Amrit Versha wins prestigious NAPCAN award for promoting children’s safety


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“Protecting children is everyone’s business” 

By Vish Viswanathan 

Amrit Versha, a Sydney based community worker was the first recipient of the Individual Award from National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN), in recognition of “Being an inspiring advocate for children’s safety and wellbeing in the migrant and refugee community”.

The national ‘Play Your Part Awards’ were presented by His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia on September 11 at Admiralty House, to Ms Versha and a host of other winners including the collaborators of Lawmail, Lawstuff and Online Safety (National Children’s and Youth Law Centre), King & Wood Mallesons, the University of NSW, Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department, Australian Securities & Investments Commission and Telstra.

The safety of children and the youth is a major community concern, and the National Child Protection Week (6-12 September), celebrated its 25th year in operation in 2015. It aims to encourage awareness and safety of children and youth through awards, events, programs and resources.

Amrit Versha shared her views on child protection and what the award means to her, in an exclusive interview.

Vish Viswanathan: What are the key issues in child protection?

Amrit Versha: All children should be supported to reach their full potential. Meeting the needs of children, ensuring they are safe in a family is a shared responsibility of the individuals, the family, the community and the Government. If those responsible for care of the children fail to do their responsibility, are abusive, neglect children, misuse power, exploit them, leave them unattended for unreasonable times and put them at risk, then the Government steps in through the

child protection system. Some professionals like teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, and police are mandatory reporters and legally obligated to report any incidences of abuse that come to their attention. The system is supposed to work together to protect children. Inspite of this, the number of children who are at risk is quite high. Statistics from Family and Community Services (former DoCS) indicate that in 2013-14, there was a 5.7% increase in the number of calls to Child Protection Help Line.

VV: What specific aspects are of concern to migrant communities.

AV: There is little or no data available to explain the extent of problem with migrant communities. There is however, documented evidence that states that when families migrate from different parts of the world, they are not prepared for the massive struggles that the process of migration brings. Trying to understand the new system, language and cultural understandings, loss of family support, social isolation – all add pressure on the family and impact the coping skills of parents. Parenting and disciplining children in traditional ways, using harsh physical punishments, control of children and young people, excessive pressures for studies can cause emotional trauma and can put them at risk. Extensive family conflict and domestic violence has a direct link with child abuse. Children who witness domestic violence are much more at risk and it has huge impact on the wellbeing of the children. There is also limited understanding in migrant communities that if there is domestic violence and there are children involved, then the child protection system will be notified. If children are removed, there is a shortage of foster care families.

VV: What were specific projects you have been involved with?

AV: I have been working with the migrant and refugee communities for over 26 years and have set up several projects and services including a NSW humanitarian program for new arrived refugees. I have recently supported the Sikh Council to set up a Sikh Women and Girls Group (SWAGG), and this award was their nomination. This independent women’s group is working on prevention of domestic and family violence. They started an education program and have conducted many prevention programs.

In the past I have worked extensively with Afghan, Tamil and Sierra Leone community to research some of their issues in prevention of family violence. I have also set up education programs that use learning circles, models where feelings are validated and people feel ‘human’. I have also run parenting circles with new arrived parents from various refugee backgrounds.

VV: What can be done by the Government or related agencies, moving forward?

AV: Governments need to focus more on prevention work. The system is stretched to the limit, and only focusses on crisis we don’t do enough to prevent. There is limited awareness of the issues that migrant communities face, and there is a need for cultural competence for workers in the system. Funding to the communities is limited; all big organisations are provided funding in this area and communities cannot work on their solutions due to the lack of resources.

VV: What can community organisations do?

AV: The work by community organization needs to be consistent and focused on prevention. The models have to be innovative, consultative and respectful of the communities we work with. Drivers of the programs should be communities. Evidence based human rights practice is what we need to work towards, rather than dancing to the funding tune.

VV: Are there any specific child protection issues within the Indian community?

AV: The Indian community certainly needs to do better in this area. Violence against women and children is an issue, the rates in Australia for our community are very high. The solutions require a lot more targeted education. We need to provide awareness around human rights for women and children. Issues like incest in extended families, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and abuse, treatment of female children, killing of girl child (feticide) and understanding of the relation between domestic violence and child abuse, are all still continuing even in this day and age and we use cultural defense to justify these. This is not on, it has to stop!

VV: Your comments on winning NAPCAN award.

AV: An Indian participant in one of my training sessions said, “We are a qualified community but not necessarily an educated community.” I agree with him, degrees don’t give us education. We all say we left our country to give a better life to our children. If we believe in giving our children a better future, then let’s all do our part. Stop violence against women and children. Protecting children is everyone’s business.

The Indian Telegraph Sydney Australia

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