Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 21 March 2018) . . Page.. 788 ..
The Australian Childhood Foundation’s 2010 survey of community attitudes found that 28 per cent of respondents did not feel confident enough to recognise the signs of child abuse and neglect, and 20 per cent of respondents did not know what to do if they suspected a child was being abused. Fully 90 per cent of respondents believed that the community needs to be better informed.
Rudolph et al have suggested two specific mechanisms for informing the community: sending home information packs at regular intervals in a child’s schooling, and including child sexual abuse information in antenatal information packs given to expectant parents. In light of the fact that according to ABS data 9.5 per cent of those who report sexual abuse before the age of 15 were under five years old when abuse first occurred, it seems wise to make sure that age-appropriate resources are provided to all first-time parents as early as possible. This has certainly been the urging of the mother who is with us today.
Inclusion in antenatal information packs may be suitable, but materials could be included with other universal services as appropriate. Regarding the production of suitable information packs for parents and other primary caregivers, the Cummins inquiry notes in recommendation 10 that the range of existing expertise and resources already available through organisations like Child Wise and Bravehearts would enable this action to be implemented without delay. For this reason, I call upon the government to work with nationally recognised and accredited organisations such as Bravehearts and Child Wise to make sure that such information packets contain correct and appropriate information and reflect best practice.
I here wish to acknowledge that sourcing appropriate materials will not come without a cost. I wish to address this matter succinctly. The public cost of child sexual abuse is enormous. Just this week, the ACT government announced it has signed up to a new national redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse which will provide those eligible with counselling and psychological services as well as monetary payments of up to $150,000. A total of 5,152 babies were born in the ACT in 2016. As an illustration rather than a specific recommendation, age-appropriate information packs for parents can be obtained from Bravehearts for $35 each. This means that if each birth in the territory in 2016 had been to first-time parents, information packs could have been provided to these parents for just over $180,000.
I submit that if a single child can be kept from harm by the universal distribution of child sexual abuse information packs, the expense will have been well worth it. As the current national framework for the protection of Australia’s children states:
A focus on early intervention and prevention is more cost-effective in the long term than responding to crises, or treating the impacts of abuse and neglect.
The case is clear: with one voice, experts in the field have emphasised the need to better inform parents and other primary caregivers so that they can more effectively prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. Many parents have themselves requested access to such information, including the mother who is with us in the chamber today.