Increasing community concern and activism, combined with international and Australian media coverage of the abuse of children in institutions and in care, has provoked a widespread public reaction that indicates the scale of this problem may be far greater than previously appreciated. Although the headlines have often focussed on the sexual abuse of children, that is but one aspect of child abuse. There is a need for the Senate to offer its political support for a new inquiry into this pressing social issue of child abuse, one that will primarily target those not covered by two earlier inquiries. Those inquiries provided very useful insights into abuse and neglect suffered by institutionalised children and children in care, the long-term social and economic consequences of their treatment, the likely scale of the problems so resulting, and some possible remedies. Those inquiries concerned:
The need for a third inquiry to complete a trilogy became evident during the Senate Inquiry into the child migrant schemes. The Committee discovered that many Australians who were not the target of those inquiries felt they had been forgotten and did not have a forum to express their experiences. One prominent example is the Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN), a support group for survivors of a child welfare system that deprived tens of thousands people of a sense of identity, of self-worth and of their rightful place in society.
- The fate of the Aboriginal 'stolen generation' in Healing: A Legacy of Generations, the 2000 report of the Inquiry into the Federal Government's Implementation of Recommendations Made by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Bringing Them Home (1997); and,
- The horror stories of the fate of many child migrants as documented in Lost Innocents: Righting the Record, the 2001 Report of the Senate Inquiry into Child Migration.
To date there have been a number of state inquiries and reports into the area of child abuse and neglect, notable of which is the 1999 Forde Commission of Inquiry into the Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions; and, the 2001 Victorian Government Report, Audit of Children and Young People in Residential Care, which documents a chilling account of the abuse of children in the state's child welfare system.
It is an issue of such importance to our society, that only a Senate Inquiry can provide the forum necessary to:
- attempt to establish the scale of the problem of all forms of abuse and neglect of children in institutions and in care;
- evaluate the long-term social and economic effects on individuals and society; and,
- encourage governments to fund research to devise future plans of action and programmes to minimise future harm to individuals and to society as a whole.
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