September 5, 2019

National Child Protection Week 2019

This article was authored by Jeanette Miller, Senior Consultant
in the Parenting and Early Years Program at the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Fathers’ Day is not just about dads. It also marks the beginning of National Child Protection Week: appropriate timing, given what we know about the importance of putting children first whilst also giving parents the support they need to raise children.

This year, NAPCAN has based their Child Protection Week promotional material around seafaring metaphors, in the wake of recent research by the Frameworks Institute which shows that communicating with parents about raising children, is most effective when child development is central, and when metaphors are used to tell the story.

What children need to stay safe, is confident parents with strong networks. If we apply seafaring metaphors to that story, then bringing up children could be likened to sailing a boat.

Ideally, children need life to be on an even keel most of the time, but the reality is often much less stable than that, as parents navigate the rough seas of life’s challenges. For particularly vulnerable families, there are times when it must feel more like paddling a leaky boat in a storm,  surrounded by sharks.

For the children in that leaky boat to stay safe, their parents need to have an anchor or safe harbour they can access…if not literally, then at least metaphorically.

Strongly connected, friendly communities where adults support each other and look out for each other’s children, can be that safe harbour, while family service professionals can provide lifeboats through counselling, housing, childcare, and playgroups. If parents have had non-judgemental, accepting, empathic and enjoyable experiences in connection with community and professionals, then they are more likely to feel buoyed by those experiences, and more able to keep them in mind to draw on, whenever they feel they are drowning.

Providing a safe harbour is all very well, but as Grace Murray Hopper says: ‘A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.’ Parents need more than safe harbours to provide safety for their children, because the real challenge (for all of us!) is to brave the ebb and flow of life and to set sail in the real world.

Helping parents find the confidence to venture out into open waters, entails using creative ways of working with and being with, families…ways that involve deep listening, play, curiosity, acceptance, and empathy.

In some recent group work with mothers and young children who have experienced terrifying storms at home, and who are ‘all at sea’ as a result, we invited them to use the Ups and Downs set of cards from Innovative Resources, to shine a light on their inner experience. The cards depict a character sailing the seas in a bathtub…encountering both challenging and joyous situations along the way. The images helped some isolated mothers to articulate how good it felt for them to be with others ‘who know what it’s like to have to run’, and for others to describe how the support of the counsellors had been ‘like a lighthouse keeping us from crashing into the rocks.’

Whether it’s community or professionals providing safe harbours for parents, relationships are key. The authenticity and strength of our relationships with parents can decide whether families will sink or swim; find themselves shipwrecked or on a treasure island.

Would you like to find out more? Click here to read about the new NAPCAN video resource.