IT IS ALWAYS YOUR PLACE when it comes to protecting a child

A child’s sense of belonging, identity, stability and safety, is crucial in ensuring positive outcomes for our children.

Working with children, families and communities across Australia, I hear repeated stories of children’s basic rights being breached. I hear stories that children feel that they do not belong, that they have no stability, they often feel unsafe and they are struggling with their identity.

The harm that has occurred and is still occurring to children in Australia at our schools, churches, detention centers, residential services and in foster care is a clear breach of the United Nations Conventions of the Rights of the Child.

The Royal Commission is highlighting that some of the very people who are entrusted to protect our children, to administer services, to guide them, are often the ones who are causing the most harm.

Children do not choose to be in care. They do not chose their parents and they do not chose their cultural background. They do not chose to be yelled at, to be abused, to be neglected and they do not chose to be unwanted.

Australia has a responsibility to protect children from abuse and harm in all environments, whether they live with family, live in foster care or have been placed in detention. Whether they are attending school or attending church.

This is everybody’s responsibility.

There is overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care and in detention. This needs to stop. We know our indigenous children are particularly vulnerable and Australia has an obligation to ensure that their culture is respected and they are protected. As a society we have the knowledge and the tools to protect our indigenous children but we are simply not using them effectively. We must listen and work with the Elders and their communities to ensure positive outcomes for children.

Regardless of the reasons as to why a child is in detention they still have the right to be protected, to be safe. The treatment of a group of young people in detention in the Northern Territory as shown in ABC footage earlier this week is not protection, not rehabilitation and provides no avenue for children to learn from their past behavior. This behavior is a breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child.

The abuse of children in detention, churches, schools, institutions and in foster care is unacceptable and the secrecy that has surrounded this abuse over time is a clear indication on how power and control is being used to harm children. The stories that are being reported by the various Royal Commission hearings are affirming the extent of the harm being inflicted on our children.

It is essential for Australia to implement a child rights framework that works and provides for the protection for all of our children, no matter their circumstances. The lack of transparency, representation and protection is a significant issue that often challenges Children’s Rights advocates and Australia as a society.

I have been fortunate to work with some inspiring children and their hope, spirit and resilience is something which we can all learn from. One young woman said:

“ an adult I have been fortunate enough to ask these adults from my childhood, from my youth, why they did not listen, why they didn’t do more when they met with me and told me they wished they did. Their responses at first floored me, ‘I didn’t want to rock the boat’, ‘there were so many people involved in your care, and I didn’t want to be the trouble maker” ‘I didn’t want to lose my job’, ‘I did try and I was removed from your case’, ‘I didn’t feel it was my place’…. I am here today to tell you all that no matter what your role, IT IS ALWAYS YOUR PLACE when it comes to protecting a child or young person who has the bravery to ask for your help….to do what is Right.”

I challenge you all to stand up and listen to our children, hear what they are saying and protect them. Children are our historians’, our future, they will be our leaders and need our support and positive direction.

IT IS ALWAYS YOUR PLACE when it comes to protecting a child no matter what your role is.

Neisha Shepherd
Solicitor Director

Photograph supplied by Ayden Shepherd –