Australia not immune to child poverty
One in seven Australian children are battling the disadvantages of poverty. Reuters
It should be good news for Australia. According to UNICEF, the number of Australian children living in poverty has fallen in the past decade significantly. However, the report has also highlighted there is still one in seven Australian children who has not escaped poverty - the impact of which some say has long-term consequences across society.
The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund's latest study into poverty in rich countries compares conditions in 26 OECD nations. It defines poverty as having an income below 50 per cent of the national median - which in Australia translates to about $26,000 a year.
It says the findings suggest that between 40 and 50 million children may be growing up in poverty in some of the wealthiest countries.
Norway came in lowest, with child poverty rates, at just 3 per cent. At the other end of the spectrum was the United States, with a rate of child poverty estimated at more than 20 per cent.
Australia has 14.7 per cent children living in poverty, which has fallen 1.7 per cent in the past decade according to the report. Along with the US, Britain and Norway, only these four countries reported a drop.
Barnardos Australia works with families who are having difficulties rearing their children and children who are at risk of abuse, or who have been abused and neglected. It sees about 8,000 children and year and also has a foster care program which deals with around 1,000 children a year.
Chief executive and director of welfare Louise Voigt agrees the 1.7 per cent drop is significant and says that evidence suggests that child poverty is not increasing in Australia. However she believes the figure of 14.7 per cent is too high.
"As a major charity working with the effects of poverty on children we think it's far too high...because almost all our clients are children living in poverty," she said.
"I think it should be an embarrassment for Australia and I think for some people it is...but most people would try not to think about it" she said.
Ms Voigt says the main area of concern is homelessness amongst families. She says far too many clients Bardardos works with are unable to find affordable accommodation and the cost of this to children is significant.
"If you spend far too long sleeping on friends' floors then it is likely your relationship with your spouse will be poor and you will often be angry and distressed. You may well not be supervising your children well enough or caring for them because your capacity to do so is lowered by options you've got available to you." she said.
Ms Voigt believes its these sorts of factors that then contribute to a bleak future for children because their physical, mental and educational development is restricted.
The Abused Child Trust works with around 500 children a year and says it sees a direct link between abuse and poverty in the families it works with.
Executive manager of programs, Fred Gravestock, says the children the trust works with are generally children whose families are reliant upon government social support and they have very few other sources of income.
He says research done by the trust suggests the abuse some deprived children suffer means as they grow up they are unable to contribute to society as they could or should.
"We know that children who are abused are more likely to end up having psychological and psychiatric problems, more likely to have school failure, to be involved in the criminal justice system, to be reliant on social services and more likely to be unemployed." he said.
In a report released 18 months ago the trust estimated the total cost of abuse and neglect in the community was around $5 billion.
"What is means is these people - apart from not contributing to society - they're also being a drain on financial resources within the community" Mr Gravestock said.
Mr Gravestock believes Australia needs to consolidate its approach to improving the lot of children in Australia.
He is calling for a federal commissioner for children to be established, for all children - not just those in care, as is the case in Queensland.
"At the moment we have lots of different interest groups across Australia - early childhood, young people, mental health - and I think a federal commissioner for children would be to united and provide a single voice for the needs and interests of children. Children are important to us both now and in the future - let's look and beginning to provide the support they need to be active contributors to our community."
The Department of Family and Community services says as some states and territories already have a children's commissioner in place it believes the creation of a federal commissioner would cause a duplication.
It says all state and territory ministers for youth meet at a
conference and this provides a forum for issues their departments or
commissioners have raised.
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