Stepping into the light

NOT shaking your head disapprovingly at a parent when their child is acting up in a supermarket could be one of the first steps to prevent child abuse.

Instead, smile and offer to take their groceries to the car.

Life can be stressful for parents.

If you throw in long-term unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse or someone in the family with a disability, the stress levels are much higher.

It is these people we need to help before the situation escalates.

Last year 30,000 children were victims of child abuse but the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect believes it is an encouraging sign that the number of abused kids is "stabilising".

Bravehearts - which promotes education, research and understanding - is also heartened by bold steps in the child protection arena, from the Child Protection Inquiry to a two-strike child offender jailing laws in the courts.

The Daniel Morcombe Foundation also believes it is making a difference, visiting 123 schools to speak to an estimated 50,000 students and speaking at 80 community events to spread its child safety message in the past 12 months.

NAPCAN president Teresa Scott said stabilising child abuse figures was an indication people were more aware now and were taking steps to help in prevention.

"It is still a big, big issue and we can't leave it in the hands of government departments alone to resolve," she said.

"Everyone in the community can play a part in keeping our children safe whether you are an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, a friend or neighbour or even someone who runs a local business and comes into contact with children."

Ms Scott said most people associated abuse with physical violence or sexual exploitation but, in Australia, the main types of abuse were emotional abuse and neglect.

She said helping parents struggling with difficult children in public situations could really help.

"We need to recognise that small actions can make a big difference," she said.

"You may think this is a long way from preventing child abuse but it is not.

"These are all acts of support that can make a difference and change behaviour.

"The focus of all our programs are community based. If you empower a community to look after their own through heightened awareness and education programs you can slowly start to make a difference.

"By offering a helping hand or a shoulder to lean on, they can act as a safety valve for adults and children."

Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnson said she felt like the new Queensland Government had adopted the foundation's mantra to become the safest state in Australia to raise a child.

She said adopting the two-strike jail policy for repeat child sex offenders and the extensive Child Protection Inquiry were positive moves for an area she was passionate about.

The inquiry, which is about to begin a regional journey, will chart a road map to the best outcomes for children and young people in Queensland.

Ms Johnson said there were children not even born yet who would depend on the outcome of the inquiry.

"The most important thing is that at the end of the day children need to be better off because of government intervention - but that just isn't the case far too often," she said.

"The people that work for the department, the child safety officers at the front end, are wonderful people that join the ranks of those teams to help children and they have little chance to do that because of the way the system works.

"I hope the Commission of Inquiry finds ways that allow the right kind of intervention by the right people for the right needs for these kids."

One year since Bruce and Denise Morcombe were made Queensland's child safety ambassadors, they have repeatedly turned their tragedy into a positive safety message for children.

As well as visiting homes in south-east Queensland near their Sunshine Coast home, they have gone as far north as Mossman and Mount Isa and west to places like Goondiwindi, sometimes to schools with as few as 25 students.

Mr Morcombe said it was hard to tell whether the message was getting through but they always received "glowing, positive feedback" which they hoped was a good indicator.

"The students, it doesn't matter what age, they are very interested in what we have to say, as well as the teachers," Mr Morcombe said.

"Sometimes we're told 'our kids not all that well behaved, they might misbehave and niggle' but 100% of the time when we are leaving, the teachers turn to us and say 'We've never seen all our kids sit there so intently'.

"I'm sure they've had safety messages from parents, schools, teachers and police. The difference Denise and I bring to the table in reinforcing the dot points is linking the story back to Daniel."

The past 12 months has been a whirlwind for the dedicated parents, whose son Daniel was abducted and murdered on the Sunshine Coast almost nine years ago.

Not only has someone been arrested after tireless campaigning but they have set the wheels in motion for many new initiatives in the child protection arena.

The introduction of the Daniel Morcombe Child Safety Curriculum into prep to year two is imminent, with years 3-6 and 7-9 not far behind.

There are people from Griffith University conducting research into a universal hand signal the Morcombes developed for children to use in distress.

The University of the Sunshine Coast is working with the Morcombes to develop computer games based around child safety.

More than 20,000 people downloaded a new Help Me app from iPhone, with an Android version also now available for download.

The app allows people to plug in two nominated phone numbers which will be alerted if you press the distress button - handy not only for child safety but also car break-downs or medical issues.

They have developed the Family Day Out on October 1 to provide fun for kids while linking arms with a range of like-minded charities.

They are about to embark on another adventure taking their education truck around Australia in 2013.

The other work of the foundation is helping crime victims and Mrs Morcombe said they had already helped pay for driving lessons, books, holidays, counselling, tutoring, ballet lessons and Broncos family ticket this year.

Mr Morcombe said it was hard to tell if you were making a difference in crime prevention but this path provided instantaneous results.

National Protection Week begins on Sunday.

Bravehearts will host Disclosure Day on Thursday to encourage all Australians affected by child sexual assault to tell someone about their experiences and White Balloon Day on Friday to raise awareness.

Ms Scott said there were many programs working hard at child protection throughout the year and progress was being made.

"The thing about child abuse is there is no magic bullet, there is no tablet or vaccine you can take to prevent the disease," she said.

"It needs a considered plan with a range of different approaches which is one of the reasons the community is central to the success of prevention. Everyone can do something.

"If we can build strong communities that look after and value children rather than fractured messages where everyone only worries about themselves then we have more chance of avoiding those tragic stories we read in our newspapers."


CHILD PROTECTION INQUIRY REVEALS

  • One in four children will witness violence against their mother or step-mother before they reach the age of 17.
  • These female victims of domestic violence make up two-thirds of the full-time female workforce in Australia.
  • Domestic violence cost employers about half a billion a year.
  • Almost 70% of children in the youth detention in Queensland have already caught the attention of child services.
  • Of the 165 young people in detention on August 21, 22% were subject to a child protection order and three more were on a parental agreement intervention order.
  • 62% of those children on protection orders were indigenous.
  • Up to 63% of the 1500 youths in detention were rated as having a moderate to high-risk of committing another crime.
  • The average age of a child in Queensland detention is 14 years and 10 months but the average reading age is equal to an eight year old.
  • Queensland tax-payers spend $280 million on housing young people each year.
  • As of June 2011, the number of children living away from home was 8063.
  • Australians pay $137.50 per placement per night to house children in need.


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