Child protection has to start at birth because, unfortunately, some infants and toddlers are assaulted or injured by carers who can't cope with them crying. Others are used for sexual purposes and to make pornography which is a multi-billion dollar business supported by adults who need money for drugs.
In 2011, the Commissioner of Police (NSW) told the Sydney Morning Herald that he was shocked by the increase in child sexual abuse involving very young children and pornography.
Child protection begins in the family but should include friends, child minders, early childhood services, schools, churches, camps, sports clubs, mobile phones and the monitoring of computers. This may seem to be a mammoth task but unfortunately it is necessary because sexual predators go wherever there are children and they target those with single mothers.
Thinking only of dangerous strangers, parents often believe that children are safe because they take them to and from school and know where they are. In other words, they trust everyone involved including visitors and volunteers.
Paradoxically, strangers are the ones least likely to target your children and if they do, they will find ways to get to know you first to develop your trust. They will respond to your needs – repair your car – offer to babysit – act as a wonderful father-replacement figure while making no demands on you. You may think all your Christmases have come at once but if he seems too good to be true it is usually because he is! The fact that he is trusted by you increases the confusion when sex is introduced.
Sadly, parents are the ones who unwittingly place children into the hands of their abusers, causing life-long guilt and grief. Child sex offenders of both sexes often begin offending when employed as teenage baby-sitters.
Ban adults tickling, massaging and engaging in boisterous play irrespective of whether the children enjoy it; it is a short step from massaging to putting hands under clothing. Check out minders with previous employers. Were they ever concerned about their behaviour? Listen carefully to your child and ask questions about the games they play when you are out.
Drop into the child care centre without warning. Lacking child protection knowledge, parents are unlikely to question professionals but if they did they would find that few have been adequately trained in these matters. With knowledge you can be alert to potentially unsafe situations. You can ask to see a copy of the child protection policy of the school or early childhood centre; if there isn't one .. why is it lacking? Does that indicate that child safety is a low priority?
Observe whether children's rights and safety are respected especially in relation to toileting and nappy changing. Do staff respond sympathetically when children fall and need help? Are gates and fences secure? Do staff members practice safe hygiene standards? Are toys readily accessible or on a high shelf? Is bullying handled effectively? Is outdoor play well supervised or are children out of sight of the supervisor?
Emeritus Professor in Child Development
In the last two weeks we learned that South Australian Education Department administrator banned a school council from informing parents that their children had been cared for by a (now convicted) paedophile who had raped a young child. The parents were informed by letter two years later and, of course, some parents are now finding that their children were also abused. The issue has become political because the Premier was then Education Minister and his assistant failed to tell him that the man had been arrested. The premier supports his staff member because he thought it was being “dealt with” when it wasn't. Worse, the council was threatened that if they disclosed to anyone what had happened they could be taken to court.
Now we have senior police in Victoria and New South Wales having the courage to expose the fact that the Catholic Church not only impeded inquiries into child sex offences but competent police officers were removed from the investigations. Sadly, international research shows that abuse by clergy is even more damaging than incest because it involves God and spiritual abuse. Victims are often told that they were chosen by God to suffer the pain of abuse and, at the same time, they were made to take the blame by being required to confess the sin to the very priest who had committed it.
In addition, the Family Court continues to punish children who disclose father-child incest to their mothers (and others). The mothers are accused of training the children to make these statements and are required to undergo psychiatric assessment (but not the accused men who are given responsibility for the residence and care of the children who accused them). Mothers may have occasional supervised contact and the supervisors write reports on the mothers' parenting skills.. but no-one observes and reports on the fathers' parenting skills. Furthermore after ordering children to live with the parents accused of abusing them, there is no follow-up relating to their well-being. The reality is that no organisation is protecting young and disabled children from sexual abuse if they lack the communications skills needed to withstand rigorous cross examination by barristers in a criminal court.
Professionals working with children should read Freda’s latest book which was launched recently by Ita Buttrose namely Child protection – The essential guide for teachers and professionals whose work involves children, available from JoJo Publishers.
Emeritus Professor in Child Development
Dr Freda Briggs AO is Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia and author of "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids". "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids", reviewed by SingleMum.com.au here, gives tips on keeping children safe in a wide range of situations from cyber space and sexual abuse to bullying. The book is available in all good bookstores and can be ordered by phone on 03 9681 7275 or online at JoJo Publishing
You can read more of Freda Briggs's Profile here.
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