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by Cheryl Lacey, ©2020

geralt, Pixabay, License

(Oct. 9, 2020) — We need to protect Australia’s children. Few would argue against that. This acknowledged need, however, must be balanced with another: the need for a robust discussion about duty of care.

Duty of care requires people to act reasonably whenever they are carrying out a duty that could foreseeably harm others. Duty of care is cited in legislation at all levels of government and across multiple portfolios.

Childcare providers have a duty of care to those who use their services. Principals, teachers and support staff owe a duty of care to pupils. Most Australians have a duty of care to children at some point or another.

It is undeniable that it is expensive to clothe, feed, provide shelter, babysit and educate children.

Contributions from Australian taxpayers provide low-income support, childcare rebates, school education, family tax benefits, health care and more. When this isn’t enough, further assistance is available from more than 57,000 registered Australian charities, also funded by taxpayers. In 2018 alone, these organisations received a whopping $5.58 billion.

With so much money being splashed around and so many who contribute to children’s lives, who has the ultimate duty of care? Is it the taxpayer? The government of the day? Is it CEOs, principals and proprietors? Or mothers?

Is it possible that Australia is taxing its way out of a duty of care?  The more tax collected, the more there is to distribute. And if Australians do not make their desires clear, and if distribution is not in the best interests of Australian children, then taxpayer funded intervention will surely follow.

Although blame cannot be directly attributed to government involvement, if we allow the raising of our children to be subcontracted to government and other bodies, there will be consequences. Surely greater parental responsibility and intervention are worth more than the tax dollar.

A few disturbing facts:

  • In 2018 6,600 teenage girls gave birth to live children. The number of those who chose to abort is not readily available.
  • Also in 2018, more than 3,000 young people killed themselves. The exact figure is unknown, as drug overdoses from self-injection and single vehicle smashes are recorded as accidental deaths, and not considered to be suicides.
  • On census night in 2016, of about 959,000 families with a single parent, 82% were families with single mothers. More than 19,400 children aged from 0-14 years were homeless.
  • Children progress from one school year to the next, regardless of how little they have mastered in terms of new skills, knowledge and capabilities.
  • When the views of a ‘mature minor’ are in conflict with those of a parent, schools can ignore the parent’s wishes by citing the ‘best educational or welfare interests of the student’.

A damning situation indeed. And it gives rise to an urgent and serious question: Who, exactly,  should exercise duty of care?

It is reasonable to assume Australia has serious difficulty proving a clear answer, and urgent discussion is needed right now.

Cheryl Lacey is an Australian author, speaker and education. Her passion is to reform education with a firm focus on elevating educational outcomes by putting the right professionals at the centre of the right improvement and performance strategies. Her new book, “Marching Schools Forward: Discussions on the Direction of Australian Education,” can be purchased here.


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