan to ensure success of the next generation.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of National Families Week’s, which is a good time to reflect on the great work that has been done over those years by both government, community and non-government organisations to keep children safe. However, we also need to recognise how much more work there is still to do to reduce child abuse and neglect and its intergenerational impacts.
All children and young people in Australia have the right to grow up safe, connected and supported in their family, community and culture. They have the right to grow up in an environment that enables them to reach their full potential. It’s our responsibility to ensure this is front and centre in social policy.
When families in our communities experience domestic and family violence, poverty, alcohol and other drug use, mental health issues or homelessness, it is too often the children who suffer most. And they suffer silently. In these circumstances, early support is critical to strengthen families and help children to thrive. This includes helping children, young people and families to access material basics, health services and education, which is their fundamental right.
The Australian Government is currently developing the next stages of both the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children and the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. Within these frameworks, the focus must always be on the best interests of the child which is only achieved by really listening to the voices of children and young people. While this important policy work takes place, we need leaders to who will take these frameworks seriously. This is more than just a policy wish list. It’s an investment in our collective future.
Support services for vulnerable children and their families need to be developed at a local level, with programs that are evidence-based, trauma-informed, culturally safe and inclusive. Children, young people, families and communities having a direct role in policy making and implementation is essential.
And in order to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care, it is vital that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations have increased say in decision-making, combined with priority allocation of resources to keep children on land, in culture, and within community. Building capacity in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce in the child and family sector is also vital to support increased focus on cultural safety and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led services.
In order to overcome service gaps in our community, a collective and coordinated approach between services involving information sharing, monitoring and evaluation to achieve improved outcomes for children, young people and families is essential. As the cost of living rises, the domestic violence crisis continues and services are stretched, and children and young people are falling through the cracks. Closing these gaps and providing a greater investment in services will mean more children can safely remain at home with their families and local communities. It will mean they can do more than just survive, they will thrive.
On the eve of this election, Barnardos call for political parties and candidates to make the commitment to enact these plans and frameworks in real partnership with state and territory jurisdictions. Without strong families and strong communities, our children and young people cannot thrive.