UN takes on the Vatican over children’s rights

Can-1-Vatican-2

The United Nation Committee on the Rights of the Child has strongly questioned the Vatican’s commitment to children’s rights, as reported in The Guardian [The linked report may contain details that could cause distress].

In particular, the committee slammed the practice of moving priests found to have abused children from parish to parish or to other countries “in an attempt to cover up such crimes”. Last month a Vatican delegation in Geneva for questioning by the panel accepted criticisms of this practice and said it no longer went on.

But the committee nonetheless noted: “The practice of offenders’ mobility, which has allowed many priests to remain in contact with children and to continue to abuse them, still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children.”

The Committee not only questions the Vatican’s response to the abuse of children, but more generally the Church’s teachings on abortion and homosexuality.

It is great to see that, finally, the Vatican is being held to account for the systemic failure to protect children.

The Committee will undoubtedly come under fierce criticism for its direct assessment of the Vatican’s appalling failings in this area. But religion has shielded the abuse of children, some of whom experiencing vulnerabilities and disadvantage that the Church should have been protecting, for far too long.

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Affordability the battleground for 2014

The June 2013 quarterly from the Department of Education on ECEC will be available later today [UPDATE: is now available here], and the political brawl of affordability has already begun according to Judith Ireland.

The Education Department’s June 2013 quarter report on childcare and early learning, released on Monday, shows the average fee, per hour, of long day care was $7.50 between April and June last year, when Labor was still in power – up from a $5 average in the September quarter of 2007, at the end of the Howard government.

”Childcare now costs the average parent about an extra $70 per week per child than it did before Labor took office – for the exact same number of hours,” Assistant Education Minister Sussan Ley said. ”That’s extremely concerning.”

Sussan Ley and the Government are of course delighted with these figures and we will no doubt be hearing a lot of them over the next few months as the Productivity Commission does its work.

Kate Ellis has of course hit back at the claim, accusing the Government of being “sneaky” with the figures (but with no further details, at least in the media at the moment).

Labor raised the Child Care Rebate from 30% to 50%, and have always used this as their standard defence against political attack on this issue. It seems unlikely that this will work this time.

As Sam Page from Early Childhood Australia points out:

Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page said with wages making up about 80 per cent of long day care costs, wage increases over the six-year period would account for a ”fair proportion” of the cost change. But she said Labor had not adequately funded a 2012 national quality framework, that included reforms such as standardising child-to-staff ratios.

Labor’s failure to adequately prepare for the implementation of the National Quality Framework, and the resultant impact on operational costs for centres and therefore fees, is now reaping the obvious political dividends.

As I’ve written before, the National Quality Framework was a significant and critical reform that was carried out by Labor. But Ministers Kate Ellis and Peter Garrett both seemed completely oblivious to the broader landscape of ECEC.

Raising the CCR was supposed to be their cover for affordability and cost-of-living attacks from the then-Opposition. But as was inevitable, this encouraged a huge uptake in the usage of children’s services, long day care in particular. This pushed up waiting lists, particularly in the 0-2 age range, leading to regular media reports on inaccessibility.

The new qualification standards by themselves were always going to see fee increases for a sector that has always struggled to recruit and retain qualified staff. The signature failure of the NQF implementation was the seeming desire of the ALP Government to pretend there ever was a staffing problem (until in an election year it became politically convenient to finally realise). A funding and training package for this issue, that covered the entire sector, should have been rolled out in parallel with the NQF.

The ALP will spend 2014 being hit repeatedly over the head with the accessibility and affordability issue. They spent their time in Government pretending that quality wouldn’t cost anything. Will they spend their time in Opposition developing an early childhood education policy that can structurally address these issues?

The Government will of course continue their attacks – but this potentially leaves them with a very tricky problem.

Going on and on about affordability particularly rather implies that they think something should be done about it. At this stage they are refusing to commit to anything before the outcome of the Productivity Commission report.

But by raising this as a regular issue for the public, the Government will at some stage be held responsible for it. They will have to look at measures to improve affordability. But this Government is determined to be seen as economic conservatives – it seems unlikely that further increases to the CCR or CCB would be on the cards.

But what are their options? In their terms of reference the Productivity Commission has been instructed that any recommendations must be “within current funding parameters”.

This leaves the troubling conclusion that the only way to reduce fees for families is to roll back quality standards, particularly qualification requirements and ratios.

If that’s the case, we’re looking at the groundwork for that announcement today.

Inquiry into children in immigration detention

child detention

The Australian Human Rights Commission will hold a National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention this year. It is the first such Inquiry in ten years.

Today, however there are approximately 1,000 children in closed immigration detention. This is a higher number than at any point during the period covered by the last inquiry, and the Commission’s monitoring work reveals that key concerns remain. With this increase in child detainees, it is time to look at this issue again.

This inquiry will be able to discover what has changed in the ten years since the last investigation, and find out whether Australia is meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The treatment of children in our immigration detention system has been viewed critically by the United Nations.

The Inquiry will look at a broad scope of issues affecting children in detention, including the affects of lengthy detention, provision of services and the experiences of children separated from their families.

The Inquiry will also consult with Megan Mitchell, the National Commissioner for Children, on implications for Australia’s adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Can the US make much-needed changes to its ECE sector?

Laura Bornfreund and Conor Williams have examined President Obama’s second-term focus on early childhood education in The Atlantic.

While early education’s policy reality hasn’t lived up to the last five years’ rhetoric, there is some evidence of a silver lining. Think of it like a rail system: it’s as though we’ve spent half a decade designing and laying new high-speed rails linking sparkling, as-yet unused train stations. We’ve invested in shiny, state-of-the-art engines. But we haven’t yet bought fuel or enough cars to serve all of the system’s young “passengers.”

President Obama has another two years of office left, and is facing incredible political hurdles. It remains to be seen if anything more can be achieved on this issue – which is a shame, as it can and must be a vital part of addressing rising inequality in that country.

It stands in contrast to Australia, where in 2014 we could actually be moving backwards on higher standards and greater outcomes for children’s learning and wellbeing.

ECA release pre-Budget submission

Early Childhood Australia have publicly released their pre-Budget submission to the Federal Government for the 2014/2015 Budget.

There is good evidence to suggest that early intervention and prevention programs in the areas of
maternal, child and family health; early childhood education and care; and family support programs
can improve outcomes for children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

ECA makes this submission to the 2014–15 Budget in the context of the Productivity Commission’s
ongoing Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning. ECA has welcomed this root and
branch review of the system. It will enable a thorough look at how the system can best meet
Australia’s needs into the future and there are a number of areas that genuinely need reform.

ECA’s submission features 2 priorities 9 recommendations to the Government as they consider their Budget for the upcoming financial year.

Overall, it is fantastic to see ECA advocating strongly for the full implementation of the National Quality Framework in the face of a concerted campaign by private operators (which ECA also represent) to see it rolled back.

The submission also focuses strongly on the needs of those children and families experiencing the greatest disadvantage and vulnerabilities.

ECA also manages the vital National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program, which has had its funding removed by the Federal Government. It’s a critical resource for the sector at a time when professional standards must rise, so I sincerely hope that ECA and the sector’s advocacy on this sees the program fully restored.

Listening to the voices of children

From April 2014, children from a number of countries will be able to directly take reports of human rights abuses to the United Nations. But not Australian children. Paula Gerber, Associate Professor of Human Rights Law at Monash University, explains.

Australia ratified the convention in 1990 and has also ratified both of its other Optional Protocols, one on child soldiers and the other on the sale of children into prostitution and child pornography. But can we expect Australia to ratify this latest protocol?

The answer is probably “eventually”. In other words, we shouldn’t hold our breath. Although Australia, under the Hawke government, was quick to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has been less keen to submit itself to the complaints procedures under various UN human rights treaties.

 Since the famous Toonen decision in 1994, which found Tasmania’s laws criminalising homosexuality to be a breach of human rights, Australia has been found to have violated the human rights of complainants on at least 33 occasions.

Australia’s history with the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) is complex. Despite ratifying the Convention in 1990, it has been slow to adopt many of the Optional Protocols.

Gerber explains that the UN Committee that oversees the UNCROC has regularly been critical of Australia’s approach to supporting children’s rights. Right now, Australia is actively placing children in danger in immigration detention. We are also receiving horrific stories from the Royal Commission into child abuse on organisational and systemic failings in our support systems for children.

As one of the most prosperous and secure nations on Earth, Australia is in a position to be a standard-bearer for children’s rights. It remains to be seen when, or even if, this will ever be the case.

UNICEF release State of the World’s Children Report

UNICEF has released its annual “State of the World’s Children Report”.

Thirty years have passed since The State of the World’s Children began to publish tables of standardized global and national statistics aimed at providing a detailed picture of children’s circumstances.

Much has changed in the decades since the first indicators of child well-being were presented. But the basic idea has not: consistent, credible data about children’s situations are critical to the improvement of their lives – and indispensable to realizing the rights of every child.

Data continue to support advocacy and action on behalf of the world’s 2.2 billion children, providing governments with facts on which to base decisions and actions to improve children’s lives. And new ways of collecting and using data will help target investments and interventions to reach the most vulnerable children.

As usual, the report includes some incredible statistics on children’s development, education and how their rights are being upheld (or otherwise).

The site includes some fantastic interactive explorations of the numbers that make up the global picture for children. Some of the incredible statistics include:

  • 1 in 5 children die before the age of 5 in Sierra Leone;
  • In half of the world’s countries, 80% of children 2–14 years old have been subjected to violent discipline

The report is interesting to read alongside “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving”, which also presents a wealth of data on how countries are progressing with children’s rights.

Upcoming changes to ECEC regulations

The Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley has issued a press release foreshadowing changes to the National Quality Framework regulatory system.

“The Coalition has a clear position supporting high-quality child care, but it needs to be delivered in a fairer way that doesn’t make it unaffordable and inaccessible for parents and providers,” Ms Ley said.

“The child care industry has said loud and clear that Labor’s increased red tape and regulations are some of the main reasons forcing them to raise fees and we’re listening.

“These changes will be a significant first step in improving the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

There is so much that is alarming in this short press release, it’s hard to know where to begin.

As I have said again and again, the issue of “red tape” is only an issue for people who don’t take their jobs seriously.

 “Currently all operators have to undergo assessment in seven ‘quality areas’ that require compliance with 18 ‘standards’ and 58 ‘elements’ just to receive a quality rating—it’s a bureaucratic nightmare,” Ms Ley said.

 

Assistant Minister Ley talks about the 58 elements that services have to be assessed against as a “bureaucratic nightmare”. This is absolute nonsense, and needs to be called out as such. The examples of the United States and Ireland demonstrate that a system without oversight directly harms children.

“But if it wasn’t complex enough, none of these regulations are individually weighted to represent their importance, meaning one minor issue could deliver a poor rating across the board.”

I agree that there is a discussion that needs to be had about the assessment and rating process. For many centres it is inequitable. But the standards themselves are great – in fact, the bar should be raised higher in many of them.

No specific changes are mentioned in the press release, but merely promises to “streamline” processes.

It is intimated in the release that there could be changes to qualification requirements and ratios.

Advocates for quality education and care should be concerned. Watch this space.

Terms of reference out for Productivity Commission inquiry

The Federal Government today formally announced the “terms of reference” and scope for next year’s Productivity Commission into “Child Care and Early Childhood Learning”.

The Government is delivering on its priority commitment to task the Productivity Commission with an inquiry into how the child care system can be made more flexible, affordable and accessible.

The Inquiry will identify how the current system can be improved to make it more responsive to the needs of parents.

We want to ensure that Australia has a system that provides a safe, nurturing environment for children, but which also meets the working needs of families.

Our child care system should be responsive to the needs of today’s families and today’s economy, not the five-day 9am-5pm working week of last century.

I’ll have a longer article up on this later this week, but this should be sounding alarm bells for all advocates for early childhood education.

The announcement makes clear that workforce participation and economic imperatives are the focus for this Government.

The sector will need to be putting up some strategic and sustained advocacy in the face of this.

Can ECEC close the gap for Indigenous children?

Over at The Conversation, Brad Farrant has looked at the latest COAG report on the National Education Agreement objectives.

“In order to provide due recognition and respect for Indigenous culture our measures, policies and practices must also be sensitive and responsive. We need to ensure that our early childhood development and education programs are culturally appropriate and ready for all children. This effort could also profit from having a close look at what is driving the success in other countries such as Norway.

We know what needs to be done in the area of early childhood education. But unfortunately, we are seeing government policies go in the opposite direction.”

As with a number of reports recently (including Australia’s Welfare 2013, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare), the COAG report points to some gains across broad objectives.

But, as ever, Indigenous children are still well behind their peers. Farrant argues that greater investment in early education is the best way to close this gap.

COAG’s next meeting will be the first test of the new Government’s attitude to the early education sector.