National Child Protection Week

NATIONAL CHILD PROTECTION WEEK

The Hon. PAUL GREEN [12.40 p.m.]: I move:

That this House notes that:

        (a) National Child Protection Week is from 6 to 12 September 2015 and this year marks its twenty-fifth year anniversary;
        (b) National Child Protection Week supports and encourages the safety and wellbeing of Australian children and families through the Play Your Part Awards, events, programs and resources;
        (c) the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect’s campaign aims to provide communities and individuals with practical information on how to “Play Your Part”, embed primary prevention messages into social discourse and provide a platform for communities to be empowered, resourced and mobilised to take action at a local level;(d) Bravehearts’ nineteenth annual White Balloon Day will be held during National Child Protection Week on Friday 11 September 2015, which is about raising awareness and funds to enable the continued delivery of vital support, protection and prevention programs, and giving kids the confidence to come forward to break the silence; and
        (e) Bravehearts’ key purpose is to educate, empower and protect Australian kids from sexual assault, and to call on the community to support National Child Protection Week and White Balloon Day.

National Child Protection Week and the efforts of Bravehearts are helping to remove the scourge of child abuse from our society.

 When we hear the statistics on child abuse it is often easy to see them as just a bunch of numbers. However, when we hear those numbers we should be thinking about individual people with lives and dreams. Each victim of child abuse represents a life that is shattered by abuse or neglect by people who should know better. According to a 2012 Bravehearts report, one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18 years.

The report also states that there is widespread agreement that child sexual abuse spans all races, economic classes and ethnic groups; one in three Australians would not believe children if they disclosed abuse; one in five Australians lacked the confidence to know what to do if they suspected abuse or negligence; 90 per cent of surveyed adults believed that the community needs to be better informed about the problem of child abuse in Australia; and 86 per cent of Australians believe that the Commonwealth and State governments should invest more money in protecting children from abuse and neglect.

The report goes on to cite several resources that explain the effects of child sexual abuse including triggering the development of future violent behaviour, resulting in criminal convictions, psychosomatic responses, psychiatric disorders, long-lasting emotional problems, youth suicide, regression, sleeping and eating disorders, lack of self-esteem, nightmares, mutilation, self-hatred, promiscuous behaviour and aggression. A wide variety of later effects were pointed out including sexual difficulties, inability to form lasting relationships, a serious lack of self-confidence, marital problems and poor parenting skills. Other effects include extreme distrust of others, self-blame, stigma, self-hatred and self-harming behaviours such as substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide, and a subconscious attraction to and re-victimisation by abusive partners.

The consequences of child abuse are ongoing and tragic. It is hard to believe that it happens so frequently in our society. As I said, one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18 years.

We have an obligation as legislators to protect these children before they become victims of abuse.

We need to ensure that our kids know that it is okay to say no and to communicate that issue. We need to remember these facts when we are confronted with statistics so that children are not at risk of becoming just another number.National Child Protection Week invites all Australians to play their part to promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. The motto of National Child Protection Week is “Protecting children is everyone’s business.” National Child Protection Week is an initiative of the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect [NAPCAN], which was co-founded in 1987 by Rosemary Sinclair, AO, and Christine Stewart, OAM. Since then, NAPCAN has made a significant contribution towards the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children and young people by raising public awareness of child abuse and neglect and its impacts and by developing and promoting effective prevention strategies and programs.

NAPCAN’s strategy is to support and encourage changes in individual and community behaviour to stop child abuse and neglect before it starts by: promoting quality child abuse prevention research so the causes and impact of child abuse and neglect can be better understood and effective ways to prevent it can be developed and measured; advocating for changes in policies and strategies that place the wellbeing and safety of children and young people first; developing and promoting community-led prevention programs and initiatives that are evidence based and effective in reducing the risks of abuse and neglect for children and young people through programs such as Love Bites, All Children Being Safe, and Friends and promoting others through the Play Your Part Awards; and providing resources and training to support the safety and wellbeing of children and young people ranging from role-based fact sheets and brochures to child-centred training, programs and initiatives such as the Aboriginal Girls Circle.NAPCAN’s campaign aims to provide communities and individuals with practical information on how to “Play Your Part” and to embed primary prevention messages into social discourse. It also provides a platform for communities to be empowered, resourced and mobilised to take action at a local level. This year NAPCAN encourages us to find out more about our role in promoting the safety and wellbeing of children. Playing our part can range from encouraging children and young people’s participation in their community to hosting a National Child Protection Week event or promoting a family-friendly environment at our workplaces.

In debate on the Biosecurity Bill I said, “Biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility.” The same principle applies to the prevention of child abuse. I strongly urge and encourage all members of this House to have a good look at the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect [NAPCAN] website under the tab “How Can I Play My Part” under the resource hub. There is a wealth of information about what people from different walks of life can do to prevent child abuse. For the benefit of members, I will read out what politicians can do to help our kids:

        Politicians play their part to protect and care for children and young people in our community by promoting child protection as a community responsibility and endorsing family friendly policies.
        Be a positive role model. Be aware of your behaviour, what you say, how you say it and the way you act. Children and young people learn from the people they listen to, so make your influence positive!
        Be aware that child abuse occurs across all communities and cultural groups. Promote child protection and spread the word that child abuse prevention is everyone’s business.
        Follow the principle of the environmental impact model, consider the impact of all legal, policy and service delivery reform on children. Ask yourself: where are the children in this change?
        Become informed on the link between abuse and prevention of abuse. Ask for briefings which include information from child abuse prevention experts and be well-informed on the latest research.
        Promote a long term view to child safety and wellbeing by addressing the overloading of child protection, health, housing and education systems. Invest in prevention strategies and early intervention services to reduce the risk of families’ problems worsening over time and heading into a cycle of abuse.
        Endorse family friendly policies across the workforce. Flexible work hours, job sharing and the provision of paid Parental Leave demonstrate that members of society are valued as parents as well as employees.
        Implement universal home visiting to families at the birth of their first child. Support to new families at this time has been shown by the David Old’s model to prevent health and developmental problems for children.
      Listen to and engage with the opinions of youth delegations. Refer to Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: Children have the right to express their opinions freely, and have their opinions taken into account in matters that affect them.

This week when I was sitting on the children and young people joint committee the commissioner mentioned that they interviewed five-year-olds about what they think. That is pretty amazing, but they did it. They managed to put the questions in the words of a five-year-old and frame them in a way that got responses. Many of us would wonder what a five-year-old would have to say.

The Hon. Sophie Cotsis: A lot. I live with one.

The Hon. PAUL GREEN: Yes, they had a lot to say. I have heard two-year-olds referred to as “little professors”, so by the age of five they must have graduated. I am sure they all have something to say. The Hon. Courtney Houssos is yet to experience this with a five-year-old. She is at the little professor stage where a child will wrap you around their little finger. They tell you where they want to go and how they want to go. When they do not want to go somewhere, they will tell you. They are magical in communicating strong opinions using very few words. I think the Hon. Courtney Houssos is yet to enjoy that experience. The NAPCAN website says that politicians should:

        Encourage organisations that work with children and young people to develop child-safe policies and procedures.

I think that is one of the biggest opportunities for the House, through the Government. The website continues:

        A child protection policy should promote wellbeing and early intervention practices, as well as be consistent with state/territory mandatory reporting legislation, including ensuring that all staff and volunteers engaged in child related work hold a valid Working With Children Check.
      A code of conduct for working with children and young people is another practical tool for promoting clear and consistent roles and behaviour. When implemented and supported consistently, these policies work to protect children, workers and the organisation.

Last year thousands of everyday Australians participated in White Balloon Day, raising much-needed funds and awareness to help Bravehearts educate 83,500 children about personal safety skills and deliver more than 5,000 counselling services in the past 12 months. This year is the nineteenth White Balloon Day. It will be held on Friday 11 September. There are a few simple ways all of us can make a lasting difference to the lives of Aussie kids. People can help by encouraging those at our workplace or child’s school to wear something white. People can host a morning tea or barbeque at their workplace, school or community group to raise funds. People can order a fundraising box for their reception area or office and collect donations that way. According to Bravehearts founder and chief executive officer Hetty Johnston:

        White Balloon Day is about raising awareness and funds to enable the continued delivery of vital support and prevention programs and giving kids the confidence to come forward and break the silence …
        From something as simple as wearing white and tying a white balloon to a letterbox, to hosting a fundraising event or luncheon, everyone can get involved. Protecting children is everyone’s business.
      We know that for the most part this crime is preventable, we just need adults to step forward and to prioritise the safety of our children. Let’s rise up and work together to protect the most vulnerable members of the community—our kids.

White Balloon Day has been run by the Bravehearts organisation for a number of years. White Balloon Day is Bravehearts’ annual signature event, held to raise awareness and funds for Australian children affected by sexual assault. The white balloon is considered symbolic of child sexual assault following a public demonstration held in Belgium in 1996. In that year 300,000 people gathered with white balloons and white flowers in a show of public sympathy and support for the parents of several young girls who were either murdered or abducted by notorious repeat sex offender Marc Dutroux.

Launched in 1997, this Australia-wide campaign is a key fixture during National Child Protection Week with funds raised going towards education, prevention and case management programs for the one in five Australian children sexually assaulted in some way before their eighteenth birthday. While the substance of this issue is of the utmost seriousness, White Balloon Day is a simple, fun and effective way to reach out to friends, family and community to promote child protection. Bravehearts is inviting schools, childcare centres, universities, small and large businesses, churches and governments—anyone and everyone passionate about child protection—to participate in the event by raising funds and awareness for Bravehearts and the one in five Australian children sexually assaulted in some way before their eighteenth birthday.

I encourage all members of this Chamber to get involved in this very important event by hosting a white-themed event, holding a morning tea, organising a free-dress day at your child’s school or at your workplace, or by encouraging your community to take part. People can turn up to an event in their local community. People can also get involved through social media. Members can positively promote Bravehearts and White Balloon Day on their social media accounts using the hashtag #whiteballoonday. Involvement in White Balloon Day will show that you and your community have zero tolerance for child sexual assault. It will actively encourage survivors to break the silence and support and empower them. It will place the need to protect children above all other considerations and make sure that we as a community become part of the solution by activating change.

Just this week I was out and about and met a very big lad—I will not mention any name—and a very proud man in many ways. He was strong and bulky and stood tall. But he was literally brought to tears as he told me of an event that happened many years ago. He did what most men would do: he buried it. He thought it was done with. He thought he would not have to revisit it. He thought he had put it away. He thought he did not have to face it. He thought he could just get on with living life. It is some decades ago now, and here he was standing in front of me saying—”I thought I had dealt with it but it has come back to haunt me and I need to do something”. He was asking me for some information. I have since given him that information and hopefully he will use it.

I was very proud of his saying “I don’t want anyone else to face what I faced and I don’t want them to have to relive what I am reliving”. In this House many of us are working towards this. I thank the Government particularly because I note the Hon. Mike Baird committed $4 million over four years for child protection initiatives. I am led to believe we will see t tender go out early next year and hopefully it will be part of the solution. I am absolutely committed to child protection empowerment and education. I believe with all my heart that if we can save but a percentage of these children—obviously we want to save 100 per cent—10 per cent, 20 per cent, then a lot of young girls will grow up adjusted, able to function, able to have careers, able to maintain their relationships, and able to hold their own in the world. Fewer drugs will be needed to cover the pain, less ice will be needed to dull the hurt.

For men it will mean fewer broken relationships because they will be well adjusted. Prevention is better than cure, and I am absolutely committed in my time in this House to ministering to the needs of kids across New South Wales in this small but significant way. We deal with a lot of things in this House—economics, infrastructure—but nothing is more important than trying to protect one, two, three, hundreds, thousands or millions of our kids from sexual assault, which can ruin their lives. Sadly, it can be never-ending in that it haunts, wrecks, demoralises and breaks our communities. I, like all members in this House, am committed to making sure we save as many kids from sexual abuse as we possibly can.