We are all responsible for the safety of children: and it’s time to act

The social norm that children should be seen but not heard, which prevailed for unknown decades, provided the opportunity for some adults to abuse the power. – Hon Justice McLennan

All children and young people have the right to be heard, and the right to be safe.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse saw more than 6,000 people come forward to share their stories. In the wake of the Royal Commission, we have seen several high profile cases reach the courts and the media, with the hope that survivors will see justice.

These cases shone a light on the positions of power and privilege that some perpetrators cultivate. However it is vital that we acknowledge that children are not only harmed by those who hold power. As a society, we must listen to and believe children – there can be no exception.

We must stand with victims and survivors.

Institutional child abuse is not a relic of the past – it can and does happen today. The Royal Commission and the Victoria Betrayal of Trust Inquiry highlighted our institutions’ failures to protect children. Every individual, institution, government and organisation must acknowledge their own power and responsibility in preventing child abuse.

Child Safe Standards and Reportable Conduct schemes are vital in maintaining safe environments for children, but these tools should be a starting point. We must move beyond ticking boxes and basic training, and implement a sustainable and holistic service delivery system that is child-centred. 

The role of governments must be acknowledged, and adequate resourcing must be provided to child and family services to ensure funding is available for the staffing, training and structures required to be able to respond to the needs of every child. Organisations must be empowered to revolutionise the way we work with and for children and young people.

Above all, all of us must listen, and we must act. “For children and for the sake of the truth, the message needs to be clear that you don’t have to keep people’s secrets. That’s the only way things will change,” – survivor, Royal Commission.

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