How do we prioritise the development of Australia’s Children? As we glance across the Tasman, we see Prime Minister Adern championing the wellbeing of New Zealand children as a key poverty reduction priority. The issue is holding prime place in political and social conversations, it’s cutting through – people want their country to do more so all New Zealand children can get what they need to develop well.
Sadly, we are not seeing the same focus here.
Earlier this year Australian Government released their Fourth Action Plan (2018-2020) to carry out the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children (National Framework) (2009-2020) and you’d be forgiven for missing it. It was released in the Northern Territory (NT) by an Assistant Minister, with limited media interest.
The Framework itself is solid, driving a public health approach and keeping child wellbeing and safety on the Federal Government agenda – exactly where it should be. It is established a partnership across services and governments, recognising the need for a strong network of support and resources. All the main players have signed up to make this happen. Their commitment is encouraging, as any move towards national coordination will mean more children and young people receive the support they need.
There is no question that our governments should be making sure every child has access to the resources they need to develop well, yet over the last 10 years the governments commitment has declined from an initial $63 million injection to only $2.6 million for the Third Action Plan [i].
We know success of the Fourth Action Plan will rest on the commitment of Australian governments. On budget night in April we will see how committed to the wellbeing and safety of children our Australian Government is. The lack of a budget announcement accompanying the release of this plan is disappointing. We must now hope this does not indicate where our political leaders are placing Australia’s children on their priority list.
Behind any move to increase child wellbeing in Australia sits the unacceptable reality that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 11 times more likely to be removed from their families. Changing this is simply not possible without the voices of Australia’s First People, so it is reassuring the Fourth Action Plan promises a genuine partnership. This has been recognised by SNAICC, the peak body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, who in their January 30 Media Release described the plan as an “opportunity to achieve real change for our children through a renewed commitment to prevention”. We are tantalisingly close to real change, but serious investment will be needed to ensure this opportunity is not wasted.
Keeping the focus on child protection means waiting till it’s too late – how can we lift ambition?
With the Framework concluding in 2020, we have a unique moment in time to reflect on our aspirations for Australia’s children. New Zealand has a National Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy that is committed to delivering early support so all New Zealand children can thrive. Surely, this is also within our reach.
The National Framework has shown us change is possible, and their pilot programs have shown early support works. It’s now time to increase ambition and investment so we can move beyond trials and support more children and their families in navigating tough times, so that Australia’s children can also get what they need to thrive.
[i] Aus Gov response