Parent education is better than child protection


As Child Protection Week begins, there are calls for the removal of NSW Family and Community Services minister Pru Goward for misleading parliament on her department’s chronic incapacity to protect children who are at risk of abuse. 

Awareness of the pressing need to protect children is at an all time high, partly due to the torrent of revelations of church sexual abuse and the setting up of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. We know that neglect and abuse within families is also rampant, and arguably much more difficult to act upon. The recent harrowing account of a day in the life of a DoCS caseworker  published in the Fairfax papers suggests the problem is out of control.

But maximising child protection measures is only one step towards providing for young people’s emotional and physical well being. In itself, child protection is like giving vulnerable young people a security guard. They’re less likely to be abused, but they’re also unlikely to be empowered to grow as self-reliant human beings. For that, we need to honour them with constant respect and, most importantly, teach people how to do this when they become parents.

Respect is something parents do when they pay attention to their children in a loving rather than controlling manner. They enter into their child’s world and listen to their perspective as seriously as they do that of their adult friends. If something has to be dismissed as improbable, it’s the idea and not the child that must be cast aside. Affirmation is often a particular challenge for parents who were themselves brought up in an abusive home environment where the rule of the stick prevailed.

In schools, it achieves little to control bullying by putting a protective wall around children who are vulnerable. Instead modern personal development programs are teaching them how to offer and command respect, from both adults and their contemporaries. This includes lessons about power and control, how to identify when power is being misused, and what they can do about it. For those who are not themselves involved in the bullying, there is the distinction between the passive bystander and the active bystander.

Child protection commands attention from governments that personal development education programs could never hope to achieve. That is understandable, given that there are 60,000 children in the community whose lives are so dangerous at home that they need monitoring by child protection services. But a boost to education programs that teach people how to put the well being of children – and that of their struggling parents – at the centre of public policy will surely take the pressure off governments to provide child protection services.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Child image by Shutterstock.



Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Pru Goward, child protection, DoCS, social welfare, respect



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Existing comments

Nice idea. But how do we keep the churches out of it? They will say anything to get their hands on tax free tax supplied cash. After years of fighting against sex education for children; more recently the clear and present dangers of ETHICS has fixated them?
John Murray | 31 August 2013

A few years ago I wrote a letter (which was published) to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. At the time a debate was raging over scripture vs. ethics in public schools. At the time I was a SRE volunteer teacher. I think the letter's contents are relevant: "How's this for an ethics class discussion, DG (Letters, April 26): the Department of Community Services is dangerously underfunded and understaffed. It has the choice between interrogating and ridiculing an unwed pregnant teenager or following up speedily on a report of neglect and abuse of a young child, already known to be at risk. It does not have the resources to do both. Which scenario should receive priority?"
Pam | 01 September 2013

Of course there needs to be parental education However when a child is removed from their family then the state must be held accountable to provide afer care support services Govts churches and charities have not been held responsible for the lack of duty of care to the children in their "care" Once we left the child welfare system we were left to fend for ourselves Is it any wonder we found parenting was difficult ! Our roles models the sadists, sexual users, the bullies etc we didnt get to be loved but we got feed housed and clothed When will govts be charged with generations of neglect of its own children!! With the 60,000 chn at risk in Australia how many of those chn had parents or grandparents in care? No one wants to know or care! From CLAN research sadly some of our members have ended up in the care system Thanks to Julia Gillard for the Royal Commission which will expose these issues and more!
Leonie Sheedy | 02 September 2013

Some years ago I was te Chaiman of a committee of the College of Surgeons which examined violence in our society. At a community seminar that we conducted, Fr Chris Reilly, who established Youth off the Streets in Sydney recorded that over 90% of children living on the streets were there because it was safer than living with their parents in the nightmare that was supposed be "home". Some of the abuse suffered shocked me. I
john frawley | 02 September 2013

Perhaps is it time to make a requirement that on entering the school system (as for vacinations) parents or at least one parent must attend an afternoon event run by the school counsellor or some such, as a meet and greet function and at which to informally appraise them of general developmental stages to expect. At this time assurance of the availability of the services of the counsellors for any family member could be affirmed. The thrust would be to establish an attitude of primary education as a joint venture. The session must be on a friendly basis without hint of accusation to reinforce the co-operative approach. There remains for too many an attitude of fear and disengagement from their own experiences. It may help.
Michelle | 02 September 2013

Totally agree with the theme of this article. Recently in the West DCS advertised for 300 child protection worker positions, 30 applications were received. Its time we again ask parents to be parents, your children weren't asked to be born, you chose to bring them into the world. Remember "we parent the way we were parented", so we need to offer free parenting courses with every new born not $6th as we do now. Wend and shift work is also very disruptive for quality family time. Guido Vogels MSW
guido vogels | 02 September 2013


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