New Insight out: focus on vulnerable children. . .

New Insight out: focus on vulnerable children: better start, better lives

By .
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 28 January 2014.


The first 2014 edition of VCOSS’s magazine Insight starts at the very beginning – a good place to start in an election year.

Titled Vulnerable children: better start, better lives, it’s a bumper edition (56 pages) that has been published with the generous support of the Berry Street Childhood Institute.

With articles by international, national and local experts, it argues that we can’t hope for all Victorians to be able to make the most of their lives unless we look at the wellbeing of children. Not only are they the most vulnerable amongst us, but what happens to them in their early weeks, months and years – indeed in utero – has a lasting impact.

And this is not just about child protection, although that’s a critical issue. It’s about how we nurture children individually and as a community – whether at home, in early childhood education and care services or at school. We all have a responsibility to promote the best interests of children and ensure an ‘optimal childhood’ for all children.

It’s a timely edition of Insight as the Victorian Government implements its Vulnerable Children Strategy and as we develop priorities for the 2014 State Election. It’s also useful reading in the context of the current national curriculum review and welfare review launched by the Federal Government and as many families struggle this week to cope with the costs as their children head back to school.

The edition has been sent out to members and our other subscribers. Not a subscriber? Make sure you get your copy by ordering here: http://insight.vcoss.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Insight-Form-v4.pdf

Here’s a run-down on some of the articles featured in the edition:

The science of early intervention: lessons on politics, policy and practice

Neuroscience and common sense are decisive: the earlier we nurture children’s minds and hearts, the better lives they will live as adults. Yet, despite some tentative steps, we still wait too long.

International child trauma expert Dr Bruce Perrythe author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog (read an extract) – and Berry Street’s Annette Jackson look at the science and what is happening on the ground in Victoria, showing how vital it is that Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Strategy is properly implemented. They also say we might have to look at our own brain responses to understand why we don’t act when we could.


The costs of education, and poverty

“My mum struggles, she gets paid on Thursdays but struggles on the Wednesday. Me and my brother if there is no food for school, we don’t go to school at all. She has never sent us to school with no food.” – Billie, 15

‘Back to school’ is on the agenda for tens of thousands of families in Victoria this week, and most children and young people will thrive at school. But others will struggle: with learning and the costs of learning, as Gerry Redmond and Dr Jen Skattebol show in their article on child poverty.

Their research tells us that many children try to protect their parents by not telling them when they have an excursion, school camp or extra-curricular activity, or by choosing subjects to study that cause the least financial stress in the household.

This is a particular worry in Victoria as families brace themselves for the impact from 2015 of the decision to cut the Education Maintenance Allowance which has helped struggling families to cover the costs of uniforms, excursions, camps or information technology at home.

We say governments need to ‘join the dots’ on policies that affect vulnerable families to make sure that decisions – such as cutting basic support or fining parents if their children don’t go to school – don’t end up compounding the growing rates of school disengagement and child protection.

See the VCOSS State Budget Submission for more details.


Opening doors out of disadvantage

“I think there’s a stigma attached to this area and what this school is doing is flipping it on its head.” – Doveton College teacher.

Insight looks at a real education revolution taking place at Doveton College in Melbourne’s south-east, in the third poorest postcode in metropolitan Australia. It is the first government school in Australia designed to meet the needs of children from birth to Year 9 and their families, and brings together teachers, health, family and community services at the one, multi-purpose location.

Watched on by educators and policy makers around the world, its aim is to:

  • reach children in numbers significant enough to affect the culture of a community
  • transform the physical and social environments that impact on children’s development
  • create programs at a scale large enough to meet local need.

Here’s a sneak preview: http://vcoss.org.au/documents/2014/01/Insight_09-Doveton_College.pdf


Talking about national curriculum? 10 pillars for an optimum childhood

Those involved in the current debate over the national curriculum review will be interested in an article on ‘10 pillars for an optimal childhood’ by leading Finnish academic Dr Lea Pulkkinen on what really goes into producing great education outcomes.

Here’s a tip: it’s not just about education, but includes equity, health, nutrition, family support, social interactions, creative play, the environment…….and many more factors.

Dr Pulkkinen argues that it’s time to discuss our perception of childhood and what we expect from our children. “It is not just school, it is the whole childhood that affects children’s achievements,” she says.

Finland drew a lot of attention for dropping in the latest rankings of the Program for International Student Assessment PISA, after having been right at the top for many years, but much of the commentary overlooked a range of issues about the ratings and also, as the report said:

“Some high-performing countries in PISA 2012, like Estonia and Finland, also show small variations in student scores, proving that high performance is possible for all students.”


Warning of a new stolen generation

In an interview feature, Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos warns of the impacts of vulnerable Aboriginal children being placed under child protection at record rates.

He argues that we need to focus on approaches that ensure Aboriginal children and young people are better connected to and in the care of their own culture and communities, pointing to how Victoria should look to what’s being done in New South Wales.


Getting a sure start

As the Federal Government particularly looks to make budget savings, it’s a good time to look at the innovative work done for early childhood development in the United Kingdom through the Sure Start program and what happened in the face of the global financial crisis and shifting political priorities when the Cameron Coalition Government took office. In our article, Sure Start’s first Director Naomi Eisenstadt looks back and forward as the UK heads to another national election.


Other highlights

  • In Conversation: A Q&A with Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development Wendy Lovell MLC on her achievements and priorities.
  • Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Strategy is pointing us in the right direction, says Berry Street Institute’s Marg Hamley. But, she asks, does it go far enough, given all we know about complexity and the importance of intervening as early as possible?
  • The Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) allows us to shine a light on inequity in child health and development. Dr Sharon Goldfeld, Sue West and the Centre for Community Child Health AEDI research team look at children at risk and how community sector organisations can use the data to improve their lives.
  • For the first time in history, life expectancy of Australian children may be declining. Dr Lance Emerson says Australia would not accept such a downturn in sporting or economic performance, and argues that we need a bold vision for reducing child vulnerability, with strong and measurable targets.
  • We know the risks to children living with family violence, but the default response is far too often to move them into child protection, says Cathy Humphreys. She argues that adult services, particularly specialist family violence services, need to focus more on children’s needs and aim particularly at keeping, and supporting, mothers and children together.
  • The children of prisoners in Victoria are largely ‘invisible’, to the justice system and the broader community. Dr Catherine Flynn and Melanie Field-Pimm say it’s time for us to consider how they are punished too.
  • Children are over-represented in the homelessness system. Shelley Mallett and Violet Kolar from Hanover say the profound impact of homelessness on their wellbeing makes a compelling case for more resources and better practice.
  • What effect do child care and kindergarten have on learning, development, and social inclusion of Australian children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds? Dan Cloney, Tim Gilley and Collette Tayler report on the landmark E4Kids study.
  • Letter from Barwon: The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is heralding a new social and economic approach that will affect the way community services support vulnerable people: individual choice. But what, asks Lauren Matthews, does individual choice really mean for young children with disabilities?
  • Finally, what’s The Brady Bunch got to do with a VCOSS publication? More than you’d think – VCOSS policy analyst Paula Grogan outlines the “middle child syndrome” in policy and practice for children and young people, where a real gap in support has emerged for those who aren’t little children anymore but aren’t quite adolescents.

We hope you find much of interest.

You can subscribe here: http://insight.vcoss.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Insight-Form-v4.pdf