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Australian Catholic University child protection expert Professor Daryl Higgins has issued a call to action for more support to help families safeguard their children.

Speaking in the lead-up to the fifth anniversary of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the director of the ACU Institute of Child Protection Studies said a similar focus on children’s safety in non-institutional settings was urgently needed.

“Governments need to prioritise the role of parents and caregivers in the safety and safeguarding of their children,” Professor Higgins said.

“The Royal Commission shone a spotlight on serious problems and risks to children in institutional settings and resulted in a raft of measures to safeguard children in youth-serving organisations.

“But research has shown time and time again that the same problems and risks exist in non-institutional settings. We now need a similar nationwide focus on safeguarding within families.”

Professor Higgins said all families needed: Clear guidance about good parenting practices and access to evidence-based parenting supports; Dedicated services to help build their capability and skills to create safe environments; Strategies to address children’s behavioural issues without smacking or using other forms of violence; Education to be able to identify signs and reduce the risk of grooming; Background knowledge and facts to help them have informed discussions with their children about sex and sexuality, respect and relationships, consent and coercion, and boundaries.

“As a society, we need to support families to be primary protective agents in the lives of their children, and not just rely on youth-serving organisations,” Professor Higgins said.

“We need to build the literacy of families to have these crucial conversations. It is highly unlikely that a child will speak up about feeling uncomfortable or seek help if they are at risk if we don’t build that foundation first.”


Royal Commission anniversary highlights the need to also safeguard children in non institutional family settings (ACU)