Category Archive: Press/Media

NAPCAN in the news, article in the Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2014 by Sue Williams

Maureen Moran with posters designed by teens in the Love Bites program. Photo: Fiona Morris

Teens take a stand against violence

An innovative education program is helping teens tackle the issue of sexual assault head-on.

A girl goes to a party at a mate’s house, gets drunk, goes to the bathroom and lies down in a stupor in the empty bathtub. A boy then follows her into the room and has sex with her where she lies. She blacks out and wakes to find him gone. Did he have consent for that act?

Immediately after this scenario is relayed to a group of high school students, the hushed room explodes into animated conversation.

”She shouldn’t have behaved like that,” exclaims 15-year-old Ellen* indignantly, her neat ponytail bobbing as she shakes her head. ”She should have taken responsibility.”

Michael*, 14 – perhaps surprisingly – disagrees completely. ”But he should never have taken advantage of that situation,” he says. ”That was wrong, wrong, wrong.”

The spirited debate in the clusters of 14-, 15- and 16-year-old students who’ve just been shown a DVD surges on, with some voices raised and others softly murmuring. Was the girl at fault, or the boy? Who was really to blame?

After 20 minutes, the 30 youngsters sitting in a common room at a school in Sydney’s south come up with their verdict: No, she was drunk and wasn’t capable of giving consent. The boy had no right to force himself on her; it was sexual assault.

The adult in charge of this session, Maureen Moran, smiles. This is the answer she was hoping for.

”A lot of young people believe that assault and violence is a normal part of a relationship,” she says later. ”They may have learned that from their own family dynamics or from their friends or from TV and films and Facebook. We know they’ve maybe not had conversations like this before about violence, and are often confused. So it’s great to get them thinking about these issues, and talking.

”It’s a very powerful way of starting to effect generational change in people’s attitudes in society.”

These young people are taking part in a revolutionary day-long program that’s been rolled out into schools, youth centres and juvenile justice facilities in 120 communities across NSW, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, and is just about to be exported into Victoria and South Australia.

Called Love Bites, it’s a prevention program for domestic and family violence and sexual assault, designed and run by the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN), and applauded by teachers, police and community workers alike. There are also associated programs for younger children, All Children Being Safe for four- to eight-year-olds, and Growing Respect, teaching seven- to 12-year-olds about respectful relationships.

The programs are becoming phenomenally popular among those who’ve experienced them, and have been recognised as so innovative, they have attracted funding from as far away as Switzerland. Canadian experts are now studying them, New Zealand has asked for a training program and Thailand is now running one in a number of its primary schools, and planning a major roll-out into many more.

In Australia, child abuse, assault and neglect have been constantly in the headlines over the past two years, from harrowing inquiries into child sexual abuse in various states and rows about a lack of child protection workers in NSW and Victoria, to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures showing a 6.6 per cent rise in the national number of notifications of suspected child abuse and neglect on the previous year.

This month, a major study conducted by the Australian National University, Children, Communities and Social Capital, revealed that many children don’t feel safe in their community, are fearful and distrustful of strangers, are frightened of car-related aggression and violence, and feel vulnerable and scared when people are drinking alcohol.

In addition, a recent Fairfax Media investigation found that domestic violence is responsible for three-quarters of the deaths of women in NSW, and two in five of all homicides and assaults in NSW.

But amid all the misery, these new proactive programs to make young people aware of how to protect themselves and help prevent abuse – and to change their own attitudes to violence in the hope they won’t ever become assailants themselves – are providing real hope for the future.

At Engadine High School, for instance, where Extra watched its first Love Bites sessions, there was an assembly for year 10, 11 and 12 students that same week. The newly elected male school captain Kyle Richardson took the stage and invited all the boys and male staff in the audience to stand up and, with him, take the White Ribbon oath to end male violence against women.

Sitting in the front row of the audience, deputy principal Paul Owens felt a moment of panic. ”None of us knew he was going to do that, and my immediate reaction was, ‘Oh my god! What if no one stands?”’ he says. ”There was a moment of absolute silence. And then I could hear movement behind me and all the males in the audience rose as one. It brought tears to so many people’s eyes to see that happen.”

The next week, a group of 13-, 14- and 15-year-old girls came to his office and shyly asked to come in. Then, they told him about a friend they were worried about who was experiencing domestic violence. ”That was so heart-warming to see,” says Owens. ”One of the key parts of the program is about not staying silent on violence and pretend it’s not happening, so it was wonderful to have these students taking that message on board, and whereas once they might have let it slide, they were now taking action because, as the program teaches us, that’s what mates do.”

It’s those kind of results that have heartened those who’ve designed Love Bites.

Maureen Moran was a former school director and social worker anguished at never having enough resources to manage the growing number of cases of at-risk kids. She then collaborated with Women’s Health on the mid-north coast of NSW, and created the program in a bid to try to stem the tide of domestic violence and relationship abuse in the area, to develop and extend it. The pair were joined at NAPCAN by Leesa Waters to help implement and train more people to run the courses.

Waters had despaired, after 20 years in child protection, of the lack of inroads the system was making. It came to a head when she saw a father in a courtroom whose children were being taken away from him. Twenty years before, she’d been the one to recommend he be taken into care. She could see for herself the relentless cycle of family violence continuing unabated.

”It was so depressing to think I’d invested my life in trying to help children, yet it didn’t seem to be making a difference,” she says. ”The violence and child abuse was intergenerational. By the time we became involved, the damage had already been done. I felt there had to be an alternative.

”So these programs have the capacity to get in early and help empower young people, support them and educate them about what’s OK and what’s not. You watch young people going through these programs and the light bulbs go on; they might understand what’s happening in their own families isn’t right, and are able to seek assistance. They have hope. And it also allows all the various agencies to collaborate and work together to achieve successful outcomes in the future.”

Love Bites involves kids watching films about both domestic and family violence and sexual assault, talking about the issues, and taking part in a number of exercises to define what’s acceptable and what’s not. They also hear some of the shocking statistics of violence in Australia: nearly two-thirds of women reporting experiencing at least one incident of physical or sexual violence (Australian Institute of Criminology National Survey); violence against women as the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15-44 (Vic Health); alcohol and drugs being a factor in 48.5 per cent of assaults (Bureau of Statistics); one in three young people experiencing physical violence in personal relationships (ABS).

Another session has them voting Fact or Crap on a number of statements, including the idea that violence is merely part of being a man, alcohol is the only cause of violence, and whether some women provoke men into hitting them. The message being hammered home is straightforward: Violence is always a choice – and it’s a bad one.

In the Northern Territory, where some communities have a very high level of intergenerational violence, senior project officer Ellen Poyner has seen first-hand the changes that can come about. One young man saw a film shown about a party in which a number of girls end up being assaulted, and approached her later.

”If I hadn’t seen that and talked about it, I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing some of that same disrespectful stuff,” he told her. ”But there’s no way I’d do that now!”

She was heartened. ”It’s very easy in a community that has a lot of violence to become focused just on supporting victims,” she says. ”But prevention is such a new field in Australia, and it’s amazing to be having these kinds of conversations with people and getting such great feedback about how confident young people can now feel about what’s a healthy relationship and what’s not.”

The young people on the program end the day by developing a piece of artwork or performance about what they’ve learned. The results have ranged from rap songs to poetry to posters. The images and messages can be both shocking, and liberating. ”Dumbestic Violence – It’s not smart,” reads one; ”We don’t dress for sex, we dress to impress” and ‘Hands Up, speak out against domestic violence”, read others.

”Working in violence prevention is about working in hope rather than despair,” says Bonnie Souter, who in her work at a women’s refuge in country NSW has taken the program to the refuge, schools and young offender centres. ”The day is all about the young people’s views and ideas being challenged, and they go straight in with honesty and sincerity. The program’s always been a success.

”They want to be good boyfriends and girlfriends, they want respectful relationships, and the program empowers them and enables them to … become the next generation of leaders.”

More than 92 per cent of 2500 comments so far say the teens have learnt something from the program.

For Michael and Ellen, their Love Bites day feels like a game-changer. ”It was good to get important things clear and help you decide where you stand,” says Michael. And for Ellen: ”I learnt a lot about sexual assault and the impact it can have,” she says.

Michael and Ellen’s names have been changed to protect their identities.


Program an eye-opener

There were moments during the Love Bites day when 16-year-old schoolgirl Maddie Kemlo felt quite emotional. Seeing the real-life story of a young woman who was beaten almost to death by her boyfriend, then the DVD of a party scenario where girls are abused, and following up with discussions of the issues with her schoolmates, was confronting at times.

”But it was really eye-opening,” says Maddie, a student at Engadine High School. ”I knew issues like domestic violence and sexual assault occurred but I had no idea how prevalent they are in society, especially for young people.

”It was upsetting, but we need to know about these things and both girls and boys need to understand our rights and responsibilities.”

Maddie lives in a very happy home, but she now knows the signs to look out for if things ever to go wrong for her in a relationship, so she’d feel confident about getting out of any situation that didn’t feel right. If anything happened, she also knows who to go to.

”They also showed us how to help other people who might be having problems,” she says.

”I think the program was very, very valuable for us.”

Read more:

Kids smiling all the way to the bank in Bowraville

NAPCAN’s Angela Walsh with Bowraville preschoolers. The preschool receives support from UBS Optimus Foundation which ensures children are safe and ready for their future.

Article by Damon Kitney printed in The Weekend Australian, September 21, 2013:

THE plush 16th-floor offices of Sydney’s Chifley Tower, home to the Australian headquarters of investment bank UBS, boast stunning views of Sydney Harbour.

There, some of the nation’s most powerful bankers wine and dine the elite of corporate Australia with five-star cuisine and do deals that transform the business world.

They are a world away from the tiny town of Bowraville.

The picturesque community in the NSW mid-north coast hinterland, midway between Coffs Harbour and Kempsey, may have a pretty main street with its grand old pub, restored stone courthouse building and a fine chocolates shop.

Yet the pleasant facade has long masked a deep darkness. Bowraville has been renowned in official statistics as the fourth most poverty-stricken town in NSW, where vandalism and alcohol and substance abuse are rife in the community. The town also was the site of the Bowraville murders, a series of killings between 1990 and 1991, when three local Aboriginal children were abducted and murdered.

The initials UBS mean nothing to most of the locals or those in the Aboriginal mission on the outskirts of the town.

But at the local Central School and preschool, they now represent a lifeline.

The UBS Optimus Foundation is the little-known philanthropic arm of the global investment bank. It is a charitable grant-making foundation funded by its clients and dedicated to ensuring children around the world are healthy, safe and ready for their future.

For many years, in true Swiss-style, it has quietly flown under the radar.

It first had links with Australia in 2006 when UBS partnered with the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect in its Kids Can National Awards, awarding a $25,000 grant for the Love Bites program that educates young people on sex, consent, power and control in the relationships.

Two years later UBS Optimus forged a partnership with NAPCAN to protect children from violence and sexual abuse, including backing the Growing Respect and Respectful Relationships programs that work alongside communities to strengthen their capacity to support children and young people to have healthy and respectful relationships.

The children at Bowraville preschool and the town’s Central School are now part of those programs, which have extended to 130 sites across Australia

Forty per cent of the children at the Bowraville preschool are indigenous.

To NAPCAN’s general manager of programming, evaluation and growing respect, Angela Walsh, the support and the impact it is having has meant some are now giving Bowraville a new name: “Bowradice”.

“It has been very easy for us to work with both the pre-school and the school because Bowraville is such a partnership community and people do work together because it is the right thing to do. In relation to the “Respectful Relationships” program, we have always had a vision it should start in pre-school.

“If you can have consistent language from kinder through schooling, you have the building blocks of respectful relationships.”

The school’s principal, Malcolm Mcfarlane, says he is confident the program is changing Bowraville from the town a Nine Network 60 Minutes documentary described in 2009 as the place young people were desperate to leave. “Like any community there is a limit to what improvement will be created organically here. But the families are involved now. My belief is that when you have families understanding what is happening within the school and they know that they are a part of that, it is not a case of the children talking about just school talk. It is reinforcement and it feeds off itself,” he says.

Jackie Bradshaw, a director at the pre-school who has worked there for three years and watched it double in size over the past two, says the funding from UBS Optimus — through NAPCAN — has been vital. “The backing is essential because you are constantly looking for your next grant to be able to continue to build on to your program.”

She claims the fact the program is engaging the whole community means it will be successful.

NAPCAN has also been backed previously by the CAGES Foundation, a philanthropic group set up in 2009 by the Salteri family to fund initiatives that work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families both at home and in pre-school spheres.

“We came in with the surety of knowing NAPCAN had the partnership with UBS and that it had been through the Optimus evaluation process,” said the foundation’s executive officer Rachel Kerry, who was formerly with Perpetual.

UBS Australia separately supports a range of philanthropic programs including a five-year partnership with the Nura Gili Centre for Indigenous Programs at the University of NSW.

But the NAPCAN-UBS Optimus partnership, now worth more than $1.5 million over six years, forms part of a major Asia-Pacific push by the bank’s philanthropic arm: 45 of the 127 projects it supports globally are in Asia.

In May, Optimus opened a regional office in Hong Kong to spearhead and expand its operations in the Asia-Pacific, using it to nurture interest from Asian families seeking philanthropic opportunities that focus on improving the lives and the potential of children.

“We’ve been looking at Hong Kong for a long time. Hong Kong has had enormous wealth growth and we are finding that a huge part of what clients are asking for, they are very interested in this issue,” says Zurich-based Optimus chief executive Phyllis Costanza.

“In particular, the awareness of social issues is very high, because people in Asia are living with an enormous wealth divide. They see poverty everyday.”

She says right now is an exciting time to be in the China region because the philanthropic landscape is changing dramatically.

“The older generation is still doing traditional philanthropy — giving back to the communities they grew up in and focusing on charities. But the younger generation want to take a much more business-like approach to philanthropy — not only philanthropy in general but funding social entrepreneurs,” Costanza says.

She says the younger generation in families is more international in their outlook and prepared to fund a wider array of things.

“Not just tools like social entrepreneurs, but other areas not necessarily in their communities, like job generation, the environment. And they are keen to know whether their money is going to have an impact.”

But rather than dividing families, she says the changes are uniting them.

“Often parents come to us and say, ‘I really want to get my child engaged in something we can do as a family’. So they have their son or daughter work directly with the Optimus Foundation to develop a project together,” Costanza says.

“It is fascinating the way it is used as a way to help engage the next generation.”

Earlier this year researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, the University of Queensland and Hunan Institute of Parasitic Diseases received 1.5 million Swiss francs from Optimus to expand their “Magic Glasses” education campaign into rural China. The program centres on a cartoon DVD promoting hygiene, featuring a small child who puts on “magic glasses” that can suddenly see worm eggs and larvae in bright colours.

Optimus is now looking at options for partners in mainland China and in Singapore.

It is also working with NAPCAN on a partnership in Thailand with the long-established Mercy Centre, which works to help the children and communities in the slums of Bangkok.

Optimus has funded an innovation project for 12 months, which is creating a child protection curriculum and programming for primary and preschools in the bustling Thai capital.

Angela Walsh believes it is only the beginning of what is to come in the region. “Historically Optimus ran out of Zurich. It was very Zurich-centric. But Optimus have now set up their office in Hong Kong. And I think there will be stronger regional links,” she says.

“I would hope that we will start to build those relationships across Southeast Asia. They are keen to take the work we are doing in Bangkok to Cambodia and other countries.”

See article at the Weekend Australian

Child abuse should be viewed like smoking.

Photo: Professor Geoff Woolcock speaking at NT NCPW 2013 Breakfast.

Thought provoking interview of  Lesley Taylor, NAPCAN NT, Geoff Woolcock, associate professor in urban research at Griffith University, and Dr Howard Bath, NT Children’s Commissioner. Interview by Neda Vanovac, AAP.

Child abuse in Australia should be viewed the same way as smoking – as a primary health problem with huge ramifications, a child protection advocate says.

Lesley Taylor, the Northern Territory manager of the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN), says Australia is too reliant on child protection services to flag when children are in trouble.

“What we want to have ultimately is no more child protection at all,” she told AAP, saying that investments should be made in community-based programs.

“(Protection) services are needed, but should be very small systems for those families whose needs can’t be met by their own community,” she says.

This week is Child Protection Week, and advocates are hoping to make people aware that child safety is everyone’s responsibility, be it in a city, the suburbs or a remote town.

And yet the numbers are climbing: nationally, over the year to June 2012, the number of children subjected to abuse or neglect increased from 31,527 to 37,781.

Ms Taylor says investing in family support and parenting programs rather than policing would dramatically shift Australian society.

“Affordable childcare is one of the most potentially powerful things we could provide to families,” she says.

“Child protection systems are failing in every state, in every country.”

The negative results of child abuse are “extraordinary” she says, with far further-reaching impacts than political parties will admit.

“Look how we took on smoking: we’ve put pressure onto public health systems, so let’s view child protection in the same model, as a primary health issue.”

And a health issue it is: a generation of kids raised on junk food and a lack of outdoor play will result in some dying early from preventable lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, says Geoff Woolcock, associate professor in urban research at Griffith University.

“All indications are that this generation will not outlive its parents – this ought to be a wake-up call,” he says.

The statistics around domestic violence and child abuse in the Territory are shocking, says the NT’s Children’s Commissioner, Dr Howard Bath.

He points to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show Aboriginal women have 80 times the risk of being hospitalised for assaults.

In the last counting period to 2010, there were 27 non-indigenous women and 842 Aboriginal women hospitalised for assault in the five hospitals across the NT in a one-year period.

“A lot of it has to do with the sheer overwhelming conditions,” Dr Bath says.

“It’s overcrowded, there’s a lack of employment opportunities, boredom, and when you add alcohol you get a very volatile mixture. (It’s) a tragedy unfolding for women and children.”

However, the news isn’t all bad.

Although the NT has by far the worst child wellbeing indicators of any jurisdiction, “we are seeing for the first time some encouraging trends around child wellbeing as a result of the huge investment,” Dr Bath says.

“It’s a very slow process because you’re talking about parents carrying the wounds of trauma with them into the next generation. You’re talking about something that can’t just turn around very quickly.”

But he says that the first two waves of the Australian Early Development Index, from 2009 and 2012, show that NT kids at age five are improving in their capacity to socially relate, along with better physical and social health and cognitive abilities.

The index, based on information collected on 96.5 per cent of Australian children in their first year of formal full-time school, showed that between the two test periods the number of developmentally vulnerable indigenous children dropped from almost half to just over 40 per cent.

The Index’s report also found that the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are developmentally on track.

But even though the majority are doing well, they are still more than twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable than non-indigenous children.

“We’re seeing marked improvement over the last three years of wellbeing of Aboriginal kids, so there are some glimmers of hope,” Dr Bath said.

Link to Article on Yahoo 7 news