This is the second year that I have been involved with National Child Protection Week as the NSW Children’s Guardian.
I remember thinking last year, as I do now, how vital this week is for keeping the spotlight on our collective efforts to protect children and young people.
However in my relatively brief time in this role, I’ve also come to believe this is more than just an important opportunity for the community to reflect on a shared goal of keeping kids safe.
I’m encouraged by the increased collaboration between organisations and the commitment by many individuals to maintain a strong safety net to help keep children safe.
But I’m also aware that we need to keep looking for better and sometimes different ways to do this if our approach is to remain relevant and effective to kids’ lives.
At the Office of the Children's Guardian, we use National Child Protection Week as a helpful reminder to challenge how well we think we’re doing in this space and to identify areas for improvement, change and growth.
This coincides with the production of our Annual Report so it’s a timely opportunity to apply those tangible measurements to our work and our strategic focus and future directions.
As a child safe regulator, the Office of the Children's Guardian uses a mix of compliance and education activities to help keep children safe:
- monitoring and accreditation of agencies and individuals
- information sharing with other authorities
- education and training
- promotion to encourage organisations to meet their legal obligations.
Ten years ago the focus of child-safe policies and practices assumed a more peripheral role in many child-related organisations, an optional adjunct to the more ‘serious’ and critical aspects of our work.
Since then, however, what has become increasingly clear is that a comprehensive child safe approach has to be more firmly positioned at the centre of an organisation’s focus to its work.
The recommendations of the Royal Commission only heightened the urgent need to have properly functioning, child safe environments as a key foundation stone for our collective child protection efforts.
Being ‘child safe’ can no longer be regarded as an afterthought or a token tick in the box for organisations and agencies - like the OCG - that monitor and regulate their work.
This increased awareness has resulted in major demand by organisations across NSW for strong guidance and support from the OCG as they seek to create their own child safe environments.
In turn, this means we are also thinking differently about our role in the child protection network, given our recognised leadership in this area of work.
How can we continue to deliver the broad range of child-safe campaigns, resources and training to help hundreds of thousands of people to better understand what it means to be child safe?
Part of our response is to begin to internally integrate child-safe programs across all our areas of responsibility.
We are also developing a ‘Child Safe NSW’ strategy that builds on our many years of research, skills and experience so we can continue to strongly engage with the community.
Our work will focus around four key principles established by the OCG:
- The organisation focuses on what’s best for children
- All children are respected and treated fairly
- Children’s families and communities are welcomed and encouraged to participate in the organisation
- Children receive services from skilled and caring adults.
While these principles are not mandatory they have been widely accepted by people working with kids as being a practical framework from which to work.
We want organisations to understand that creating safe places for children is as much about cultural change as it is about complying with legislation and regulation.
Ultimately, our key message to our stakeholders – the many millions of adults who are involved with children – is simple and reflects the themes of National Child Protection Week.
It is that our whole society benefits when children’s best interests and wellbeing are placed at the centre of what we do.
It is encouraging that all us here today are helping to get that message out there on behalf of all children and young people.