Safety is a basic human right. Safety for children is more than the absence of risk in relationships. It is the presence of calm, secure and attuned adults who understand them and manage their world. For many children, safety is associated with powerful memories of home, of important people, of experiences that are full of warmth, love, and nurture. It weaves interconnection between those people who care for them and provides the solid ground for them to grow and flourish, reaching their potential.
For some children, the world is not safe, which impacts their ability to thrive, to learn, to explore and to relate to others in a hopeful and positive way. Each year, around 3% of all children aged 0–17, are assisted by Australia’s child protection systems. Some children are unable to live safely at home as they may be at risk of being abused or neglected, or their parents may be unable to provide adequate care. Children and their families may receive support services to keep children in their families or be subject to investigations of reports of child abuse/neglect, protection orders, and/or placement in out-of-home care, such as with a relative or foster carer. Child protection is about protecting children and young people from harm caused by abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, domestic violence) or neglect within the family.
There are a range of services in our community that aim to support families and protect children. These can be categorised into three levels of support:
- Universal (primary) services – are offered to everyone in the community. They include antenatal services (pregnancy counselling and advice), maternal and child health services, and preschool education. These services aim to provide support and help to prevent abuse and neglect.
- Secondary services – identify and reduce the personal and social stresses on parents that may lead to family breakdown or child abuse. Services include in-home family help, financial or family counselling, respite care, and various parenting and self-help groups.
- Tertiary (statutory) services – are for children who are or may be at risk of significant harm, and for whom intervention is needed for their ongoing safety. These services include statutory Child Protection and Out-of-Home-Care for children who are unable to live at home. Generally, where families are experiencing difficulties, it is more appropriate that less intrusive community-based professionals and agencies attempt to help. A report to Child Protection occurs when children and young people are considered to be at risk of significant harm.
Here at Relationships Australia NSW we are supporting children and young people whose parents are separating, who attend our children’s contact centres, via family counselling and in our family safety programs.
Parents and other members of the community have the primary responsibility for protecting children from harm, caring for children and supporting them to build relationships that are safe and respectful. Parents can help to keep their children safe by talking to their children and making sure that they know that no one is allowed to threaten, hurt or touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
What can parents do for themselves?
Parents can also help in managing the environment they are providing for their children, by:
- Managing our stress
- Managing our emotions
- Accepting support from family and friends
- Talking to a counsellor if you are concerned about your child’s behaviour or emotions
- Limiting the use of drugs and alcohol
- Using language that is supportive and encouraging
- Avoiding ‘put downs’
What can parents do for their children?
- build your child’s understanding of safe and respectful relationships
- talk openly with your child about their feelings and relationships
- be sure that they understand you will listen and act if they are concerns about how anyone is treating them
- use the correct names for body parts
- have age-appropriate conversations about touching and sexual activity
- let your child know that adults should never harm or act in a sexual way
- know where your children are and who they are with
What can the community do?
All adults can play a critical role in identifying and responding to suspected abuse within the community. Keeping children safe is everyone’s business.
If you have any concerns about your child’s safety, or the safety of any child, you can contact the Child Protection Helpline on 132 111. For support with parenting, family relationships and managing conflict RANSW is here to help, on 1300 364 277, or visit our website, www.relationshipsnsw.org.au