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Child Safety is Everybody's Business

Sometimes the things that leave our world most speechless are the times our voices must be the loudest.

I wanted this to be a Facebook live, I know my reach is far greater in video format and this is a message that I believe needs to heard far and wide, however the language we use when we speak about child protection is so important I wanted to communicate with you through this more thought through medium.

This week's news story's have contained the horrors of 2 Brisbane teenagers being found malnourished in the home of their deceased Father and the death of 4 year old Willow Dunn.

Learn more about each of these stories:

2020 has also been the year Netflix also released their heartbreaking docuseries title The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez. One of these stories alone is unacceptable and the fact these are just a few of the known high profile cases reflecting the experience of a number of children in our world makes it glaringly obvious that even in our modern society many children are growing up without physical and emotional safety.

With the worlds tensions at a high, amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, parents and care givers are having to manage huge demands on their own mental health. For families that were already feeling the strain this can make meeting the physical and emotional needs of children in their care almost impossible and place these children at risk of lifelong negative mental health or physical health risk or in some cases such as Willow's result in death.

Scroll through the comment sections of any of these stories and it is easy to find blame.

"All three adults residing in that house better be charged they are all responsible by act or omission. And anyone else that had knowledge of what was going on."

"Yet another failure from child protection services!"

"Dad was suffering depression and couldn’t parent correctly... ok, yep. But the step mother wasn’t. Why didn’t she step up??"

"🤬😢another one. Qld Child Safety👎🏻"

Blame may feel functional, it may help us step back from a situation and feel like it is further removed from us, or place responsibility completely in the hands of another outside our control. However blame doesn't appear to be solving the problem. So what can you actually do to support at risk children and families in your community?

First get to know your neighbours, the old adage 'it takes a village' is as relevant now as ever. Informal support can not be undervalued, many families rely on neighbours, friends or extended family members when it all feels a bit overwhelming. The more caring supportive adults a child has contact with the more likely we are to prevent risk occurring or to have someone notice a potential concern early.

In addition to this get to know the formal support systems in your local area. For example if you live in Mackay do you know the funded family support systems created to prevent families need to engage with future child safety involvement? ACT for Kids runs our Family and Child Connect Program and Churches of Christ Care has our Intensive Family Support funding. Both of these programs can be referred to simply online and other areas have similar programs funded through their own agencies.

If you are worried for your own family or another family then with that families consent you can complete an online referral form giving them access to preventative support prior to any potential need for child safety involvement. Having a gentle conversation about referral with someone about your worry and offering to assist them in accessing support can often be received as a life line and not as a threat. It often helps in these conversations to reflect on things you see the family is doing or trying to do well, validating how challenging their current situation may be and offering assistance without judgement or blame if planning to discuss concerns with the parent/carer directly.

Some concerns however do pose more immediate risk or could place the child in danger if you were to make a parent aware of your worries. In these cases you should make phone or online reports directly to the Department of Child Safety

When you see a concern be mindful that you may be the only person with this information, if you don't report it who will? All concerns are valid and your report may not be enough evidence alone to justify Child Safety's intervention but may contribute to other evidence they have received to warrant an investigation.

Reflecting on imperfect systems working with such high risk levels is difficult. This is not written to blindly ignore the harm that is caused by these systems (that is a future blog post in and of itself), while we may all agree further change is needed in these systems. I like to believe most of the professionals involved within these systems are dedicated to positive outcomes for children and with timely information from concerned community members you can directly improve their ability to protect children and their families.

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