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Empowering our Kids

November 21, 2012 – 9:51 am9 Comments

By Malki Rose
A government can only act as effectively and appropriately as the society that drives it. As a society we’ve dragged our heels where the rights of children are concerned.

Every morning we wake up, stretch our arms, and prepare ourselves for another day in a world where we profess to put children first, and where we wouldn’t stand for anything less than zero tolerance of abuse and mistreatment of children. But our inaction has told a very different story. While we give accolades and Facebook praise to those who speak up, very few would ever dream of acting.

In July 2011, the case of convicted child predator David Kramer was brought to light, and Manny Waks began his campaign against his alleged abuser and the institution which failed to protect him and many others. At that time, I wrote of a greater need not only to speak in hindsight, but to act swiftly to ensure that it is not another 20 years before individuals, families and society pay the price for the impact of abuse being committed today.

For all to act, not just those who have been abused, but also those who know of the abuse, regardless of whether they are bound by a duty of care and mandatory reporting. Mandatory morality should be by far the more binding value, especially in a community which prides itself on its moral high-ground.

After years of public outcry against the Catholic Church’s handling of abuse cases, and after campaigning from individuals such as Manny Waks,  lobbying by child advocacy groups and professionals, and submissions to government, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has finally seen fit to form a (limited) royal commission into child sexual abuse within religious groups and institutions.

The investigation has been welcomed by all as a positive step, but while the government launches its commendable efforts, the community must not rest on its laurels and presume everything will be fixed organically through this process. The need for advocacy and support for young people in our community is now beyond question.

The conversation has begun, lighting a fire under many, but terrifying others with the prospect of the sheer enormity and seemingly impossible magnitude of what is required. Blaming and politicizing will only further fragment an already dire situation.

Police investigations and legal process with several child predators must of course continue, but importantly only comprises the accountability or ‘crime & punishment’ aspect of this problem.  What is also required is a greater remedy at a preventative and psychological level.

Early last year, work began on establishing Australia’s first community operated Children’s Advocacy Centre in Caulfield, run exclusively to benefit , advocate for and empower children.  In its early stages, several focus groups and workshops were held with representatives from the Department of Human Services, Victoria Police, Jewish community support services, school counsellors, psychologists, lawyers, and paediatricians.

The objective was to examine the current state of services being offered by government departments and community groups, and ascertain how young people are accessing or able to access them. It was found that in some instances services exist but young people are unaware of them or unable to access them, and in other instances legislation, fear, or stigma prevents young people from being able to protect or empower themselves.

The centre, the first of its kind, aims to change the paradigm of advocacy and support for young people by steering away from terms like ‘victims’, supporting better education models, challenging current legislation, and removing community stigmas. Ultimately, the centre will work to create better channels to empower young people, and also better advocacy. The centre will provide much needed resources for emotional, financial, legal, and accommodation support.

The centre does not aim to reinvent any wheels already successfully deployed for the protection or advocacy of children, but rather will work together with government and community organisations to link into existing services and fill the many problematic gaps that exist between these valuable services.

In February 2013, the action group leading the establishment of the centre will launch the initiative at a working lunch hosted by Small Giants, a leader in social change. Child welfare workers and community service providers have welcomed the initiative as a productive and positive step forward in uniting current efforts being made by multiple parties to protect the rights and needs of children in our community.

The launch will be a unique opportunity for the action group, currently comprised of Psychologists, Lawyers, and individuals involved in Child welfare, to meet and discuss challenges and gaps. A three stage plan for the centre will be presented and workshopped.

To be involved in the Children’s Advocacy & Empowerment Centre or register your interest in attending the Action group launch, please contact Malki at mrpmanagement@tpg.com.au

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