Child Protection - Do we really do enough?
With possible changes to sexual consent laws in NSW, the ABC recently interviewed Deanne Carson from Body Safety Australia sparking an international discussion about how to create a culture of consent and promote protective behaviours with children (Carson, D. 2018). While not all the media attention has been positive in regard to Ms. Carson’s interview, there is no debating she has successfully opened up a topic of discussion which was well overdue in this country. In the early childhood sector we have strict laws around mandatory reporting and there is great emphasis placed on this in our regulations and quality standards, however it could be said that child protection should focus on a three tiered approach which includes prevention, identification and aftercare.
In Australia in 2015-16 there were 355, 935 total notifications made to child protective services with 60, 989 cases being substantiated (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2017). These numbers seem to rise each year and whether this is due to increased awareness or a higher prevalence of abuse is difficult to say. It does become clear, however, that more needs to be done if we are to help decrease these statistics for future generations. Prevention is said to be key to solving any issue like this, so why don’t we place more emphasis in our quality framework on promoting protective behaviours? Promoting protective behaviours can be difficult with young children, but is paramount to empowering them around their own body safety. We have many resources, such as the wonderful collection of picture books from Australian children’s author Jayneen Sanders, or the excellent Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure by Bravehearts, which are at our disposal and yet so rarely used. Promoting preventive behaviours isn’t about placing the onus on the victim as it is so often argued, but about giving children the skills and knowledge to keep themselves safe from harm.
Everyone in early childhood understands, or should understand, their mandatory reporting requirements. This means we have the identification side of child protection covered. But there is absolutely no way we could be identifying all cases of abuse. Sexual abuse, in particular, is covert and it is often difficult to establish indicators of harm. The effects of abuse on a child’s emotional and physical health are profound and complex. Building children’s resilience through respectful and attuned connection, and trauma informed care is an important part of the healing process. Often abuse occurs in the home, and thus the early childhood environment becomes a safe haven for the children involved. The responsibility to help children heal through the power of love and respect should lay somewhat on the early childhood educator’s shoulders.
When we start to open a discussion on something as significant as children’s rights and child protection, it is important to consider our approach from a variety of angles. It becomes clear that our emphasis on identifying children at risk of harm may be a simple bandaid approach, effective in stopping some abuse cases, but not likely to change the future of abuse statistics. Promoting protective behaviours will be key to moving forward. But as mentioned we can’t rely on this and identification alone. Child abuse is an evil of the world that unfortunately isn’t going to be eradicated overnight, thus the importance of understanding trauma informed care. With two tiers of this three tiered approach being ignored by our regulations and quality standards, the question has to be asked - Are we really doing enough to protect children in early childhood?
Australian Institute of Family Studies (2017) Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics. Viewed 8th November, 2017 https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-neglect-statistics
Carson, D. (2018). Brave New World: #Nappy Consent Deanne Carson on What She Meant, and Why She So Passionately Believes It. New Matilda.com. Retrieved 16th May, 2018: https://newmatilda.com/2018/05/15/brave-new-world-nappyconsent-woman-deanne-carson-meant-passionately-believes/