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How we can put children first in early education and care

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National Child Protection Week runs from September 6-12. This year, event host National Association for Prevention of Child abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) celebrates 30 years of National Child Protection Week with the theme ‘Putting children first’.

Early childhood consultant and child advocate Nicole Talarico shares how we can embrace putting children first, and what we need to do to really make this happen in early childhood organisations.


Nicole Talarico writes…

National Child Protection Week offers a brilliant opportunity to refresh yourself on the abundance of resources available to guide you in ways to best protect children from harm.

However, having policies and procedures in place is just the start.

Every single educator needs to step up to embrace this year’s theme of ‘Putting children first’. It’s particularly important this year after the trauma many children have been exposed to as a result of the global pandemic COVID-19 and weather events we have experienced.

What is a child-safe organisation?

A child-safe organisation is one that creates a culture where children are central to the organisation’s thoughts, values, and actions. There should be consideration of children’s wellbeing in every aspect of service provision to maintain this deep commitment to child safety.

Plenty of room for improvement

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession from nations around the world with Australia signing in 1990. Our commitment to protecting children, who are “entitled to special safeguards, care & assistance” (Convention on the Rights of the Child), still needs to be improved on, even though thirty years have passed.

National Principles for Child Safe Organisations have been established as a guide to influence understanding and practices.

There are ten National Principles, explained in full in the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations document. In addition to this guidance, there are the overarching individual state and territory obligations.

In child-friendly language, the ten National Principles say this:

  • All people in the organisation care about children and young people’s safety and wellbeing and make sure they act that way.
  • Children and young people are told about their human rights, have a say in decisions and are taken seriously.
  • Families and communities know about and are involved in the organisation’s child and safety and wellbeing activities.
  • Everyone is treated with dignity, respect and fairness.
  • People working with children and young people are suitable and are taught how to keep children safe and well.
  • Children, young people, families, staff and volunteers are listened to and can share problems and concerns.
  • Staff and volunteers keep learning all the time so they know how to keep children and young people safe and well.
  • Children and young people are safe in online and physical spaces.
  • The organisation keeps reviewing and improving its child safety and wellbeing practices.
  • The organisation writes down how it keeps children and young people safe and well, and makes sure that everyone can see it.

(source: Childsafe)

As early education professionals, we are in a prime position to recognise and report suspected abuse and neglect. We are principal advocates for children’s rights and safety and from what I have seen in my time consulting over the past 20 years, many educators and organisations have significant room to improve on this aspect.

Here is how you can start the pledge to ‘Putting children first’

1. Know what forms of abuse actually are

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect
  • Self-harm
  • Family violence

Exposure to family violence is considered abuse, many people do not realise this because the child may not be directly involved in incidents but witness them.

2. Make it a priority that you have a thorough understanding of indicators for possible forms of abuse

Read through and become familiar with your state’s guidelines. NSW guidelines can be found here.

3. Ensure that everyone knows the service protocols and their individual duty of care towards children

In Australia, we now embrace National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, established as a guide to influence understanding and practices. In addition to this guidance, there are the overarching individual state/territory obligations that in some states are very robust & complex systems (and in some instances have created a barrier to action because of the confusion around the varying processes).

A child-safe organisation is not only making sure there are ample policies and procedures relevant to this topic, but it is also one that creates a culture where children are central to everybody’s thoughts, values, and actions.

This means every single person who works in a service, in a paid or in a voluntary capacity, abides by a code of conduct.

Everyone in a team needs to be able to recognise and know how to respond to concerning information or behaviours.

When reviewing procedures to ensure that you are putting children first, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do ALL educators at your service understand what being a mandated professional means?
  • Do you have a Reportable Conduct procedure?
  • Does everyone undertake training, even those not working directly with children?
  • Is relevant information included in induction manuals and orientation procedures?
  • Do you include everyone in the process of revising policies and procedures?
  • Is your entire centre community involved in discussing existing & new strategies to protect children?

Let me reiterate my last point, and rephrase it;

4.Collaborate with children when evaluating child safety at your service

You cannot have truly authentic risk assessment processes if you have not consulted with children about what makes them feel safe and unsafe.

It is vital to foster a collaborative approach towards everyone being agents for social change, inclusive of children themselves.

We need to embrace the many tools available to us as a sector, particularly those designed to inform children.

An environment of trust and inclusion means children feel valued. This empowers children to ask questions and speak up if they are worried or feeling unsafe.

You need to inform children about the measures in place to protect them.

5. Be unapologetically passionate about children’s rights

We need to be unapologetically passionate about including children’s rights in our curriculums. Leaders should encourage educators to be bolder with the content of teaching and learning.

Empower children to speak up for themselves and each other.

Invite children’s ideas and encourage them to connect with the wider community on matters that interest and concern them.

6. Make yourself and your team familiar with initiatives and organisations in your state/territory for protecting children

Are these organisations actively present in your setting or just listed on posters in the staff room?

Having a list of contacts in the case of concern is one thing, but having established authentic connections with key services means confidence in support, and guidance so you know what to do if a child discloses.

7. Embrace child protection every day and into the future

We must include the protection of children in our everyday practices as well as our Quality Improvement Planning (QIP).

Do you highlight your commitment to child protection when advertising for new enrolments or additional staff?

Is this subject influential when revising a Mission Statement or a service Philosophy?

Today is the day to start doing more

Use this year’s Child Protection Week as an opportunity to shout loudly about what you currently do (and what else you plan to action) in order to PUT CHILDREN FIRST.

Helpful resources:

The links below provide information about child safe requirements, initiatives and resources in each state and territory.

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory

Queensland

South Australia

Tasmania

Victoria

Western Australia

Related links

Other Key contacts

Nicole Talarico is an early education consultant and children’s rights advocate.

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