Children develop and thrive in the context of relationship, community, faith, culture and in experiences outside in nature.
Children who grow up exposed to unrelenting stress and limited access to strong and supportive relationships must make physical, even genetic, adaptations to survive.
These changes in their bodies and genes are important to their short-term survival, but across the life course, become the foundation for early and severe health and mental health problems.
This is not a truth for any one group of people. Our research has found that indigenous people are at no more risk for these consequences than non-indigenous people when they too are disproportionately mistreated in a society.
We are all the same biologically; it is in our social and economic trajectories and opportunities where the differences exist.
A child protection system that is funded and aimed at intervening after significant neglect or abuse has happened is not a response that can have any meaningful influence on the underlying conditions that drive maltreatment of children.
The politicisation then of child protection’s “failure” to protect children leads only to more perceived failures and greater regulatory and punitive policies for the agencies involved.
All the while, persistent vilification of the poor and indigenous as being unable to safely care for children continues, and in some places, grows.
This is the reality of present day child protection systems in Western democracies, especially in post-colonial societies.
This week I am joining with Samaritans, other child protection non-government organisations and Family and Community Services in a Family Finding Boot Camp. I am working with the agencies to uncover something I have learned from previous visits to Australia that can improve the safety and long-term health of vulnerable children.
I think of it as an untapped capability that can assist children who encounter the child protection system and restore many of the opportunities they have missed out on: relationships, friendship, teaching, access to culture and, for some, the care of the spirit.
Over four days we will engage family members, siblings, teachers, former and present carers and other important adults to join in and connect individual networks for each child.
These networks will fill a critical role in buffering these children from loneliness, disconnection and missed opportunities to have experiences like other Australian children who were fortunate to be born to families who enjoy greater access to the extraordinary gifts of this country.
These networks will share the responsibility and stand watch with child protection professionals over the safety and wellbeing of these children.
This will be all that child protection and network members can do until one day when the elected leaders in this country land on policy that gives equity and opportunity to all Australians, especially the First Australians.
I will state clearly here the child protection agencies and professionals in NSW are not a problem to be solved – they are an opportunity waiting to be realised.