Families Australia

Child Aware Champions

Introducing the Child Aware Champions

Families Australia has hosted the Child Aware® conference series since 2013. All the conferences (2013-17) have aimed to advance evidence, policy and practice relating to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020 (National Framework), the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022, and the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In recognition of the significant expertise and skillsets of all the former keynote speakers, Families Australia invited them to become our inaugural Child Aware® Champions (Champions).

The Champions used their conference addresses to stimulate discussion on how to make Australia an even better place for children, young people and their families. Their addresses demonstrate unique insights and analysis across successive conference key themes, deepening policy discourse and analysis, showcasing innovative practice and broadening our understanding of the National Framework.

We are committed to promoting this rich resource library of child focussed and family sensitive research, policy and practice on Families Australia websites and through our activities.

Our panel of Child Aware Champions will grow, as we continue to gather valuable insights and contributions to this national conversation.

Dr Brian Babington
Chief Executive Officer, Families Australia; Convenor, National Coalition on Child Safety and Wellbeing; Director, Plan International Australia

All children need love, safety and every opportunity to realise their potential.

Child abuse and neglect continues to be a major problem in Australia. We see, for example, that the number of children entering out-of-home care continues to rise at an alarming rate. Internationally, unconscionable harms are perpetrated on children, including through forced labour and unnecessary institutionalisation.

As CEO of Families Australia I am proud to have led the Child Aware campaign since 2012. It is at the heart of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020—Australia’s first-ever national plan of action endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments and the non-government and research sectors to eliminate child abuse and boost child wellbeing.

Successive Child Aware Conferences have brought together hundreds of remarkable and committed government, non-government, research and community leaders to share knowledge about what works in strengthening family capacities and improving child safety and wellbeing. We look forward to building on this work in the years ahead.

Thank you to all those committed to creating a world in which all children thrive.

You can find Dr Brian Babington’s 2017 conference presentation here.

Distinguished Professor Alan Hayes AM
Director Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle

As a Child Aware Champion, the impacts of the changing worlds of contemporary Australian childhoods are my focus.

Significant demographic, social and economic changes have widespread implications for children, families and communities. Total fertility rates are declining, especially in developed nations, and average family size is reducing. With smaller family size, there is less scope to share the care responsibilities within families. Parents increasingly need supports beyond their immediate and extended families to assist in the care and nurture of their children.

For most Australians, infant mortality is reducing, and lifespans are increasing as a result of improvements in health care. In combination, these changes have significantly shifted the age distributions and the proportions of those in childhood, adolescence and of working age, have reduced relative to those in the later years of life. These major demographic shifts have occurred in a very short timeframe. However, the benefits of improvements in health and longevity are not equally distributed across the population and there is evidence that inequality is increasing. Too many children and families, especially those living in disadvantage, experience increasing packages of problems and life challenges that place them at-risk.

I am privileged to work for the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle. For more than three decades it has delivered services that enrich the lives of children; support, facilitate and harness the strengths of their families; and leverage the capabilities and capacities of their communities.

As a nation, we have a collective responsibility to provide the conditions that allow Australian children to enjoy lives that promote their health, safety and security. Irrespective of their circumstances, they deserve equitable access to opportunities and enriching experiences that promote their development, health and wellbeing.

You can find Professor Alan Hayes’ 2013 conference presentation here.

Professor Ross Homel AO, FASSA, FANZSOC, PhD

I have spent much of my long career trying to use scientific methods to understand social problems like crime and violence, and to develop practical, research-based strategies to address these problems. A passion of mine for the past 25 years has been to find ways to promote the positive development of children and young people, and in particular to find ways to stop young people from socially disadvantaged communities falling into the youth justice system.

As pervasive social inequality steadily intensifies in Australian society, we need to work together across sectors and disciplines to achieve a collect impact on child wellbeing, using the best science available. The most powerless people in our country are the youngest, especially those living in deprived social and economic circumstances. What could be a more noble cause than to champion the rights of these children to flourish and to participate fully in Australian society?

You can find Professor Ross Homel’s 2016 conference presentation here.

Shannieka Martino

I left ‘care’ when I was 17 years old, six months prior to my 18th birthday in 2018. I stayed at St Thomas More College while studying a bridging course at Notre Dame Fremantle. After that I decided I wanted to take a break from education. I was about to be homeless with no income when my former carer stepped in and offered me a place to stay. I moved to Armadale to stay with her. It became quite apparent that I was on my own in this.

I graduated from high school with (1) Pastoral Care Award Solomon 8, (2) Madge Smith Memorial Award, sponsored by the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, and (3) achieved the Integrated Science Award with a score of 100%.

My Aunty is a very important person in my life. I met her when I was six years old; she looked after me for 10 years. My Aunty raised me to be a strong, independent and resilient person. She has always been there for me and is 100% part of my family. Without her I don’t know where I would be right now. She took me to every gymnastics training and competition, encouraged me to speak up and use my voice, was always there for me; always believing in me and my ability to make change happen. She encouraged me to do my best in school and university.

I grew up in the department along with my little sister. I would have to say I had a very blessed upbringing due to having a primary carer though out my life, my Aunty.  I never got to see my mum, dad and siblings as much as I wanted, I would usually only see them, three or four times a year and sometimes I wouldn’t see them that much. I am a very resilient person so when the department gave me disappointing news I didn’t let it get me down for too long.

I am currently studying a Certificate 3 in Business, a five month course that will finish in February 2019. My study goal is to go back to university this year and enrol in a Bachelor of Social Justice and Health Services. This will set me on the path of making a real difference for young people and children in or leaving care. The Achiever Awards will assist with text books and course costs for the duration of my course. I am very active with Create Foundation, Youth Affairs Council WA and the Department of Communities. I advocate on behalf of young people and children in care and leaving care. I have been to a number of conferences and done various projects.

You can find Shannieka Martino’s 2017 conference presentation here.

Megan Mitchell
National Children’s Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission

As Australia’s first National Children’s Commissioner, my role is to champion the rights of all children in Australia.

Being ‘child aware’ is an integral message I deliver to the community of practitioners and influencers who work for and with children and young people. Children need to be seen, heard and able to participate in order for them to have their rights realised and their needs met.

Adults need to be looking out for children in all the spheres of work and life they are active in, and they need to be proactive in finding ways to embed mechanisms that ensure a focus on children’s rights, interests, and wellbeing. We can all help children to thrive, grow and reach their full potential – every child, everywhere, every day.

You can find Megan Mitchell’s 2013 conference presentation here.

Emeritus Professor Dorothy Scott AM
Honorary Professorial Fellow, Social Work, University of Melbourne; Adjunct Professor, Australian Centre of Child Protection, University of South Australia; Director, Bracton Consulting Pty Ltd

While semi-retired these days I am still passionate about the well-being of children and families. I am the Patron of several organisations and initiatives, including the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, Permanent Care and Adoptive Families, Newpin and Playgroups Victoria. In my honorary role with the Sidney Myer Foundation I have been pleased to be involved in two major recent initiatives: Raising Expectations, which is increasing educational opportunities for care leavers; and Home Stretch, the campaign to extend support for young people in care to 21 years.

I have recently been engaged in an advisory role on child protection policy in Queensland and Victoria, and have also provided workforce development in family centred practice for community service organisations, most recently Baptcare in Tasmania and Victoria.

I am working with University of Melbourne colleagues such as Professor Lisa Gibbs on a national research project on “children as contributors” – it explores what children do for others and builds on studies showing that this can enhance resilience, a sense of agency and belonging. I am also co-supervising a PhD student, Dr Karen McLean, a paediatrician whose PhD thesis is investigating the extent to which the health needs of children entering care in Victoria are assessed and followed up.

Still giving the occasional keynote address at conferences, I continue to promote ways in which we can build the capacity of adult specialist services (especially in the fields of mental health, alcohol and other drug treatment, homelessness and family violence) to be child and family inclusive. We have come a long way in becoming “child aware’ but we still have a long way to go!

You can find Professor Dorothy Scott’s 2014 conference presentation here.

Professor Brigid Daniel
Dean of the School of the School of Arts, Social Sciences and Management, Queen Margaret University, UK

The appeal of the Child Aware Programme lies in its emphasis on understanding interconnections, across generations and across all aspects of wellbeing.

My research on child neglect and on children’s resilience has been influenced by such ecological approaches which overwhelmingly support the importance of nurturing the ecology that supports children’s development and wellbeing from the individual to the structural.

For example, whilst placing children at the centre, the Child Aware Programme also highlights the importance of offering parents the kind of empathic support that recognises the corrosive impact of poverty and inequality and provides tangible, concrete and sustained support. We also know that schools with open doors and inclusive approaches bring huge benefits to whole communities.

Public health approaches tell us that provision of good housing, pleasant environments and access to healthy food and opportunities for active lifestyles is of benefit to all, not just children and young people. In essence the message is that a society that supports the wellbeing of children and young people is a better society for all.

You can find Professor Brigid Daniel’s 2017 conference presentation here.

Professor Daryl Higgins
Director Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University

Research—in order to understand, and improve the circumstances of children, young people and their families—has been my passion for about 25 years. I have led innovative knowledge translation/exchange functions that have increased access to the evidence-base for policy makers and practitioners working to protect children and promote family and community wellbeing.

My academic expertise in psychology, social work, and public health has influenced policy and service delivery in areas relating to family policy in Australia such as social policy and laws that intersect with child and family issues; caring for family members with disability, autism and impacts on family wellbeing; disability and child safety; child-safe organisations and prevention of child sexual abuse; trauma from past practices, public health approach to safe family environments; and service provision responses to better meet client need (forced adoption and child removal practices).

Currently I am working on creating resources to help organisations be child-centred and child-safe, including survey tools to help measure the safeguarding journey towards creating conditions of safety for children and young people. This includes measures of young people’s perceptions of safety, and measures of adult safeguarding capabilities. See: https://safeguardingchildren.acu.edu.au/

You can find Professor Daryl Higgins’ 2014 conference presentation here.

Professor Keith Kaufman PhD
Professor of Psychology, Portland State University, USA

I was so honoured to be asked to be a Child Aware Champion. Child and adolescent advocacy, safety, and prevention is in my professional (and personal) DNA. I believe that a safe and caring environment must always be the foundation upon which we build effective programming and services for children. My own work is rooted in a strong belief that we strengthen this movement when we invest in collaboration. My efforts have been enriched by working closely with: youth serving organizations (e.g., Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America); national task forces and professional organizations (e.g., NSVRC, ATSA); generous funders (e.g., World Childhood Foundation (WCF), Department of Justice (DOJ) SMART Office, The U.S. Center for Safe Sport, the CDC); my extremely talented graduate students; and remarkable professional colleagues (e.g., Marcus Erooga, Joan Tabachnick, Katie Hanna, Nicole Epps, & Drs. McMahon, Letourneau, Mathews, Higgins, McKillop, & Rayment-McHugh).

Most recently, my research and intervention efforts have focused on the development of prevention programs. The first is a really exciting comprehensive child sexual abuse prevention program for parents involved with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America that is literature informed and included an extensive piloting process (with Julie Novak [Safety VP] and John Patterson [consultant]). The other three are based on the Situational Prevention Approach (SPA; Kaufman, et al., 2018, 2012, 2010, 2006). In the past we’ve adapted this approach for use with after-school youth serving organizations (i.e., Boys & Girls Clubs of America). We are currently completing a four year DOJ funded project to develop a sustainable version of the SPA for use on university campuses to address sexual assault and other student harms. We also are just beginning two other projects with the SPA at their core. One is DOJ funded and in collaboration with the U.S. Center for SafeSport. It is designed to create an SPA prevention approach for use with U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The other is WCF funded and seeks to adapt the SPA to enhance safety in high schools, while offering an empowerment opportunity for high school students, who will facilitate much of this prevention approach.

Finally, my thanks go to the Royal Commission, who funded us (Kaufman & Erooga, 2016) on a project which reviewed more than 400 international articles regarding risk factors related child sexual abuse in institutions. That report has critically informed much of our recent SPA prevention work.

You can find Professor Keith Kaufman’s 2017 conference presentation here.

 Andrew McCallum AM

It is an honor to have been asked to be a “Child Aware Champion” but more importantly it is a duty. We must step forward when afforded the opportunity, to speak out about the injustices an inequality that is woven in to the fabric of Australian Society. The impact of which, on a daily basis, affects the long-term outcomes of our most vulnerable, so many which are children.

I have recently stepped away from full time employment that has been a professional crusade for a more inclusive Australian Society that critiques the fundamental structural and political barriers to inclusion, rather than dissecting the lives of those unable to share in the collective prosperity around them.

The barriers are real and the pathways to dealing with these barriers are well known and documented but still we fall short in coming up with a coherent actionable blueprint that rises above base political motives and partisan considerations.

Movement on this front requires consensus at so many fundamental levels and in many instances we are still stuck at the starting gate trying to marshal the participants to at least face in the same direction. The one bright light in this residual, program-saturated environment is the concept of Child Aware approaches that has at its core the concept of embedding the principles of safety and wellbeing of all Australian Children and their families.

The vehicle for this, and the only vehicle with cross-jurisdictional agreement and commitment that has endured Government changes at both State and Federal level is the National Framework for Protecting Australian’s Children. Perfect it is not but it has already changed the conversation in this space in subtle but significant ways and produced some very tangible results.

I am passionate about what this internationally unique framework represents and we all need to draw inspiration for its yet to be realized potential.

Child Aware approaches that change the conversations and the culture are the future. If the inquiries and Royal Commissions have taught us anything it is we will not program our way to a better place. It requires a re-think of what a social inclusive, child focused and valued Australia looks like.

You can find Andrew McCallum’s reflections on child wellbeing and safety here.

Professor Nigel Parton
Professor of Childhood Studies, School of Human and Health Services, University of Huddersfield, UK

There is no doubt that the Child Aware Programme is very much in line with developments in a number of societies in trying to ensure that children and their wellbeing are placed at the centre of policies and practices which may impact on them directly and indirectly. However, as much of my work has tried to demonstrate over the years, both in the context of the UK and internationally, much of this is superficial and politically very expedient.

Claiming to be giving priority to and for children has been used by many governments as a helpful political strategy to appeal to a wide political audience, particularly at an emotional level. However, invariably children’s policies have had little direct positive impact on the lives of children and have even acted to deflect attention from major structural and cultural issues. What is significant about the Child Aware approach is that it recognises that the issues are crucially relational and very much dependent on context; to be child aware has major implications for the way we do family, community and the organisational. Child wellbeing is intimately related to the nature of society in which children and young people live.

The challenges of how this can be done and that it might vary in different contexts are demonstrated through the programmes supported and the way learning and development can take place.

You can find Professor Nigel Parton’s 2014 conference presentation here.

Geoffrey Woolcock
Senior Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland Institute for Resilient Regions; Adjunct Associate Professor, Griffith University School of Human Services and Social Work

Being a Child Aware Champion is important to me because making children’s needs the nation’s #1 priority continues to be a struggle in the face of short-term, quick fix thinking… this is of course at odds with the widespread evidence that investing in our youngest is the wisest pathway to sustainable progress and wellbeing.

Geoff Woolcock is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland’s Institute for Resilient Regions, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at Griffith University’s School of Human Services and Social Work and QUT’s Centre for Children’s Health Research. He is particularly interested in applying indicators of community strengths in socio-economically disadvantaged communities and the factors that contribute to building child- and youth-friendly communities. His work with large-scale public and private sector organisations concentrates on developing measures of communities’ strengths, closely collaborating with local communities. As a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (MAICD), he is a board director of the Brisbane Housing Company, the Australian National Development Index (ANDI) and the Logan Child-Friendly Community Charitable Trust overseeing the high-profile collective impact initiative, Logan Together. Geoff is a partner investigator in the ARC Linkage project, the Kids in Community Study (KiCS), an offshoot of the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) where qualitative assessments of critical factors determining the success of several “outlier” communities in low income neighbourhoods are being undertaken, and chairs the Executive Committee of another ARC Linkage, the CREATE project, testing the conditions for collective impact in child wellbeing in a range of Communities for Children sites throughout eastern Australia. He also co-established the web portal Child-Friendly Communities Australia to encourage local communities across Australia to undertake their own state of children’s reports.

You can find Geoffrey Woolcock’s 2013 conference presentation here.