Not too long ago I assumed that those in charge of looking after their own kids were the best people for the job. How can a parent not want to love, care, and protect their own child? I could not imagine anyone harming or hurting the people they gave birth to. Forget giving birth to, I could not imagine anyone hurting children full stop. It does not need to be said that children are the most defenceless of creatures. They are tiny, their brains are still developing, they don’t have any real resources to defend themselves from the adults who see them as an easy target.
And then I came across the Baby Peter case. I was living in the UK at the time and read with horror, along with the rest of the nation, how this baby was most cruelly abused by his mother and step-father until finally at the age of 17 months he died of his injuries. The fallout from the case was immense, leading to resignations and firings of local councillors, local political party leaders, and the suspension of two doctors, one of whom examined the baby while he had a broken back and sent him back home with the abusers who broke his back in the first place. Reading of the boy’s injuries caused me severe pain and left me reeling with horror. Could people really do this to their own child? Yes, they can. And they do. Again and again.
Recently I read about Ebony - a little girl here in Australia who was cruelly locked up in a room by her parents and left to starve to death. The worst part of her case was that DOCS knew about her. In fact, they were alerted to her neglect more than once. A social worker even visited the home and was fobbed off by the parents so they actually left without seeing Ebony. Eventually the girl died of starvation – her body was so emaciated when they found her, it didn’t have the muscle tone left for rigor mortis.
Ebony and Baby Peter are one of many children grossly mistreated, neglected, and abused by their caregivers. If these children had been luckier they would’ve been saved before it was too late by the government agencies tasked with ensuring no child has to endure what they did, at least in the Western world. Their cases prove that not all parents are created equal. Not all parents should be given the privilege of bringing up a child. This is why almost 38,000 children in Australia live in out of home care.The life of these children, saved from situations of neglect and abuse, however, isn’t an easy one.
A study in South Australia highlighted that for those children in care, almost a quarter spent time in ten or more foster placements. Imagine – as a child having to move multiple times from one place to another – unsure of who you will be landed with next; what kind of person will be charged with looking after you; and what sort of conditions you will have to experience. And this is after escaping whatever horror you had to endure at the hands of your biological parents and/or caregivers. For these children, the constant instability has been shown to have major consequences, often leading to psychological and behavioural problems.
Reading of the boy’s injuries caused me severe pain and left me reeling with horror. Could people really do this to their own child?
The welfare of a child is an issue that should be regarded with the utmost of importance by not only society but the government itself. We live in the “Lucky Country” and yet many of our children are suffering deeply. The horrifying statistics speak for themselves – one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. I find those sort of figures shocking, and yet it seems we are willing to accept them. But we cannot.
Abuse has deep consequences for not only the individual but society at large. Children who were abused are more likely to turn to crime, drugs and violence – not only as juveniles but as adults. The knock on effect is stark. Millions are spent to stop the citizens of this country from drink driving and smoking, and yet we are unwilling to put that same amount of funding into stopping abuse – even though we know many of the criminals within our prison system were once abused children. We will readily put our hands up and say DOCS is vastly understaffed and underfunded, and yet do nothing more about it. We are willing to accept this because the victims are silent. They are children after all, unable to speak or defend themselves. Unable to put their hands up and say, I’m suffering and this is not OK. They are counting on us to speak on their behalf.
We need to make Australia a safer place for all children. Just because we would never think of hurting our own kids, doesn’t mean every parent or caregiver is doing the same. How many more children have to die at the hands of their caregivers before we say enough is enough? How many children have to be severely abused, like these two children from Gosford who were made to perform sex acts and filmed by their own parents, before we say no more? Incidentally, the mother in that case was also a victim of prolonged sexual abuse as a child.
The link is clear. Abused children quite often grow up to be perpetrators of abuse themselves. The damage this does to society is immense. For many children at risk the clock is ticking. I hope we take a stance and make a change before it is too late for another child.