This week’s announcement that Families SA will be split from the Education Department and become a stand-alone unit was a profound first step towards systematic change.
However, the fact remains: if our strongest line of defense against escalating child abuse and neglect is a Royal Commissioner stepping in to overhaul a government system set up to protect the young, then we have a huge problem.
It is not the government’s responsibility alone to care for our children. Media outlets claiming that Families SA has caused the deaths of children is wrong.
I can accept “failed to protect’’ or “failed to act’’ but not “caused”.
Yes, the `system’ has been overwhelmed by the complexities of the issues it faces daily, but why do we continue to expect frontline workers to act alone, in isolation?
Government ministers have a responsibility to put child protection structures in place to protect the vulnerable but they do not absolve parents, families, or next-of-kin of their primary duty of care. Nor the important role of all members of our community.
If a child dies before being removed from a house where substance abuse and violence is rife, the system is said to have failed when it counted the most.
But how many other figures in that child’s life had an opportunity to act before the everyday escalated into the extreme, often against a backdrop of drugs, alcohol and generational dysfunction?
For all the substantiated incidents of neglect and abuse in South Australia over the past year, thousands of cases have been closed without resolution leaving children at risk.
It’s a sad reality that if every child exposed to drugs in the home was removed for assessment, the government would have to close down the Royal Adelaide Hospital to have access to adequate financial resources to meet that demand.
This is not just a government problem, or a police problem, or a particular person’s problem. It is everyone’s problem. As a community, when will we stand up and say enough is enough?
Commissioner Margaret Nyland did as much on Tuesday when she felt compelled to release interim recommendations on a system “in crisis”.
If we are serious about resetting the warped baseline that led us here, there are sacrifices we all need to make, not just the government, to keep our most fragile safe.
It’s not only about rescuing children, but preventing abuse occurring.
Where once parenthood was revered as the social institution that sustains children for life, it is now lost under an increasing scant regard for personal responsibility.
Ironically, children need more help now than ever before but as the daily complexities and stresses mount, the capacity of many parents to manage their own lives – much less those of their children – shrivels.
Our failure to treasure the young and place them at the core of our existence has resulted in the neglect of our most vulnerable on an unimaginable scale.
As individuals, if we don’t value and cherish our children, we can’t expect society to.
Dale West is Director of Centacare Catholic Family Services.