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Speech by The Hon Larry Anthony MP

Launching the independent evaluation of the Australian Council for Children and Youth Organisations Pilot Accreditation Project

Location: BHP Billiton, Melbourne

E&OE

  • Your Honour, Judge Jennifer Coate (President – Children’s Court of Victoria)
  • Council Chairman Andrew Blode and members of the Council Board
  • My state and Federal Parliamentary colleagues
  • Distinguished guests
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you Anton (Hermann Chief Executive, ACCYO) for your introduction.

And thank you to the previous speakers, especially Tracy (Kilmany Family Care) for sharing with all of us your experiences, on the ground, with the pilot accreditation project

I am delighted to be here in Melbourne this morning for this important occasion.

This is the first of two events I’m speaking at this morning. Both involve the pressing issue of child protection.

As you know, this week is National Child Protection week – it is about getting children and specifically child protection issues into the minds of all Australians.

I have often said – if there is one good thing to come out of the media campaign around the former Governor General it is that for the first time child protection was on the front pages of our national newspapers.

And that is where it should be. What sort of society are we that we tolerate 20,000 children being physically removed from their homes.

As the first ever Federal Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I want the area of child protection to get as much coverage in the media as possible and I want to get Australians talking about it openly and constructively.

While not everyone agrees on the best course of action and who is responsible, I think we have one common goal – that is to make sure that every Australian child grows up in a safe, healthy and happy life.

In Australia, of course, finding the answers is made more difficult because State and Territory Governments each have their own responsibilities for child protection and ways of responding to those issues.

It is without doubt the most difficult area that State and Territory Governments have to deal with.

They are clearly struggling to find the answers. None has been able to reverse the trend of increasing numbers of substantiated child abuse cases.

I’ve always believed there is no ‘quick fix’ solution to the problems.

But one abused Australian child is one too many. And I think child protection is an urgent priority for everyone.

It is not an issue owned by governments. Government intervention and funding, alone, is not the whole answer.

We all have a responsibility to make a difference.

That is why I am developing the National Agenda for Early Childhood. It is all about putting the focus on those most important years – the first five years of a child’s life.

The reality is we have fewer children. We have to make sure for the ones we do have, that we get it absolutely right.

I am particularly please to be here at BHP Billiton today. It is important that large corporations like BHP Billiton realise that getting it right for Australian children is an important issue for them.

Today and tomorrow’s children are going to grow up to become our future employers, employees and more importantly future taxpayers.

It makes good economic sense to invest early – make sure we put the fence at the top of the cliff instead of the ambulance at the bottom.

I said that they I cannot do the Agenda alone, just as I cannot solve the problems of child protection alone.

My portfolio more than any other relies heavily on a strong social coalition, where the different levels of government, the community sector and business work together.

In protecting children, the social coalition also includes the church, the courts, teachers, the police, child care workers, child health professionals, and so on.

Most importantly too it involves parents. Because, in the end, it’s parents who take on the responsibility for making sure their children grow up in safety, with the support and love they need to reach their full potential.

Let’s not pretend it’s easy.

There are many complex and varied factors. We don’t even really know how big the problem of abuse actually is, because cases still go unreported.

Of course, prevention will always be better than cure. And the Australian Council for Children and Youth Organisations Pilot Accreditation Project is a great example of taking the prevention approach.

Right from the start, I knew this project would break new ground.

I was impressed that it has the backing of the philanthropic industry.

That’s why I was very pleased to support it, with $50,000 in funding from the Australian Government.

But it couldn’t have happened without the generosity and commitment of Council members and others.

Thank you in particular to …

  • the various trusts and foundations,
  • Victorian magistrates and the judiciary
  • the police
  • all the not-for-profit community service providers
  • people from my own department, the Department of Family and Community Services, and from Vic Health
  • the Centre for Quality in Health and Community Services at La Trobe University, and
  • the Wellness Promotion Unit, from Victoria University.

… who shared their knowledge and expertise, and put in so much time and effort to make the project such a success.

The results of the evaluation we are launching today attest to that success.

Researched and written as a joint effort by Jenny Sharples, Lauren Hoiles and Professor Isaac Prilleltensky, the findings are extremely positive.

Most of you would know that the main aim of the Pilot Project was to help organisations working with children develop and implement child protection and police check policies that would be in line with specially-developed standards and a transparent accreditation process.

As a measure of how well it went, let’s look at some of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pilot figures’

Before the pilot project:

  • only half of the 23 participating service organisations reported they had a child protection policy
  • another 29 per cent were developing policies, and
  • 17 per cent had no child protection policy, at all.

By the end of the project period:

  • 15 per cent of the organisations that already had policies said they were amending them because of their participation in the pilot
  • 95 per cent said they would include or had included a written definition of child abuse in their policies, and
  • 90 per cent also had a written policy on the involvement of volunteers, including risk management strategies.

In practical terms, the evaluation report says that all 23 participating organisations had either reviewed, are developing, or beginning to implement child protection and police check policies. And all of them said they supported the move towards consistent standards of care across the sector.

Since this was only a 12 month project, these are fantastic results.

I understand the Council now has big plans for the future, by expanding the project to 100 more community organisations across the State.

Perhaps, the words of one participant best reflect the value of the Council’s work. The participant said.

“If the next project ACCYO do is as good as this one then I’d definitely love to be involved”.

Congratulations and thanks once again to everyone involved.

I firmly believe the planets are aligning when it comes to Australian children.

We have:

  • A Prime Minister talking about the importance of Early Childhood.
  • A Prime Minister talking about the importance of balancing work and family issues.
  • An Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley talking about the importance of children and particularly their early years.
  • The Development of a National Agenda for Early Childhood.
  • A House of Representatives Inquiry looking at the issues around family separation and child support – all designed to put children’s interests first.
  • The Prime Minister talking about indigenous child abuse and seeking direct input from community leaders.

And of course as I said before there is now a dedicated Minister for Children and I am absolutely committed to making a difference.

So I am confident that you will see Australian Government policy that will have a real and lasting contribution to lives of all Australian children.

But as I have said before Governments can only do so much – we need organisations like yours and indeed the entire Australian community to commit to achieving a safe, nurturing and supportive childhood for Australian children.

As Gabriel Mistral said “Many things we need can wait, the child cannot. Now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, his mind is being developed. To him we cannot say tomorrow, his name is today.”

It gives me great pleasure now to officially launch the evaluation of the Australian Council for Children and Youth Organisations pilot accreditation project.

Thank you.

ENDS