Opinion editorial | Dale West, Director, Centacare Catholic Family Services

As a community, do we think it’s acceptable that an eight-year-old child can be left alone in charge of two babies, aged six months and one year?

Does this constitute neglect? Is it against the law?

If somebody alerts police, should the police respond and, if so, what priority does that response deserve?

Is the immediate safety of three small children alone at home more important than issuing a speeding fine or arresting an individual for drug possession?

The answer might be yes or no but as a community, we need to decide.

Without a clear sense of where our most vulnerable fit in the pecking order of judicial, legislative and personal responsibility, children will continue to suffer on an unimaginable scale and effective systemic change will be restricted.

National Child Protection Week is an opportunity to ponder what part we can all play in protecting the young, alongside the government, police, the courts and family services.

We can no longer afford to hide behind red tape or rely on others to fix the crisis unfolding over the back fence. If we don’t adjust community standards in line with today’s reality, our responses to at-risk children will continue to date rapidly at their expense.

Take breakfast, for example. We know increasing numbers of children go to school hungry. Do we retrace their steps back home and find out why there is no food on the table or, do we just provide them with cereal and toast on the spot?

It is feasible breakfast will eventually sit alongside the curriculum in many primary schools if we keep feeding the assumption it will not be served at home. Is that what we want?

The next time you’re at the supermarket and you see a child being physically or psychologically abused, will you look away or walk on or stop to challenge the behaviour?

Will we realign expectations of social workers who are often criticised for working in homes where drugs are present? If we drew a line where it was 30 years ago, we wouldn’t have a child living in the majority of households in South Australia today.

Will we see children as treasures or burdens?

If a parent leaves a baby in a hot car, bystanders are all over it like a rash. But if a parent leaves a baby home alone, is the community perception it’s not our business?

It’s time we made it our business. Child protection might not top everybody’s list of priorities but it shouldn’t be at the bottom.

Dale West is Director of Centacare Catholic Family Services. Follow him on Twitter @DPWestCentacare