Everyone has a role to play in keeping children and young people safe from harm.
Parents are usually the most important adults in a child’s life, but they are not the only adults who are responsible for children’s safety. Children should be safe in all the places that they live, grow, learn and play. This includes the home, the family, the community, the school and the services and places they visit and attend.
Children will be safest if everyone they encounter is committed to keeping them safe from harm. It is a shared responsibility.
Research and practice have found that community partnerships can help to keep children safe. These partnerships include other family members, friends, those that work with and encounter children and young people, and children and young people themselves. The responsibility for keeping a child safe from harm is shared with all these people and the institutions that they belong to and work for.
Building a network of committed and caring adults and children that look out for each other and give special attention to the protection of each child is probably the strongest guarantee of safety. Keeping children safe involves talking about safety with each child and every adult in their lives.
Preventing child sexual abuse involves strong measures that safeguard children and young people from harm and keeping them safe. Safeguarding is the process of preventing children’s exposure to and involvement in sexually abusive behaviours and environments. It helps prevent harm to a child’s physical health and development, and mental wellbeing.
Child safety and protection from sexual abuse came under the spotlight during the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that began in 2013. In the findings released in 2017, the Royal Commission stated that organisational leaders—CEOs and bishops, principals, managers, ministers or priests, team leaders and other practice leaders—must drive cultural change that improves safety, and better manage situational risks. It also highlighted the need to support the participation of children and young people in institutions, including by listening to what makes them feel safe or unsafe.
Need for cultural change
Preventing child sexual abuse requires the cultures of organisations to change. Sustainable change can occur when attitudes such as the following change: victim-blaming, lack of clarification of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours of adults, ignoring or tolerating breaches, and power imbalances where children and young people feel unable to speak up about abuse or concerns.
Prevention strategies can help address abuse in institutions. They can also address abuse within families, a risk factor in sexual, physical and emotional abuse, family violence and neglect. Different forms of abuse can all benefit from a public health approach that includes providing supports for parents and carers in a variety of settings and that combines universal and targeted positive parenting interventions to support and protect children.
All of us, including children and young people and their parents, need to understand the impact of authority, power and influence on decisions about relationships. This is particularly important for the decisions that we make involving intimate and physical interactions.
It is a myth that children who are knowledgeable of the mechanics of sex are more likely to be engaging in sex. Research tells us children who are well informed and comfortable in talking about sexuality with their parents are less likely to have intercourse when they are adolescents. In fact, lack of information poses greater risks.