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Child protection pioneer Freda Briggs dies, aged 85

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Prominent child protection advocate and former Senior Australian of the Year Freda Briggs AO has died, aged 85.

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Briggs was an emeritus professor at the University of South Australia and the first woman to be named Senior Australian of the Year in 2000.

She was the recipient of dozens of awards and honours in recognition of her career in humanitarian and child protection work, including the inaugural Australian Humanitarian Award.

She passed away at the Royal Adelaide Hospital last night surrounded by her family. She is survived by her son Alister, brother Gwyn and four grandchildren.

Her family released a statement today saying she had “personally advanced the well-being of children and families and most particularly vulnerable children within school systems and foster care as well advancing public understanding and change within communities both in Australia and around the world”.

“A fierce intellect and determination to change the understanding of protecting children from injustice has been a force that has propelled her onto the world stage,” they said.

“Her work in development of curricula in places as far away as Brazil and Europe and most recently as last week was educating a consortium of international schools on child safety and child protection. Her work has played a major role in public and community awareness of child abuse and its impact on human development. Her work as presenter to conferences and Royal Commissions has led to significant change.”

Family friend of 30 years and colleague Dr Pamela Schultz said Briggs “has been an inspiration and champion for children”.

She said Briggs was determined to improve the lives of children “right until the very end”.

She said Briggs gave a presentation on child protection to a consortium of international schools as late as last week in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Premier Jay Weatherill said the children of South Australia had lost one of their most powerful advocates.

“Freda’s advocacy took child sexual abuse out of the shadows and into the light,” Weatherill said in a statement this morning.

“Her passion for proper training of social workers has left a lasting legacy.

“At a personal level, I always valued her advice and support.”

Briggs began her extraordinary career as a child protection officer attached to London’s Police at New Scotland Yard before moving into social work and teaching.

After six years, Briggs was appointed as the State College of Victoria’s director of early childhood studies, developing new courses in early childhood care and education.

By 1980, Briggs was a Dean of the Institute of Early Childhood and Family Studies, working to develop a world-first multidisciplinary course in child protection and assisting universities overseas to create similar courses.

 

Briggs was appointed emeritus professor and chair of child development at the University of South Australia in 2002.

Briggs presented to numerous parliamentary inquiries related to child protection and, in 2004, assisted the Commissioner in the Mullighan Inquiry into the abuse of children in state care.

She became and officer of the Order of Australia in 2005.

University of South Australia Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd said Briggs was an “international treasure”.

“For countless students Freda has been a role model in the field of child development,” Lloyd said.

“Her passion and determination for her work was always unbridled. She was indefatigable.

“Our thoughts are with her family and her many close friends and colleagues who will miss Freda enormously.”

Photo: AAP/Alan Porritt

 

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