NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Report: July 2020

By Leanne Francia, NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Adviser

(photo credit: https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/get-involved/fellowships-awards-residencies/blackwrite)

The April report took a look at what life at home now looked like for families in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The July report expands on the impact of COVID-19 with reporting in the context of family violence, and highlights proposed changes to legislation inspired by the horrific death of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her children.

Family Violence

The already complex and numerous concerns regarding family violence have been heightened behind closed doors since the lockdown required under COVID-19. Concerningly, the number of children aged five to 12 years calling Kids Helpline spiked 25 per cent during COVID-19 compared to previous months (https://www.smh.com.au/national/kids-in-crisis-what-worries-us-is-the-ones-who-are-staying-silent-20200513-p54sjk.html). Queensland police faced the grim milestone of being on track to hit a record number of family violence occurrences, with 96,364 recorded so far – an increase of 8% on last year (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-26/queensland-domestic-violence-matters-of-state-politics/12369878?nw=0). The Queensland government had announced $5.5 million in funding for family violence, with support service DV Connect to receive $1.5 million, $1.7 million allocated for crisis accommodation, $1.8 million for enhanced services, with the remainder going towards an awareness campaign (https://www.9news.com.au/national/coronavirus-queensland-domestic-violence-support-services-get-funding-boost-amid-increased-demand/156cf98c-24e1-4cc0-aa98-5d0632d22efc). Finally, Brisbane City Council have adopted a domestic violence strategy which some argue, although a welcome step forward, does not go far enough (https://www.theage.com.au/national/queensland/domestic-violence-strategy-a-first-step-for-brisbane-city-council-20200526-p54wll.html).

Post Separation Family Violence

With family violence services generally focused on the intervention, assessment and crisis stages, a gap exists in support for mothers and children in the years following separation when court ordered contact arguably provides protracted opportunities for perpetrators of family violence to harass, abuse, and control their ex-partners and children. For those interested, Women’s Safety have conducted a survey of their members and released a full report on child contact, shared care, and family law in the context of family violence and COVID-19 (https://www.womenssafetynsw.org.au/impact/publication/child-contact-shared-care-family-law-in-the-context-of-dfv-covid-19/). The Commonwealth government has announced that it will provide $13.5 million to fund a risk screening and triage pilot in Adelaide, Parramatta, and Brisbane registries of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. This pilot, implemented under the Lighthouse Project, is a welcome step to improving safety for women and children in the family law system.

Hannah Clarke

This year bore witness to the horrific murder by a perpetrator of family violence of Hannah Clarke and her young children, that again highlighted the need to keep in public view women’s experiences of violence and trauma after separation. Family violence is a social problem that remains an indictment on our society. The Clarke murders provided yet another pivotal moment in which all Australian governments charged with monitoring perpetrator risk and keeping women and children safe, could further understand the risk posed by coercive control. The evidence base on coercive control is well established, but it is yet to be translated into comprehensive training for frontline practitioners outside the specialist family violence sector in Australia (https://inqld.com.au/politics/2020/05/22/short-lived-domestic-violence-inquiry-sent-precisely-the-wrong-message/).

            Hannah Clarke’s murder also inspired the introduction of a new bill to parliament by Federal Labor MP Graham Perrett. This private member’s bill is aimed at removing what Mr Perrett describes as confusing laws around custody arrangements (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-15/family-law-changes-hannah-clarke-murder-introduced-parliament/12356476?fbclid=IwAR0I13cZKF9IL7HZlkqYHwJ4jZXHS2BCkT9nCp-DPvKfr3njMoDMewqBAhM). This important piece of legislation is supported by Women’s Legal Services (QLD) who have an information page and petition for those wanting to put their voice forward (https://womenslegalservice.good.do/putkidssafetyfirstinfamilylaw/putkidssafetyfirstinfamilylaw/)

In summary, a continuing focus within the Child, Youth, and Family portfolio of NCWQ is the post separation context and women and children’s experiences of coercive control and family violence. In that context I am working closely with my counterparts in the National Council of Women in NSW in drafting resolutions to be put forward for consideration at the 2020 Mid-Term Conference. Please feel free to contact me with any input you might have in this area.

Women with a Disability

Lastly, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is encouraging responses from individuals and organisations to the issues paper by 11 September 2020 on the experiences of First Nations people with a disability to share their views about what they think governments, institutions, and communities can do to prevent violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of First Nations peoples with a disability. The Royal Commission is interested in examples of laws, policies, and practices in different settings that are not working or not working well in areas such as education, healthcare, workplaces, the justice system, home, online communities, and families (https://disability.royalcommission.gov.au/publications/first-nations-people-disability-issues-paper).

NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Report: February 2020

2019-20 Bushfire Events

It has been a devasting start to 2020 for many Australians. From September 2019 fires heavily impacted various regions across Australia. In New South Wales more than 100 fires burnt across the state. In eastern and north-easternVictoria large areas of forest burnt out of control for weeks. Significant fires occurred in South Australia. In Queensland affected areas included south-eastern Queensland. Areas of south-western Western Australia, and a few areas in Tasmaniaand the ACT were also impacted. Over this period, it is estimated that 1 billion animals have perished, 18.6 million hectares has been burnt, 2,779 homes have been lost, and over 30 people killed. Concerns also remain as to the effects of the prolonged smoke inhalation. 

The recent bushfire events serve as a sharp reminder of the different issues affecting women and families including healthy and safe environments. During disasters, people experiencing family or sexual violence may have additional marginalisations including isolation, homelessness, disability, being culturally or linguistically diverse, or being LGBTQI+. Families experiencing violence before the fires may face increasingly frequent violence post-disaster, when trauma, grief, financial stress, and loss of a home or employment may escalate their partner’s perpetration. Women and their children may also find themselves separated from extended family, friends and other protective networks.  

With research and some organisations suggesting that gendered violence may peak during stressful events it is vital that government and those at the coal face deliver timely education and information relating to family violence. In this context a checklist has been developed to support community workers and individuals responding to the bushfire event. The “Checklist to Keep Women and Children Safe after Natural Disasters” comprises a gendered lens and can be found at (https://www.whealth.com.au/documents/publications/is-57116-Women_Disaster_Snapshot4.pdf). Other resources that may be accessed by women following the 2019-20 bushfire events include:

  1. Find a Bed (http://findabed.com.au/)
  2. The Australian National University has produced a factsheet on how to protect yourself and others from bushfire smoke (https://rsph.anu.edu.au/phxchange/communicating-science/how-protect-yourself-and-others-bushfire-smoke)
  3. The Australian Psychological Association has provided information on how to psychologically prepare and recover from bushfires – including advice for those looking after children affected by bushfires (https://www.psychology.org.au/Australian-bushfires-2020)
  4. Website Ask Izzy provides general information on local supports (https://askizzy.org.au/bushfire-support)
  5. ANROWS has done up an opinion piece on trauma and children with a back to school focus on children’s needs who are traumatised not only by the bushfires, but also family violence (https://www.anrows.org.au/opinion/thousands-of-kids-are-going-back-to-school-traumatised-and-not-just-because-of-the-bushfires/)
  6. The Monash University (Disaster Resilience Initiative) have drafted a factsheet on how to ask if someone is experiencing violence during a natural disaster (https://www.genderanddisaster.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Disaster-is-no-excuse-for-violence-edited.pdf)
  7. Telstra is supporting a complimentary phone top up scheme for those affected (https://www.infoxchange.org/au/telstra-top-up?utm_source=Infoxchange+news+and+updates&utm_campaign=db63e045ae-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_01_08_04_11_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5c9798fcd8-db63e045ae-45619929)

Sexual Violence

A recent investigation by the ABC found that police reject 1 in every 12 reports of sexual violence as “unfounded”. The investigation analysed 140,000 reports Australia wide between 2007 and 2017 and found that 12,000 had been rejected. This disbelief of victims remains rooted in societal attitudes around false allegations, with 42% believing that sexual assault allegations are used to get back at men, even though 9 out of 10 sexual assault survivors don’t report, and false reports are rare (ABS, 2017). 

The Queensland Government is delivering the Queensland Violence against Women Prevention Plan 2016-22 and the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Strategy 2016-2026, and in 2019/20 will provide over $100,000 in one-off grant funding for activities and events aimed at helping to stamp out sexual violence in all Queensland communities through the Sexual Violence Prevention Grants Program. Along these lines the consultation period on Queensland’s review of laws relating to consent and the excuse of mistake of fact, closed on 31 January 2020 and submissions are now being considered. These are all important steps in the generational process of changing individual attitudes around sexual violence.

Family Violence and Homelessness

In Queensland there are over 72,000 social or affordable homes, with a further 5,500 under construction. However, 10% of the waiting list is known to be those at risk of family violence (2,200 out of wait list of 22,000). There is no doubt many more who are not registered. Coercive and financial control are driving factors behind homelessness which forces some women and their children to live in cars or motels. These women need not only proper shelter, but also access to services long term that will support their safety, stability, and recovery.

Family Violence and Disability

Submissions are open for the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disability. For more information go to their website (https://disability.royalcommission.gov.au/submissions/Pages/default.aspx).

Endometriosis

In the November 2019 report I discussed the national plan aimed at implementing an endometriosis education program in schools for girls in Years 9 and 10. To update I share that the NCWQ are now in the process of writing to the Queensland government requesting that they now take the necessary steps to secure funding under this plan. It is vital that maintaining good health be the primary focus of everyone.

In conclusion, our thoughts remain with those who continue to be affected by the 2019-20 bushfire events. In January 2020 the National Mental Health Commission made mental health recovery a priority by announcing an investment of $76 million (AUD) to support the recovery of families affected by the 2019-20 bushfires. It is important that affected individual’s access, or that we continue to support others to access, the relevant support services.

NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Report: April 2020

By Leanne Francia, NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Adviser

(photo credit: https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/get-involved/fellowships-awards-residencies/blackwrite)

Life for Queensland families has changed dramatically since our February report. In our April report we will take a look at what life at home now looks like in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report will provide details on a new Australian website for disabled women and girls, and finally, as with most aspects of life at present, this report will finish on a different note with suggestions that can support parents to foster their child’s engagement in learning and physical fitness during this period of isolation, and perhaps in a small way contribute to a household that does not descend into disorder and endless screen time.

Life at Home

Over the last month Queensland family’s microsystem has collapsed, and the macrosystems in Australia have profoundly changed. The broader exosystem’s of parents’ work, employers and employment, and teachers and teaching have changed. The separate microsystems of recreational activities, school, sport, and home have now collapsed into one place – home. Parents are experiencing extra strain as they either work from home, are now out of work, or working on reduced hours. Many are worried about their friends and extended family. For children there is no school, no hanging out in the holidays or after school, no visits to or from extended family, no team sports, no sleepovers with friends, and no large birthday parties or big Easter celebrations. For most children they have only the face to face company of their parent, parents, caregivers, or siblings.

Vulnerable Women and Children

Our February report focused on the devastating start to 2020 for many Australians with the 2019-20 bushfire events. Little did we realise what lay ahead for Queensland, Australia, and indeed the rest of the world in the COVID-19 pandemic. How quickly social norms have changed and again reiterated that in times of financial stress and isolation, family violence increases. The recent bushfire events served as a sharp reminder of the different issues affecting women and families. During disasters, women and children experiencing family or sexual violence have additional marginalisations including isolation, homelessness, disability, being culturally or linguistically diverse, or being LGBTQI+. There are now additional risks within the pandemic where families experiencing family violence are required to stay at home, whilst at the same time being separated from extended family, friends, and other protective networks. The Queensland State government has unveiled a $5.5 million dollar funding package aimed at responding to family violence amongst the COVID-19 crisis. Free child care has been announced and Accor, one of the nation’s largest hotel chains will be sheltering individuals fleeing family violence. We have not witnessed anything like this in recent history and life is not going to be the like it was for a while to come. Let us all be mindful to continue to check in through the use of technology on those most vulnerable.

Women and Girls with a Disability

On a different note, following on from our February report where we discussed submissions for the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disability, we would like to mention a new Australian website established for women and girls with a disability. In Australia over 2 million women and girls have a disability. This group is one of the most marginalised and excluded groups in the country. With a wealth of resources on rights, safety and violence, sex and your body, personal stories, and much more go to www.oursite.wwda.org.au.

Fostering Children’s Engagement in Learning and Physical Activities

In conclusion, as with most aspects of life at present, this report will finish with an altered tact and focus on some suggestions that can support parents and caregivers to foster their child’s engagement in learning and physical fitness during this period of isolation. With all children there are different developmental needs, personality, and learning styles, and these are a few broad suggestions that can be tailored accordingly. It includes modelling as a parent, observational learning as a child, and using items that may already be available in the home, without spending a lot of money. Some suggestions:

  • There exists a seemingly endless choice of technology and apps that support children’s learning. There are drawing apps, collage apps, math’s, literacy, history, yoga, Zumba, martial arts, science websites, and apps that promote children to solve problems, build, or create. Many zoos, museums, and art galleries are now offering virtual tours. Many are free to access; however, parents need to be mindful of security and limits on screen time.
  • Continue to encourage reading, and aim to read with or around your children. Older siblings might also read to younger siblings and support parents by giving them some uninterrupted work time. You might read a recipe or an instruction book, and then do that activity together. You could read a dictionary and start a word bank of new words learned and their meaning. Even if children are reading books that may not be of great literary value, allow them some choice what they read. You could create a story map with characters, themes, and plots and get children to make predictions about how the story will end. You could get children to collect items from the garden, or in the house, and make a story using these items. Your child might like to start an online book club with their friends. Maybe they can design, write, and create their own book. They might also want to keep a journal about their experiences through this pandemic.
  • Board and card games can be a lot of fun. Jigsaw puzzles. Craft activities. Can a family member who can knit or crochet Facetime or Zoom and give a child one on one lessons? Can children make their own toys from items around the house? Maybe your child can write a letter to a friend or grandparent and attach photos.
  • Let children choose how they organise their play some days, or let them be the teacher for the day and decide on a topic to teach. For those with a backyard, siblings can play ball games together. Parents or children might like to set up an obstacle course that changes each day. Children might take more responsibility for looking after, feeding, and walking pets. Treasure and scavenger hunts – both designing and taking part in. Skipping rope, painting pebbles, using cardboard boxes to make castles for pets, egg and spoon races, ping pong or volleyball with a balloon.
  • Putting on music, listening to music, dancing or singing together, playing musical instruments, or making their own musical instruments. Maybe children can put on a weekly concert/show for their family.
  • Taking photos of items in the environment (other than themselves) and perhaps create a collage. Or have unstructured play where children use items around the house to come up with a game or creation.
  • If you have tent can children set up camp site in the back yard? Do they want to learn more about what is in their environment for example plants, insects, or how things work such as a toaster, the internet, their phone, or what is electricity or weather?
  • Cooking is a great opportunity to continue to learn about volume, mass, ingredients, what tastes good together, or what might not. Can children create menus for the week? Playdough is an old favourite but might be more difficult with restrictions on staples such as flour.
  • Gardening can foster patience (waiting for the seedling they plant to grow). And don’t forget the practical stuff like fixing a leaking pipe – letting them assist or watch how this is fixed. Don’t take for granted chores around the house, where children can collaborate, learn, and contribute.

Parents need to care for themselves and might like to set up a regular virtual coffee chat with friends or other parents. Parents might need to accept that the home will remain a bit messier than it might usually be, and be more realistic about what they will get done in a day. Try and create some level of routine sooner rather than later. Above all stay safe, stay well, and stay healthy.

NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Report: November 2019

By Leanne Francia, NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Adviser

(photo credit: https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/get-involved/fellowships-awards-residencies/blackwrite)

Art Therapy Supporting LGBTIQ Youth

The Queensland Mental Health Commission funded Open Doors Youth Service to trial the PRIDE art therapy program in Brisbane, in which young people aged 12 to 24, who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, sistergirl and/or brotherboy (LGBTIQ+SB) are given the opportunity to express themselves in new and different ways. This art therapy program supporting LGBTIQ youth in Brisbane has gone on to win a statewide mental health award in the 2019 Queensland Mental Health Achievement Awards.

Black&Write! Writing Fellowships

Black&write! is a national project with a dual focus on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander writing and editing. It is the first project of its kind in Australia. In conjunction this national project offers two Black&write! Writing Fellowships annually to two Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander writers. The fellowships include a prize of $10,000, editorial development and publication opportunities. Black&write! encourages lifelong learning and literacy, and fosters a love of reading, writing and ideas. The 2020 black&write! Writing Fellowships will open for applications in late 2019 (https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/get-involved/fellowships-awards-residencies/blackwrite).

Sexual Violence “Start By Believing” Campaign

The Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence, Southport has last month launched an important campaign aimed at improving responses to sexual violence. Research evidences that first disclosures generally happen to a friend or family member. Sexual violence can have long lasting and severe impacts on victims, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, suicidal behaviours, and chronic physical health problems. It is vital that responses and reactions support victim’s wellbeing and increase chances that they will report to law enforcement agencies. This campaign is embedded in a philosophical stance that guides responses of friends, family, and practitioners. For more information go to http://www.stopsexualviolence.com.

The Queensland government has also launched its first framework to prevent sexual violence. “Prevent.Support.Believe. Queensland’s Framework to Address Sexual Violence”. A  whole of government action plan is to be released in 2020 (http://www.csyw.qld.gov.au).

Andrews-Hanson Family Law Inquiry

In the May 2019 CYF report I provided an overview of the findings from the Australian Law Reform Commissions inquiry into the family law system. At the end I noted “It is hoped that the Government  and all politicians will give careful consideration to these recommendations”. As has been evident in the last few months, this has not been the case. Instead the government has set up a further inquiry which is to be deputy chaired by Pauline Hanson. The Australian people were told to wait 18 months ago for the findings from Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry and now we are being told to wait another 12 months for the findings from the Andrews-Hanson inquiry. In the light of this new inquiry there are grave concerns moving forward that the family law system will become an even more dangerous institution for children.

Ms Hanson has been outspoken in her belief that women lie in family law proceedings. It is doubtful that women who have experienced family and domestic violence will feel comfortable airing their most traumatic stories before a politician who has already pre-judged them as liars. Over 13,880 individual letters have been sent to parliamentarians asking that this new inquiry be abandoned. And over 100 peak bodies and practitioners have signed a joint statement rejecting the legitimacy of the government’s new inquiry. The joint statement is also calling on implementation NOW of recommendations set out in the earlier ALRC inquiry. Jess Hill in an excerpt from her book “See What You Made Me Do” states  “Of the 87,000 women killed globally in 2017….30,000 were killed by an intimate partner, and another 20,000 by a family member. In Australia…one woman a week is killed by a man she’s been intimate with.”

People believe that the family law system is there to support women and children in family violence. Anecdotal and empirical evidence-based research put forwards a different perspective. In Australia today the myth that separation ends family violence remains just that a myth. Over the last decade I have interviewed  and spoken to many women about their experiences of family violence following separation. Over this time, I have also witnessed the struggles children have faced as they grew through adolescence and young adulthood having to continue to, either see, or be in the care of an abusive parent.

In September I presented my research findings into post separation family violence within the Australian family law system at the 3rd European Conference on Domestic Violence in Oslo, Norway. At the end of my presentation a lawyer spoke with me and said that she hears the same findings over and over again, and yet she is unsure of what she can do. So, what can she do? More importantly, what can WE do?

Together we must continue to advocate for women’s and children’s safety and rights. We need to listen. We need to listen to women and children who are experiencing family violence following separation. We need to not only listen, but we need to believe and support them. We need to advocate for them. We need to walk beside them and be prepared to walk beside them long term. And we need to start NOW. This is an urgent public health issue.

Endometriosis

And referring to public health issues – which I note is stepping a little outside of context of this portfolio, I would like to draw your attention to endometriosis. Endometriosis is chronic pelvic pain which occurs for a period of at least six months in women. Women with this condition experience a variety of symptoms and it is currently treated medically and surgically. Around 7% of Australian women aged 25 – 29 years and 11% of women aged 40 – 44 are likely to have endometriosis, which affects many aspects of women’s lives from social activities, intimate relationships and friendships, work, education, and productivity. One study reported that the average cost on a personal and social level to women is around $30,000.00 per year, putting the total economic burden at $9.7 billion per year (Armour & Lawson). Last year Greg Hunt launched a national plan, however South Australia is currently the only state implementing the endometriosis education program in schools for girls in Years 9 and 10. We need to work with our state government to have the program made available to young women in Queensland. It is important that maintaining good health be the primary focus of everyone.

NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Report: July 2019

By Leanne Francia, NCWQ Child, Youth and Family Adviser

NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC week was celebrated in July under the theme Voice. Treaty. Truth – working together for a shared future with a range of celebrations and activities around Queensland. July 2019 saw the launch of the National Indigenous Australian’s Agency which will be focused on working through the Reconciliation Action Plan adopted by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2018, to advise the office of the Prime Minister on whole of government priorities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Agency will take the lead and co-ordinate Commonwealth policy development, program design, implementation, and service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Queensland Rape Laws

Recent months also saw the Queensland government announce it will seek removal the 110-year-old loophole, the archaic ‘mistake of fact’ defence, that allows accused rapists to avoid conviction. The Queensland Law Reform Commission will consider this matter before making recommendations to the Queensland government in early 2020.

Reporting of Women’s Death in Family Violence

Sadly, a figure that is well known involves family violence where one woman a week is murdered by either a current or former partner in Australia. Greens Senator, Larissa Waters has now written to the Minister for Women, Marise Payne asking her to set up a national toll that tracks details of women killed by family violence, not unlike the National Road Toll.

Concerns – Queensland Children Being Held in Adult Watchhouses

Of further concern was the reporting in the news of the high number of children being held in isolation in maximum security adult watch houses, a figure which has reportedly surged over the last eighteen months. One such report involved a 12-year-old girl who had been kept there for nine days in a ‘suicide smock’. These children are normally detained when there is no room in youth detention centres. What is often difficult in these cases, is that these children are not serious offenders, but often victims of serious child abuse and neglect, and the subject of Child Protection Orders. Continued advocacy around these children is needed, with only available options at present, arguably causing more harm to these vulnerable children and youth.

Queensland Youth and Volunteering

Queensland as a state has the largest volunteering workforce and there is growing support for children and young people to volunteer in Queensland. Volunteering can be an important part of informal learning for young people and provide them with the opportunity to develop skills and experiences that support them in the work force later in life. Last year the Queensland Family and Child Commissioner undertook a ‘Growing Up in Queensland’ project which engaged 7,000 young Queenslanders aged between 4 and 18 years. Participants agreed that volunteering was a good way to gain skills and improve future employability, however they raised concerns over the need to be 18 years or older to volunteer. To address this barrier the Queensland Family and Child Commissioner and Volunteering Queensland are currently working with volunteering organisations to look at ways to increase youth involvement.

Family Law Reform

In conclusion, as was mentioned in the newsletter submissions have now been made at a State level in relation to reform within the Australian family law system. Since the reforms have been recommended the Australian Institute of Family Studies has been holding forums to discuss key reforms that are needed within the family law system. Change is needed and it is important that these issues, particularly as they relate to the safety of women and children remain front and centre of family law reform.

NCWQ Child Youth and Family Report: May 2019

The months are passing by quickly, Easter has come and gone, and the middle of the year is close. In the words of Dr Seuss “how did it get so late so soon?” This report sets out some upcoming family events, outcomes of the 2019 Federal Budget, brief discussion on recommendations handed down on 10 April 2019 from the Family Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into the Family Law Act, and changes in Queensland for 16 to 17-year-olds wishing to be vaccinated.

Upcoming Dates

5 May 2019                                         International Day of Families

5 May 2019                                         Applications close QLD Family and Child Commissioner – Recruitment for Youth Advisory Council (www.qfcc.qld.gov.au)

15 May 2019 – 21 May 2019              National Family Week (https://nfw.org.au/find-an-event)

30 May 2019                                       Applications close NCWQ Bursaries

1 June 2019                                         Global Day of Parents

2019 Budget – Family Violence

Since the last report we have had a Federal election set for 18 May 2019. Partial Federal Budget funding leading up to the election includes $328 million over the next four years to fund prevention, response, and recovery initiatives as part of the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children (2010 to 2022). The Fourth Action Plan addresses different forms that abuse can take, with specific measures to address risks faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and women with an intellectual disability.

Part of the $78 million for housing for women and children fleeing family violence was an amount of $10 million dollars allocated for Specialist Family Violence Services, that included couple-based counselling and dispute resolution services. Within this context front line services have raised concerns around safety issues for women in couples counselling and mediation.

The Government will also provide an additional $30.5 million over three years, in part to provide legal assistance services for those experiencing family violence, and $22.5 million for the establishment of the National Centre for the Prevention of Child Abuse. An amount of $10 million over four years will be invested in educating Australian children, parents, and teachers about how young people can stay safe online, with $7.8 million going towards the establishment of a National Public Register of Child Sex Offenders. 1800 RESPECT will receive $64 million to expand their services.

In relation to youth mental health and suicide prevention there is $461 million allocated.

In relation to education for children, the Federal government has provided $453 million to extend the National Partnership Agreement of Universal Access to Early Childhood Education to ensure that every child has access to a quality pre-school education for 15 hours a week before school. And at the other end, universities will receive $93.7 million over four years for scholarships for students who study at regional campuses.

What is missing however, is an increase to Newstart, an increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and provisions for superannuation for Australians in unpaid care work, the majority of which are women caring for a child with a disability. There also continues to be a lack of action on issues such as women’s homelessness.

Australian Law Reform Commission – Final Report – Review of the Australian Family Law System

In 2017 the Australian Law Reform Commission received Terms of Reference to carry out an inquiry into the family law system. The key themes that emerged from this inquiry is that the family law system is unsafe, does not enforce parenting orders adequately, is overly complex, expensive, slow, and lacks accountability. The Final Report was presented on 31 March 2019 (“Family Law for the Future – An Inquiry into the Family Law System”) and provides a road map for improvements to the system of justice, and legislative amendments. The Final Report comprised 60 recommendations and can beaccessed at https://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/family-law-system.

Perhaps the most radical recommendation is the abolition of the Federal family courts. This would leave the State and Territory courts to make orders not only under the Family Law Act (1975), but also under State family violence and child protection laws. The other recommendation is the abandonment of the 2006 reforms that spoke to the option of shared care, or equal time arrangements. There is no question that a child benefits from having a close and continuing relationship with both parents following separation, however where there is family violence, mental illness, neglect, or other complex issues, children are left vulnerable to further abuse. This recommendation is relevant to Resolution 7 – Rights of the Child and Protection of the Child’s Interests endorsed by the NCWA within the Third Action Plan (2016-2019) of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children (2010-2022).

Other proposed changes to the Family Law Act (1975) include provisions for determining what arrangements would promote the best interests of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children, and repeal of the requirement to consider the possibility of a child spending equal or substantial time with each parent. Property division has been simplified and there is a focus on encouraging amicable resolution between separating parents. Provision is made to assist parents to understand their final parenting orders and further supports in court, including an Indigenous Liaison Officer, and support for people with a disability.

Recommendation 50 proposes the establishment of a Children and Young People’s Advisory Board which would inform policy and practice about children’s experiences within the family law system. The ALRC also suggest that Section 121 of the Family Law Act (1975), which restricts publication of family law proceedings to the public, be redrafted. It is hoped that the Government and all politicians will give careful consideration to these recommendations.

Family Law and Vaccinations

For separating parents, under the current Family Law Act (1975) there is a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility. In these cases where parents have not agreed on medical procedures, parents have had to get orders from the court in order to get children vaccinated (http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/UTSLRS/2017/28.html). This has been expensive, time consuming, and has prevented children whose parents are separated from accessing services that are accessible to children whose parents are not separated. And although this will not assist separated families with younger children in overcoming these barriers, on 5 April 2019 the Queensland Government made the following announcement:

Teens Can Now Get The Flu Jab at Pharmacies

Queensland teens can now receive vaccines for highly contagious, preventable diseases from their local pharmacist. Minister for Health and Ambulance Services, Steven Miles said the changes would make it easier for 16 and 17-year-old Queenslanders and their parents. From tomorrow, Queenslanders from 16 years of age can now get vaccinated for influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles at a pharmacy, previously only GPs could vaccinate under 18s.

“Queenslanders aged 16-and-over can get their vaccinations without parental consent, so these changes will make it much easier for them to access vaccinations like the flu shot. This will also make life easier for parents with teenage children.”

Mr Miles said the amendments also allow younger Queenslanders to make their own decisions about getting vaccinated. “This is a step in the right direction for Queensland to reduce the barriers for kids of anti-vax parents to gain access to vaccines for preventable diseases,” Mr Miles said “it also brings Queensland into line with other states and territories.”

As well as amending the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996 (HDPR), the pharmacist vaccination drug therapy protocol will be revised to specify that a pharmacist may administer the specified vaccines to a person 16 years and older, instead of an “adult” as previously stated. Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said pharmacists provide an additional opportunity for vaccination for people who would not otherwise get vaccinated.

In summary, there is progress that is being made, and at the same time much more work to be done. Together we must continue to advocate for women’s and children’s rights. Remember “when women support each other, incredible things happen”.

NCWQ Child and Family Annual Report: 2018

By Marjorie Voss

NCWQ Child and Family Adviser

Unfortunately, the social issues affecting the community have not decreased, but appear to have increased.   This report brings to the fore some of the newer issues and touches on past issues still affecting people to-day.

Gambling:  In a report presented by Phil Mercer (BBC News, Sydney) it was stated in part that according to Dr Charles Livingstone (a gambling researcher at Monash University) “An estimated 200,000 Australians have a ‘high level’ problem with gambling while up to twice as many have difficulties at a ‘lower level’. On an average, Australians spend approximately A$1,300 per capita a year on gambling.  The next highest is around A$600 in Singapore. We far exceed any other country on Earth and that is because we have so many gambling opportunities.” The report went on to say “Gambling losses in Australia are at a record high after punters fritted away almost A$24bn in a year (more than half was lost on poker or slot machines in clubs and pubs).”  According to a new analysis by the Australian Gambling Research Centre an estimated 6.8 million Australians are regular gamblers.

What can we do about this when we are encouraged to bet during sporting fixtures broadcast on television; sporting and other clubs around the country encourage us to “try the pokies”; the Casinos encourage us to try our luck and so on?  Gambling can start off in such a small way but can lead to loss of jobs; jail time; loss of homes and families; domestic violence; depression and suicide to state a few end results.

Digital Environment: Information published in the latest Australian Council of Children and the Media (ACCM) Bulletin and taken from the Disrupted Childhood Report by the 5Rights Foundation states. “In recent months, concerns have been raised about the extent to which surveillance data gathered by government agencies may have been sold or shared with the impact not yet known. The current generation of children are the first to have data collected about them at every stage of their life and many parents start constructing a digital profile before their child is even born.  Children are stating they could not do without their mobile phone for a day; panicked if they did not know what was going on; reaching for their ‘phones in the middle of the night, etc. Teachers are complaining that children rely on their ‘phones and don’t engage with them at the same level; that many children now prefer to sit at lunch and play on their personal devices instead of interacting with one another. Many families only interact via their devices.”

Mental Health in Rural and Remote Areas: A report published by Mission Australia Youth Survey in June 2018 states that almost one in four young people in regional and remote Australia had a probable serious mental illness. While the prevalence of mental health disorders is similar for people living in and outside a major city, research has shown the risk of suicide rises as distance from a major city increases.  Research shows that these young people struggle to access the same level of support services as young people in urban areas.  They turn to family and friends for support, so therefore parents, teachers, counsellors and sporting coaches need to be provided with appropriate skills and support to help these young people.

Behaviour On Campus at Universities: Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is urging Australian Universities to continue the work needed to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assaults on campus and in residential colleges. She stated that all 39 Universities had accepted the majority of the Commission’s recommendations in the Change the Course. More information on this can be found on https://www.humanrights.gov.au/audit-2017   .

Bullying: An Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce has been established by the State Government.  The Taskforce will engage with children, parents, schools and communities, and experts to draw upon best practice research and identify community driven strategies and initiatives that address the complex causes of bullying and cyberbullying.

Other areas of concern being addressed in Reports include:

(a) National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell is calling on Australian Governments to ensure all pregnant and parenting teenagers have access to education, a basic human right and a crucial tool for breaking the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.                                                                                                                          (b) Australian Institute of Family Studies Director, Anne Hollonds stated that a research report found a need for increased support for Grandparents caring for vulnerable relatives living out-of-home. It would appear they were less likely than foster-carers to have access to professional support and training they needed for their roles.  This is despite having been approached in many cases by child protection agencies to take on the care of the relative.

There are so many areas still to be addressed such as the death of innocent children in custody battles; the ongoing elder abuse and domestic violence; creating child-safe organisations; the growing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care.

Affiliated organisations are urged to look at the social issues mentioned and consider joining their voice and ideas with those of NCWQ to address some of these issues.

NCWQ Child and Family Report, September 2017

By Marjorie Voss OAM

NCWQ Child and Family Adviser

Domestic and Family Violence; Child Abuse and Neglect; Child Sexual Abuse; Elder Abuse; Sexual Abuse and Assault; Bullying; Homelessness; Poverty; and Suicide. I addressed these topics in my report last year, but has anything improved during the last twelve months?

CHILD SAFETY: In June this year the Queensland Government announced it will inject $200 million over four years into the child protection system to fund more child safety staff to reduce caseloads; improve practice and increase support to children, parents and carers. It comes in addition to a number of measures to strengthen child protection and family support that will be progressed in 2017-18 bringing the total budget for child and family services to more than $1.1 billion. New projects are also being rolled out to improve awareness in schools and organisations of Child Abuse (Supporting Families Changing Futures). In my report last year I noted that this was the intention of the Government, and this shows that Child Safety is now a priority and necessary steps are being taken to improve the safety of children.

Although this might help in the protection of children, there is still the need to stop the root cause of abuse. In a report from the ABC in April this year it was stated that one-third of children who came into the care of Queensland’s Department of Child Safety in 2016 had parents who use or have used methamphetamines (ICE). Of the 749 children reported, 59% were neglected; 29% experienced emotional harm; 11% were physically harmed and 1% had experienced sexual abuse. How do we deal with this?

ELDER ABUSE: Seniors Minister Coralee O’Rourke has stated that the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit had received more than 1,500 notifications of abuse (up from approx. 1,300) in the previous year. This could be a positive sign that more people are reporting elder abuse or a negative in that more older people are being abused. The positive side is that the Queensland Government has committed a $2.7 million boost over the next 3 years to expand Elder Abuse prevention and seniors legal and support services to regional and remote areas as well as the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. It will also include the expansion of the Seniors Enquiry Line, enabling a strong focus on consumer protection and scams. With older people knowing they have support, they are standing up for themselves and proving they will not accept abuse in any form. Sons and daughters rate highest in the Financial and Physical abuse, also grandchildren. Daughters rate highest in Neglect and Psychological abuse. It has been found that Physical abuse reduces in the 60+ age group but Financial abuse increases.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: We know that the numbers relating to Domestic Violence are horrifying. We are informed that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15. We read that one woman dies every week on account of violence. It has been reported that 71 women died from violence in 2016. Domestic Violence (and any violence) does not affect just two people. It has a devastating effect on children, the extended family and the community. However changes are being made and in 2016 there were 9 fewer deaths than in 2015.

Governments are providing more money and resources to enable the notification of abuse and the access of services. Organisations, community bodies, schools, workplaces, sporting groups and individuals are being urged to take up the Not Now Not Ever challenge to respond to Domestic and Family violence. They are already making a difference across Queensland. Even the smallest act of compassion may not be able to stop Domestic Violence but it can add esteem and make a difference to the life of someone suffering or has suffered Domestic Violence. The ‘No More Silence’ campaign is an initiative that has been developed by the Domestic and Family Committee – Wagga Wagga (DFVC). CADA has been granted permission to re-develop the campaign in the Moreton Bay Region. It has been recognised that quite often women (and men) form a bond with their hairdresser or beauty specialist and will open up to them about problems they wouldn’t normally discuss with family or friends. With this in mind, a resource package has been developed to provide support to practitioners when they are faced with the disclosure of Domestic Violence, to (1) Enable salons to provide what could be crucial information to women who have disclosed their experience of violence and (2) Will provide the women themselves with vital options in relation to support and assistance. Access to this type of information could save the life of a woman or child. This is already working in the region and has shown results. One hairdresser is providing free services to some of the women who have been clients of CADA and this has boosted their self-esteem. She is calling the project “Hairdressers with Heart” and is hoping more hairdressers will join her in providing a service.

NCWQ is continually working towards achieving positive outcomes for the social Issues listed at the beginning of this Report. In June this year NCWQ delegates attended the NCWA mid-term conference in Canberra. Some of the topics covered were – Older Women and Homelessness; Economic Security for Older Women experiencing homelessness; Root cause of violence against women (addressing Pornography, Sexualisation of women in the media, Sex discrimination); Violence against women and homelessness in Indigenous communities and Explicit Sexual Imagery. An interesting mix for discussion of these topics took place with the young women joining the conference for the launch of National Council of Young Women of Australia (NCYWA).

As we endeavor to solve the problems of the Social Issues confronting us, we must be prepared to share our information and ideas, pool our resources and work together for the good of the whole community.

Further help available for homeless women

By Marjorie Voss OAM

NCWQ Child and Family Adviser

In February I received an email from the CEO of the Lady Musgrave Trust, Karen Lyon Reid which read in part as follows.     “ Today we are proud to announce that The Lady Musgrave Trust is launching ‘The Handy Guide’ mobile website application, potentially helping thousands of women without safe and secure accommodation in Queensland, to access services and support.

The Handy Guide is one of the most important documents we produce. It contains emergency contacts, sheltered accommodation support, legal services, health and nutrition services and counseling for homeless women.

The Handy Guide mobile website is currently available for Brisbane, but from April this year, the digital Handy Guide will also cover regional areas of Cairns, Townsville, Ipswich, Mt.Isa, Maroochydore, Mackay, Caboolture, Toowoomba and Bundaberg.

The Handy Guide mobile website can be used on desktops, smartphones and tablets. The interactive map allows a user to key in their location and find the services they require, which are closest to them.

If you are a Service Provider, you are also able to have a say in the content included in the physical copy of The Handy Guide and the mobile website version. Included on the website is a tab for Service Providers to update information or request to be listed in The Handy Guide.

We would like to acknowledge the support from the State Government’s Dignity First Funding (an initiative by the Department of Housing and Public Works), from Centacare and Griffith University. Without their support, The Handy Guide mobile website would not be possible.

To visit The Handy Guide mobile website, use https://thehandyguide.com/. “

Karen is encouraging us to share this link across social media, with family and friends and with any homeless or near-homeless women, we may come in contact with. If you follow this link you will also find a Media release from the Hon. Mick de Brenni containing further information and also stating that $50,000 was received by the Lady Musgrave Trust to assist with The Handy Guide mobile website.

While the above project will help so many homeless women in Queensland I have another much smaller but nevertheless caring project which is helping to restore dignity to some women right on my doorstep on Bribie Island. My hairdresser in her aim to give dignity to and support women suffering from homelessness and domestic violence in the community is providing two ladies (and their children) every week with free pampering in her salon. They may also take for themselves anything they need from two large baskets containing essential/luxury/children’s items which are regularly donated by my hairdresser and her clients. The various ladies who attend each week are recommended by Domestic Violence personnel and reports have it that this small caring act is having a positive effect on their wellbeing. My hairdresser is hoping that maybe all hairdressers on Bribie Island and further afield may choose to open their doors to provide this small but important act which shows that people care.

It just goes to prove that even though we need the Government and bigger organisations to work on the “bigger picture of domestic violence and homelessness” even the smallest act of kindness and “hands-on” help by individuals and smaller organisations can have a positive effect on those in need.