Child Protection - Let's Think Again

30 September 2009

NSW has just banned smoking in cars with child passengers, several years after smoking was banned in pubs. That should tell you everything about the importance we place on children's safety - at least at the hands of their parents.
The Department of Community Services (DOCS) mandatory reporting line, where those dealing with children on a professional basis are required to report suspicions of abuse, receives over 1,000 calls a day. To deal with this, rather than hiring more workers, mandatory reporting has been changed from "children at risk of harm" to "children at serious risk of harm". Can we try a third way? Can we make it clear to parents that they have to stop abusing their children?

Government intervention is never resented so much as when it involves one's own family. Even the UN Declaration of Human Rights declares that "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children." We live in an age of strict safety standards and child protection laws for every other aspect of a child's life, yet parents have the right to do more or less anything they want to their children. Parents are only rarely prosecuted for the horrible or risky things they do to their children - it never seems to cross anyone's mind; witness this father being posthumously recommended for a bravery award when he should rather have been charged with manslaughter had he lived. As I said, a health professional or teacher who witnesses signs of abuse on a child is legally required to report it - a parent has no such requirement to report if their partner is abusing their child.

It's often said "the majority of parents want the best for their kids". True as far as it goes, but a lot of those parents think dangerous or just plain bad things are okay. They drink regularly in front of their kids, put them in the car and drive on the Pacific Highway, feed them Happy Meals, smack them, leave them unattended infront of space heaters and take them fishing on jetties at night. All legal,and all these parents would no doubt then sue if their child, say, broke their wrist at school. Maybe it's time we told parents they need to look after their chilren, too. By law if need be. Starting by actually prosecuting parents each and every time they abuse their children is a good start in a community mind shift.


  1. Perhaps we need to rethink the entire concept of child protection.

    In a climate of extreme reactionism on the topic, stepping back and just thinking logically and calmly about what kind of a society we want to live in, and how much we want to be TOLD how to raise children in a democracy - and also how much of a problem the whole deal really is, and how much we can thank 'today tonight' for.

  2. Today Tonight argues the other way - that kids are run amok and parents have no power.

    Child abuse is a really huge deal, and at a grassroots level I think not enough parents are told they simply cannot do it! Intervention is fine and all, but there's just not enough out there to say "you cannot abuse your kids".


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