The lead senate candidate for a new party focussed on child protection issues says domestic violence policy must direct more funding to counselling services for abusive men.
The SA-based Child Protection Party officially launches tomorrow, with a mission statement to “bring about a positive change to the child protection system”.
The party’s leader and primary candidate Tony Tonkin is a long-serving and prominent social worker, who says much of his work is done pro bono with “families where kids have been removed”, because “the client base can’t afford the sort of advocacy that I offer”.
Tonkin told InDaily the party would fight for greater national funding for social services, drug and alcohol services and “particularly domestic violence services for men”.
He said while 95 per cent of domestic violence is perpetrated against women, “the issue primarily is helping men who are violent and abusive, or who have anger issues, into services, counselling and group work that meets that particular need, because there is very little available”.
He said a solution to the crisis, which sees two Australian women die each week at the hands of a current or former partner, needs to be “preventative”, and provide “a place for men to go who are violent”.
Asked whether this should be prioritised over services to help abused women, Tonkin said: “I think they’re equal.”
“I don’t think one is more important than the other, (but) we need to meet the genesis of the problem, which is about men who behave badly, men who don’t deal with their violence.”
He said if women “escape” domestic violence situations, “the men perpetrate violence against somebody else”, and the behaviour needs to be dealt with through intervention.
It’s one of a number of confronting policy solutions the fledgling micro-party advocates, in a state which has seen child protection thrust starkly into the public spotlight. This year’s coronial inquiry into the death of Chloe Valentine recommended a stronger emphasis on removing children from unfit parents, a principle with which the Weatherill Government agreed.
But the party platform maintains: “It is imperative that Australian politicians understand and confront the reality that children in care have poorer outcomes than those that remain with their biological parents.”
Tonkin says the vast majority – around 85 per cent of child protection cases – centre around neglect, with comparatively “very few cases around sexual abuse and violence”.
“What we’ve noticed since the Chloe Valentine issue was resolved is that a risk-averse approach been taken by the (Education and Child Development) department, which is removing more children now than at any other time in their history,” he said.
“It’s a two-edged sword … on one hand there are some pretty shitty parents out there that shouldn’t have their kids, we’re not denying that (but) it’s about process. Unless social workers can engage with clients and put in the appropriate services that are required, the outcomes are going to be poor for everybody.”
He said early-intervention services should be provided to “at-risk” families, “so that families and children don’t enter into child protection services at all”.
“The outcomes for those kids are pretty bad outcomes anyway – the state really is not a good parent, because the outcomes are lousy for the kids,” he said, noting state wards are “more likely to wind up in corrections, or with mental health issues or drug issues than the general population”.
“A lot of people get very concerned when they see people like Chloe Valentine or Baby Ebony, but it seems to be shortlived … we see a child die and become concerned, we see the face of the child and have an association, but then it seems to go away,” he said.
“It seems there’s no political will at all … the reason we need a political party is we need to be able to maintain that focus.”
He says the party is running for federal parliament “because child protection concerns us all” and most jurisdictions are beset by “dysfunctional” agencies.
“We’re hoping to look at the problem Australia-wide, rather than just Families SA,” Tonkin said.
“We need to dismantle the child protection system.”
Nontheless, most of his grievances stem from dealings with Families SA, which he says is “kind of like this monolithic organisation (parents) have to fight against”.
He said the Child Protection Party favoured an assessment penal of experts with “no lawyers apart form advocates … so that parents get a voice”.
He has not, however, put this to the ongoing Nyland Royal Commission, arguing he fronted a Legislative Council inquiry years ago and “nothing came of it”.
After dozens of inquiries over the past two decades, he argues, “nothing has changed … and nothing will change from this inquiry either”.
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