7 September 2020
by Marilyn Kraner, Manager - Individual & Family Services
This year National Child Protection Week will celebrate its 30th year with the theme:
Putting Children First…
COVID-19 has caused our lives to be turned upside down. Upheaval with job losses and/or work changes, financial stresses, home schooling, fear of becoming unwell, and loss of connections has caused many to review and pivot how we live in this world. Holding on to hope, remaining optimistic can be difficult.
Our children are also struggling to come to terms with, and to manage, the changing environment in which we all find ourselves. Collective trauma felt by children alongside parental anxiety and fear have been explored in recent reports such as A Lasting Legacy by the Australian Childhood Foundation drawing attention to how children and parents are experiencing the loss of routine, a loss of predictability, and a loss of certainty.
But let us for a minute think of those children who, during this time of isolation and home schooling, are also living in climates of fear and danger; where family violence, coercive control, abuse or neglect is the context.
Imagine living in world requiring hyper vigilance, questioning whether the next comment or action will lead to harm, needing to memorise the best hiding places, finding ways to remove oneself physically or in one’s mind from risky situations, finding ways to self soothe….just keeping safe.
The loss of connections has reduced safe spaces for children. It has meant that resources previously utilised, like going to a friend’s house after school or having some reprieve at being in child care or at school, are no longer available. And further still, the loss of other adults who were able to watch over, listen to, looking out for, monitor and support. For children living in abusive households, these losses exacerbate the stress and strain of the current situation.
Abuse, neglect and family violence have a devastating impact on the lives of children, and the trauma that results from their experiences can continue to shatter their lives long after the abuse itself has stopped. Trauma has a direct effect on the brains of children and young people, shaping their behaviour and reactions to the world around them. It robs children of their childhoods. It steals their self-confidence, their sense of safety, their carefree innocence, their ability to trust others, even their ability to learn. In the long term it can rob their ability to form meaningful relationships and can lead to mental health issues, drug use, homelessness and suicide.
This year’s Child Protection week’s theme 'Putting Children First' highlights the importance of prioritising children in their lives and in their communities. But how do we really prioritise children? Children need to feel and experience safety. They need to be loved unconditionally, be comforted when distressed, have opportunity to play, explore and be curious and have their health and wellbeing needs addressed. Children need adults to keep them in the forefront of their minds and of their decision making.
Children also need to be heard. They need opportunities to be asked about their views, their feelings and experiences; they need safe spaces to be able to talk about what is important to them, not just what adults believe should be important for them.
And for those who are living in the shadows because of abuse or family violence, they need validation, they need to be believed and even more, they need us as adults to be courageous to step in and take a stand against abuse, speak up about family violence, engage authorities that protect children, and embrace and celebrate those that have found their own voices to disclose what they have experienced.
Putting Children First must be a priority for us all, for this Child Protection Week and for all times. I invite all adults in our Community to reflect on the children in your lives, family members, friends, those who are part of your shules and your schools and consider how you might play a role to bring them out of isolation, let them know they are not alone, their views and experiences are valid, they have a right to be heard, they have a right to be protected and that you are not scared to speak up on behalf of them. Because all children have the right to live a life free of abuse, neglect and family violence.
Please be brave enough to take a stand and put children first.