How can Australian children get a fair go?

Last week was National Child Protection Week (4-10 September), carrying the overarching message that ‘Every Child, in every community, needs a fair go’. In the same week, the Senate announced an inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia. How can Australian children get a fair go, if their basic, material needs are not being met?

In her keynote address at the launch of National Child Protection Week, the National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said, “child poverty is well known to be a risk factor connected to many life-long harms.” She went on to say that “urgent cross-portfolio reform is needed across health, education, and social services including housing and income security, to ensure that these basic systems are fit-for-purpose, and can help families to keep their children safe and well.” I can only agree.

It’s a particularly challenging time, with housing shortages and skyrocketing food, fuel and other costs. A growing number of children and families are living in, or on the brink of, poverty.

This year’s upcoming Anti-Poverty Week in October is even calling on Parliamentarians to commit to halve child poverty by 2030. We expect that many FRSA members will be involved in the call to action and will be including what their own clients are experiencing their areas.

As FRSA members talk to us regularly about the multiple challenges their clients are facing and the impacts on child and family wellbeing. One member recently observed that there is no longer a “simple client”. Families are presenting with complex and entwined issues – insecure housing/homelessness, mental health issues, family violence and so on. Crisis support is upstaging the more enduring therapeutic support normally associated with our sector’s early intervention services. Safety planning when working with children is becoming a more routine service response. Poverty and insecure housing play a big role in this. Families and family relationships are invariably adversely impacted by the pressures of poverty.

Lifting children out of poverty isn’t a guarantee that children will ‘grow up safe and supported’ but it is an important precondition. There are many things I hope for – not least an increase in income support payments – to address poverty in Australia. I certainly hope this latest Senate inquiry results in some clear and tangible outcomes that help ensure every child in Australia is able to get a fair go.

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