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Adult support services prevent child abuse -

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Adult support services prevent child abuse

The World Today - Thursday, 11 September , 2008 12:56:47

Reporter: Emily Bourke

ELEANOR HALL: One of Australia's leading child protection experts is calling for a revamp of the
way child protection authorities respond to cases of abuse and neglect.

Professor Dorothy Scott is the director or the Australian Centre for Child Protection and she says
social services and police are working in isolation and that they are failing to protect children
because they are not treating whole families.

She has accused both sides of politics of lacking the political courage to do more to prevent child
abuse and its causes.

Emily Bourke has our story.

EMILY BOURKE: Professor Dorothy Scott doesn't mince her words when it comes to child abuse in
Australia.

DOROTHY SCOTT: We have doubled the number of children in state care in this country in the last
decade. We now have 30,000 children on any night under the care of the state.

As that increases and then number of foster carers decrease, we are already in the midst of a
serious crisis and until we start to really tackle it with prevention, we will be left trying to
pick up the pieces of damaged children at the bottom of the cliff.

EMILY BOURKE: As director of the Australian Centre for Child Protection, Professor Scott has been a
long time observer and commentator on the way Australian agencies respond to actual and potential
child abuse and neglect. She says it's time adult support services be brought in to help manage
crises and extend their help to children.

DOROTHY SCOTT: A whole range of services that are designed to deal with adults can actually prevent
child abuse and neglect.

They are adult drug treatment services, mental health services, homelessness services, correctional
services, disability services, refugee resettlement services, domestic violence services.

And if we can help those services see and hear children and work with the parenting needs of the
adults they are there to serve, we'll be able to prevent child abuse and neglect much more
effectively.

For example, if a mother is arrested, say for a drug-related offence, and she is the sole carer of
a child, then it's very important that police respond in ways that children don't come home from
school and find an empty house.

EMILY BOURKE: This model demands greater funding, more training and initially bigger workloads for
social workers, but Professor Scott says there's already evidence it works.

DOROTHY SCOTT: Certainly in places like the United Kingdom there is now a very big push to think
child, think family in all of these types of services.

The good thing is that somewhere in Australia, these services are already doing exactly what I
would like all of them to be doing but the obstacles are significant and it needs leadership by
state and territory governments, but it also needs leadership from Minister Macklin and the
National Child Protection Plan.

EMILY BOURKE: According to Professor Scott, alcohol is the biggest single factor that puts children
at risk.

DOROTHY SCOTT: One in eight children is in a household where an adult is regularly drunk. It is
responsible for over half of the children in state care being in state care. And while we've given
a fair bit of attention to parental drug problems, it's as if alcohol abuse is the elephant in the
room.

EMILY BOURKE: And that's why she wants both sides of politics to agree to a new tax scheme for
alcohol, well beyond the troubled alco-pops tax legislation which may still be blocked in the
Senate by both the Opposition and Family First Senator Steve Fielding.

DOROTHY SCOTT: I think it would have been better had a more wholistic policy been put forward of
taxing all alcohol products in line with their alcohol content.

But to see the Opposition and Senator Fielding politically respond to what I think is a major
public health strategy of the Rudd Government to begin to address this problem is deeply
disappointing. If we really care about vulnerable children, we will be working together right
across the political spectrum on this issue.

ELEANOR HALL: Professor Dorothy Scott from the Australian Centre for Child Protection speaking to
Emily Bourke.