Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Launch of the ARACY Report: Inverting the pyramid: Enhancing systems for protecting children


JENNY MACKLIN: I am very pleased to be here with Professor Fiona Stanley to launch Inverting the Pyramid enhancing systems for protecting children. What this is all about is recognising that preventing child abuse and neglect is so critical if we’re to see a reduction in the number of children who have substantiated cases of child abuse in this country. We’ve seen in the last year 55,000 substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in Australia. These numbers are horrific. We all know that we have to do better. I am very pleased that this week the Council of Australian Governments will consider a national framework for protecting Australia’s children. This will be the first time that we’ve seen the national Government, the Federal Government really demonstrate the sort of leadership that’s necessary to make sure we address what are terrible levels of child abuse and neglect in this country. If I can just say congratulations to Fiona and to her colleagues and staff and to say to them that it’s critical that we have the involvement of a wide range of organisations and professionals to make sure we address this terrible level of child abuse in Australia. I’ve just announced the establishment of a Taskforce made up of a number of different organisations and professional associations to really join together as many different groups as possible to bring about the sort of cultural change that we need to address the terrible levels of child abuse that we have in this country. To say that prevention is so much better, prevention of child abuse, prevention of neglect, to work with families before the problem gets out of hand will really make a difference to so many children’s lives.

JOURNALIST: Minister, as you’ve heard there are already dozens of reports out there, why not act, why do you have to hold a Taskforce first?

JENNY MACKLIN: This is really about bringing about major cultural change. Recognising that when a parent comes into an adult focused service like a homelessness service for example, one of the first questions that’s asked is ‘where are your children’, rather than at the moment it very often is never asked. Or where a person with a mental illness or a drug and alcohol problem goes into an emergency department of a hospital, we want one of the first questions to be asked ‘where are your children’; what services are we going to put around you and your family to make sure that your children are safe and that the problems that you have it might be a mental illness problem, it might be a drug and alcohol problem, you may be homeless, to make sure that the services are put around that family to protect the children in that family, to support the family, address the problems that we have. We have deep seeded issues that we have to address in Australia and it’s going to take a concentrated effort across a wide range of organisations and Governments to bring about change.

JOURNALIST: And Minister…..

PROF FIONA STANLEY: So in a way the Taskforce is actually the implementation, so in fact it’s not waiting for a Taskforce. In order to get these organisations to coordinate better and more effectively to change the focus that they have from their little territories or you know, silos, to actually get them together to start a common vision, this is a practical implementation. I would never, ever produce a report if we couldn’t also in some way be in charge of the implementation of it. I think it’s, I ‘m sick of these reports getting onto shelves and not, all that effort that’s gone into the report, it’s got to make a difference. And Jenny has actually, and Minister Macklin has now decided that she will take that first important step. And I think the other important thing to say about this report is that not only will it start to change the way services work to prevent child abuse and neglect, why aren’t we asking why this is happening, or just waiting for it to happen. But it will also improve outcomes for children and families over many other areas as well. Because if we can get these joined up services to make a difference for protecting children, preventing child abuse from happening, it will actually also improve a whole lot of other outcomes. That’s what’s the good news about this.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the community services sector, disability services, homeless services, even child protection services are operating under critical staff shortages, how do you expect that sector to cope with an increased workload when they already have difficulties addressing their current workloads?

JENNY MACKLIN: You’re right, they do work under enormous pressure and both Prof. Stanley and I have recognised the outstanding work that people at the frontline do dealing with what are often very very dysfunctional families and very damaged children, so I just want to take this opportunity to recognise the very important work that they do. But this is all about providing support early so we don’t have as many children getting to such a critical stage. To relieve some of the pressure on those very very serious frontline services that are critical and will continue to be critical. I would like to think that we could see a dramatic reduction in the number of cases of child abuse and neglect but I don’t think, I’m not so na”ive as to think it’s going to happen overnight. But we do want to gradually and persistently see improvements that will lead to the prevention of serious cases of child abuse and neglect and that way take some of the pressure of those critical frontline services.

PROF. FIONA STANLEY: We’d be doing well to keep the level at the current level. We would be doing well. All indications are that this is an increasing problem with increasing risk factors and falling protective factors. Just as you take drug abuse alone, that’s a huge increase and that has lead into a lot of these children being abused and neglected, and so we would be doing well if we could keep it at the level today. That’s the challenge. But the urgency therefore of going to a preventive mode is if we don’t get into that preventive mode it will continue to rise and those frontline services will be even more stressed than they are today. So my sense is that there’s absolutely no other way to go than this way and it’s really important we do it as quickly and as effectively as possible. That’s why this report is so important.

JOURNALIST: What can be attributed to those startling increases in figures?

PROF. FIONA STANLEY: Will I answer that one Jenny? I think, I just wish more people would ask the question ‘why in Australia today and in many other developed countries are we seeing such an increase in cases of child abuse and neglect?’ And one of the things that’s happening of course is probably more are being reported than so we don’t really know that iceberg. We can never measure that iceberg underneath, but we know there’s a gap between what’s reported and what’s really occurring so it’s even scarier than the data show. We should ask this question why it’s happening and we’ve got a lot of information now on the pathways to child abuse and neglect and many of them are increasing and the major pathways are parents with mental health problems and we know that that’s dramatically increasing in this society. We know that drug and alcohol abuse are a major problem in child abuse and neglect. Both of those are increasing. We are faced, and this is the Government has these huge problems of what to do about binge drinking in young women for example, and drug taking. Big, big, problems internationally. The other is domestic violence. All of these of course are connected, that is apparently on the increase although again it’s very difficult to count it, and the other which is anguishing is disabilities. Now not all disabilities are increasing but many are, and so we’ve got an increase in vulnerable children, we have an increase in parents with problems that they are unable to cope. And so I think we can almost explain completely the increase in child abuse and neglect that we’re seeing in Australia’s society. And that’s why this is so urgent because if we don’t address those pathways we are not going to stop this epidemic as we’re calling it, of child abuse and neglect.

(Minister departs, interview continues with Professor Stanley)