Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

National Summit : Resilience for Children

Location: National Summit - Resilience for Children, Canberrra

It’s so great to see such a wide cross section of people here today – all of us with a common purpose to build strength and resilience in our children.

The conviction that this is a shared responsibility is reflected in the diversity of the people in this room.

Bringing together government, children’s health experts, academia, non-profit organisations and the media.

Building resilience in children begins even before they are born – it starts in utero.

After birth, the early days and months of a child’s life are critical to healthy brain and mental development.

If children are to get the best start in life, we need to give them time and space to bond with their primary care giver.

This is absolutely vital for the emotional, cognitive and physical development that forms the foundation of lifelong resilience.

Which is why the Government is introducing a comprehensive paid parental leave scheme.

For me paid parental leave is a very clear-cut proposition.

It’s all about what’s in the best interest of babies.

It’s an investment in the resilience of our children.

If I can borrow from the NSW Commission for Children and Young People’ submission to the Productivity Commission – “paid parental leave is one of the most prudent investments we can make for the future wellbeing of our society.”

The evidence shows that healthy brain development and long-term mental and physical health depend on continuing nurturing interactions with the child’s primary carer – usually their mother – in those early months.

These countless caregiver/ child interactions – often called ‘serve and return’ – actually shape brain development and are vital for developing positive emotions.

Including motivation, curiosity, cognitive flexibility, effective decision making, calmness and contentment.

These are exactly the skills kids need to meet life’s challenges.

As the NSW group Niftey – National Investment for the Early Years puts it:

“Where lack of time and closeness with the primary caregiver affects babies, the consequences can affect mental health, ability to form relationships, diminished resilience in all areas – study, work, relationships.”

As I said at the start, building resilience in children begins on day one.

It also requires supporting families and communities to be strong and functional as children grow.

My Department have recently begun consultations on the Government’s new Family Support program bringing together the range of children’s, parenting and families’ programs in my Department into an integrated whole.

Our new model will be driven by two key streams.

The first, broader family support, at critical transition points in families lives.

The second, focusing on more intensive, targeted services – recognising that some families need more help.

In both streams, early intervention will build capacity and resilience in our children and families.

We know there will continue to be the need to rebuild broken lives after abuse neglect, family breakdown or learning and health problems have happened.

But it must be our priority to identify children and families at risk and intervene early before a crisis occurs.

This is at the core of the Government’s child-centred policy.

Central to our National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children – endorsed by COAG in April – is harnessing the resources of all governments and the community sector to develop and effective, coordinated approach.

To protect and support the most vulnerable children.

We want to prevent crises before they happen.

At the same time, children who have been abused or neglected must be nurtured and cared for rebuild their resilience.

Can I say again, how encouraging it is to see you all here today.

I look forward to the outcome of your summit to inform the work of my Department.

And to working with you in a new and collaborative partnership.

A partnership for children’s resilience that works in two ways.

First to build resilience in children through programs that enhance what we know are the protective factors.

And to address those issues which most challenge children’s resilience and wellbeing – substance abuse, family breakdown, child abuse and neglect and financial and housing insecurity.

Congratulations on the important work you are doing for Australia’s children.