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.