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02 Mar 2018

Every child in Australia deserves to grow up in a home free from harm. Yet year in, year out, we see an increase in the numbers of substantiated child abuse and neglect cases. In 2016-17, nearly 50, 000 children were found to have been – or were at risk of being – abused, neglected or otherwise harmed. This is unacceptable.

As medical professionals, we are at the forefront of responding to and treating the consequences of child abuse. Doctors see firsthand how the physical and psychological scars of maltreatment and neglect have lifelong negative effects on children and those who love them. They know that the best possible medicine is to stop this trauma occurring in the first place.

The AMA has long advocated for a public health approach to child protection. Just as we know it is a mistake to position the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, we know we simply can’t wait until problems within families are so severe that the only option is to take children away.

Over the last 20 years, there have been more than 40 inquiries and commissions into the failings of the child protections system. Adopting the principles of a public health model and investing in early intervention and prevention has been a recurring recommendation and repeatedly called for by those of us committed to improving the wellbeing and safety of children.

Many governments have increasingly adopted public health based polices in relation to child protection, as evidenced by the state and federal collaboration on the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children – a national policy premised on a public health model.

Yet in many ways, the mantra that prevention is better than the cure has failed to translate from political rhetoric into meaningful change. This is most clearly seen in budget breakdowns. Significant and sustained funding for prevention and early intervention has yet to become embedded in Federal and State budgets.

Australian service systems continue to remain reactive rather than preventive, with only 16.6 per cent of total child protection expenditure nationally invested in early intervention and prevention.

Nationally in 2015-16, $2.7 billion was spent on out-of-home-care (accounting for 57.4 per cent of all expenditure on child protection services). This amount has continually increased over the last five years.

If we want to see fewer children coming through our hospital doors with injuries no child should experience, we need to stop tinkering at the edges of a broken system. Significant transformation is needed to get families the help they need, quickly and early on, to prevent the worst from happening. To this end, the AMA has been following the development of an ambitious new advocacy campaign to address the persistent barriers to change.

This campaign, initiated by The Benevolent Society in partnership with more than 20 organisations across a range of sectors, aims to put the wellbeing and safety of children on the public and political agenda. The campaign will be calling for greater Government accountability for improved child wellbeing outcomes and will advocate for adequate funding to ensure that families getting the right support at the right time.

While this campaign is still in its early phases – with a public launch forecast for later this year – the AMA is keeping a close eye on its development and providing input into the campaign objectives.


Published: 02 Mar 2018