• A report from the Australian Child Rights Taskforce shows that 70,000 children received assistance from specialist homelessness services. (AAP)
One-in-six Australian children live in poverty, while thousands of Australians aged under 18 are homeless. Here are three ways we can help to reverse current trends and start to improve our children's future.
By
Shannon McKeogh

11 Oct 2016 - 4:42 PM  UPDATED 18 Oct 2016 - 3:05 PM

Despite two decades of strong nationwide economic growth, one-in-six Australian children are living below the poverty line. That's around 603,000 children who are living in the lucky country who aren't very lucky at all.

According to the Australian Child Rights Progress report, the gap between rich and poor is at its highest levels in three decades in OECD countries.

The report, released in June this year by the Australian Child Rights Taskforce, also shows that 70,000 children received assistance from specialist homelessness services in 2013-14. As at 31 January 2016 the average time spent by children in detention facilities was still 457 days.

“Australia is not the lucky country for many young Australians.” 

The document also highlights that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, LGBTQI children, children from rural areas, children with disabilities and children from migrant backgrounds are also the most likely to experience poverty, discrimination, social exclusion and disadvantage. 

“Australia is not the lucky country for many young Australians,” director of policy and advocacy at UNICEF Australia, Nicole Breeze, tells SBS.

“Children and young people need to be listened to and children need to be directly informing policies.”

Only 74 per cent of 20 – 24 year olds from low socioeconomic backgrounds complete Year 12 or equivalent, compared with 94 per cent of the same age group from high socioeconomic backgrounds.

Disadvantaged children have higher levels of contact with the criminal justice system and are more exposed to domestic violence. The most common age group for abused children was those under one (14.7 per cent).

The largest growing area of inequality is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, with 19.3 per cent living in poverty compared to 12.4 per cent of non-indigenous children. Indigenous children aged 10 – 17 years are 26 times more likely to be in detention than non-indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders children.

“Overall, it looks like Australian children are doing well – according to the 2013 OECD report -but we are failing to understand the needs of children that are falling behind,” says Breeze.

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How do we reverse the trends?

So what do we need to do, at a country and community level, to reverse these trends and enable all children throughout the country to live a prosperous life?

UNICEF Australia recommends three main areas of action that we need to focus on to improve the lives of Australian kids.

 

1. Put children’s rights first

“Children’s issues often fall down on the list of priorities and because they’re under 18 and can’t vote, they are falling off the agenda,” says Breeze.

“Children and young people are also the subject of decisions by adults, often without dialogue [that involves them].

“We need to amplify their voices by listening to the views of children at every opportunity, as a part of your family, in schools and the local community.”

She states how UNICEF Australia is working with the federal government to make a clear plan for children’s rights. The non-profit also wants the government to appoint a Minister for Children to create policies that address issues of inequity among our youth.

Breeze recommends people who are passionate about children’s rights to speak to their local member of parliament. Or, they can help local youth to do so for themselves.

Contact your local member here.

“This violence against children is worrying. We need to act now.”

2. Your vote counts

Breeze urges all adults go to the polls, voting for the party that supports children’s rights and has polices addressing social inequalities.

3. Action findings on child sexual abuse and juvenile detention

In 2017, there will be a royal commission into institutional responses into child sexual abuse and child protection and youth detention in the northern territory.

These major issues have been recognised by government as needing a formal public inquiry and investigation at its highest level. 

While the royal commission is a positive step, government needs to action change quickly to protect vulnerable children.

“We need to ensure that these reports get traction, otherwise we’ll still have the same problems in future,” Breeze tells SBS.

“This violence against children is worrying. We need to act now.”

Breeze recommends that individuals can stay informed of child inequity matters by following these commissions closely.

“Support a child rights based organisation, sign up for news and information and donate if you can.

"This will keep you informed and show how you can lend your voice to support and protect children.”

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