Our Opinion

Out of sight – not out of mind


A few weeks ago, Nathan Morris, an ABC journalist, was prompted by the death of a child who had been missing for four years before her body was discovered, to write an article featuring commentary by PeakCare’s Lindsay Wegener. Whilst electing to not comment on the circumstances of this child’s death, Lindsay did respond to Nathan’s questions about, “How does a community lose track of a child for this long?”

A few snippets of Lindsay’s response to this question included the following:

  • If the parents are quite isolated, those children can also become isolated and very hidden.
  • If they have no income, they can’t pay the rent, they’ve been evicted from their home, they’re already isolated from a community or from a family, then they’re going to struggle both looking after themselves as well as looking after children.
  • If you’re not connected, you don’t feel like you’ve got a belonging. If you don’t feel like you’re a member of this society and valued in the way that other people are valued, then you’re not going to seek that help — you’re going to stay hidden.

To read the complete article, click here.

The article was published in the B.C. era (i.e. Before Coronavirus), but perhaps now, more than ever, it is timely to reflect on what happens when children and their families become hidden and out of sight – hopefully, not out of mind.

On a daily basis, PeakCare is being inundated with reports from across the world about the impact of COVID-19 on child protection systems. Increasingly, these reports describe significant drops in the rate of child protection notifications during the period of restrictions being applied to people’s movements and contact with others outside of their homes. As these restrictions ease and steps are taken towards recovery, this phase is being accompanied by dramatic spikes in families coming to the attention of child protection authorities. In an article recently published by the Courier Mail, Act for Kids’ Neil Carrington described this phenomenon as the “eye of the cyclone” and gave some forewarning about what could be similarly expected to occur in Queensland.

Beyond many children currently not being visible to some of the major groups who report their concerns about child abuse or neglect or who might be helping families to access the family support services they need, we should also be contemplating the pandemic’s disruption to both the ‘formal’ structures such as schools, health services, business and job networks, and the ‘informal’ ones such as social and recreational networks, friends, family and kin, that all contribute to keeping children and their parents safe and well. And for many of these families, it will not be as simple as ‘picking up where they left off’ in being able to renew these connections when the social restrictions ease. Many will be left continuing to reel from the impact of unemployment, loss of income, difficulties in paying rent or mortgages, and the disruption to their usual support systems. For many, this will be a new experience – they will be entering unchartered waters.

This will pose massive challenges for both the child protection system and the broader human services sector. As pointed out by some however, it also provides us with some opportunities. As recently reported on by the Family Inclusion Network SEQ, a parent with a lived experience of the child protection system observed:

I was just thinking this whole COVID thing might be a fantastic segue into reducing stigma associated with people involved with the Department [of Child Safety]. If more people realise, or are willing to admit, life gets hard sometimes, and we all need help at some point in our lives MAYBE… just maybe… that stigma associated with vulnerability and disadvantage may lessen and people may be willing to be more compassionate rather than judgemental to those who need support. The aim of existence is to encourage and create a more supportive, loving population and who knows… Maybe this is the start?

Most definitely, now is the time to start preparing for the challenges facing our sector. It can also be the right time to start building the foundations for a re-invention of our services, our culture and our values in ways that are better than those that existed B.C. (i.e. Before Coronavirus).

Let us know your thoughts by entering your comments below.

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  1. Debbie Baker on May 5, 2020 at 4:47 pm

    I would like to know how I can help a family – any family during times of stress. Not just with Covid19 but with any type of bad situation families can find themselves in. I just don’t know how to go about it.

  2. Name withheld on May 6, 2020 at 9:59 am

    Very profound quote from the parent with a lived experience of the child protection system – great insight!

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