Message from the National Office for Child Safety: COVID-19 and children’s safety

COVID-19 continues to have a life changing impact on the whole Australian community including our children, their families and the organisations they engage with. It has disrupted children’s regular schooling, child care arrangements, extracurricular activities, socialisation and daily routines.

For many children, this will be an uncertain and difficult time, but nonetheless the current measures in place are necessary to keep them and their families safe and well. For others, being isolated and away from school, friends, family and activities may create situations where they are at a greater risk of harm.

It’s vital that we, as individuals and as a community, are aware of the risks children face in this new COVID-19 environment, and work together to keep them safe. I hope the following information is useful to you in this challenging time.

  • General COVID-19 information. The Australian Government is providing regular updates on the COVID-19 situation. The Department of Health has information and fact sheets about self-care, prevention and the response to COVID-19. Services Australia has financial support information and help available for those affected by COVID-19. State and territory education departments, and schools themselves, can provide up to date information on the status of school closures and home schooling arrangements.
     
    Internationally, the World Health Organisation has some useful resources, including on parenting in the time of COVID-19. UNICEF also has advice about talking to children about COVID-19.
     
  • If you are concerned about a child’s safety it is important that you say something. To report online child sexual exploitation please contact the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation and use the Report Abuse button. To otherwise report a crime, call Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000 or contact your local police. Families Relationships Online also includes links for reporting child safety concerns to the relevant authority in your state or territory.
     
  • If you are a child or a young person and you don’t feel safe, you can get help. To report immediate danger to yourself or someone else, call Triple Zero (000). To report a crime, call Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000 or contact your local police. You can also seek help from Kids Helpline by webchat or by calling 1800 55 1800.
     
  • The risk of domestic and family violence throughout this time is increased. Domestic and family violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial. To report immediate danger to yourself, others or a child, call Triple Zero (000). To talk with a counsellor, or seek assistance with referrals to services, you can contact 1800RESPECT, the National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence hotline online or on 1800 737 732. This is a confidential online and telephone counselling, information and referral service available nationwide, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 1800RESPECT has also established DAISY, the first national app linking women who have experienced or are at risk of violence, to support services across Australia. Children and young people can seek help from Kids Helpline by webchat or by calling 1800 55 1800. Men can also contact MensLine, the counselling service for men with emotional health and relationship concerns online or on 1300 789 978 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). The Aboriginal Family Domestic Violence Hotline is a dedicated contact line for Aboriginal victims of crime who would like information about victims’ rights, how to access counselling and financial assistance. The Aboriginal Family Domestic Violence Hotline can be contacted on 1800 019 123.
     
  • Staying safe online. The majority of Australian children are now using online technologies at home to support their learning. Increased reliance on online platforms increases the risk of exposure to cyberbullying, inappropriate or harmful content, and contact from strangers. The eSafety Commissioner has a range of resources to manage online safety during the COVID-19 situation including tips for parents and carers, educators and information regarding domestic and family violence. I encourage you to look at their web site as new content is published regularly. Some useful fact sheets published by the eSafetyCommission include:

    ThinkUKnow also has helpful information about staying safe online. In response to COVID-19 and the increased risk factors around online child sexual exploitation, the Australian Federal Police led ThinkUKnow program has a series of resources for parents, carers and teachers, to help keep children safe from online child sexual exploitation. Recent research has identified that parents and carers are uncomfortable talking about this topic - these resources aim to raise awareness and assist parents and carers to begin conversations.

  • Family court matters. The Attorney-General's Department has published information for parents and families about family violence support services, parenting orders, and international child abduction.
     
    The Family Court of Australia is responding to the practical implications COVID-19 is having on family law proceedings, including issuing general guidance for families in relation to parenting orders. Families Relationships Online also includes links for reporting child safety concerns to the relevant authority in your state or territory.
     
    If you think there is an immediate danger to yourself or a child, call Triple Zero (000). To otherwise report a crime, call Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000 or contact your local police.
     
  • Mental health. Many children, young people and adults are likely to be experiencing stress at this time. There are a range of free mental health services available:
    • Kids Helpline can provide children and young people with help by webchat or calling 1800 55 1800.
    • Life Line can provide adults 24 hour crisis support by webchat, text on 0477 13 11 14 or by calling 13 11 14.
    • Beyond Blue provides a range of mental health support information and services.
    • Emerging Minds has developed resources to help support children to help and support adults and children during disasters and traumatic events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this unprecedented time, there are challenges to continuing our business as usual. For the National Office for Child Safety, this means some of our work – such as conducting face‑to‑face consultations – is necessarily on hold. I want to emphasise that the safety of Australia’s children remains the National Office’s priority, and we are re-configuring our work to ensure we can deliver on the important recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Please feel free to email our Office at NationalOfficeforChildSafety@pmc.gov.au, and most of all stay safe and well.

Rebekah Kilpatrick
National Office for Child Safety