With more than 3,000 people in attendance virtually, it was a great privilege to recently meet with a range of experts for the panel discussion – Tracking National Budgets to End Child Sexual Abuse.
In partnership with World Vision International and with support from Oak Foundation, Foreign Policy Analytics conducted research to identify the levels and types of national funding allocated to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. The assessment compared children across 20 high-, middle – and low-income countries in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific.
In a best-case scenario, the report identified that a national strategic plan and national budget might mirror one another, with identical figures and clearly defined commitments over the short and long term; as seen with Australia’s commitment to spend AUD $307.5 million on child sexual abuse over 10 years. And only in one country — Australia — was it possible to identify detailed annual spending figures related to preventing and responding to child sexual abuse.
In short, according to the report, Australia stands out as an exception. In FY 2021–22, two pages of the Australian budget were devoted to child sexual abuse explicitly, replete with contributions over a five-year period through 12 government entities and with confirmed further funding over a 10-year period. Such clarity is the exception rather than the rule.
During the panel discussion, I confirmed that national budget transparency is critical for accountability.
Knowing what is being promised, what is being implemented and which policy priorities are receiving funding means advocates such as the National Centre can identify gaps and create policy imperatives for funding.
It is also about investment in the right things. It is about systems that monitor and hold governments to account for spending commitments, including monitoring for duplication, poor coordination and wasted effort. The trigger for this budget transparency was the 2017 Royal Commission. While focused only on institutional settings, it set the groundwork for listening and hearing victims and survivors. It galvanised a community conversation and finally people began to understand the long-term impact of child sexual abuse. It also triggered systemic foundational changes in child safe practices.
When I was asked to identify gaps going forward, I talked about the National Centre’s commitment to explore and make explicit the power dynamics that begin at childhood but become a compounding disadvantage, staying with someone across their life. Our thinking around adult experiences of child sexual abuse is nuanced and poorly understood. It doesn’t adequately capture the repeated, cumulative and compounding effect. We also need to grapple with power dynamics as they relate to adult carers and institutions. We must acknowledge power dynamics (as part of a child rights framework, but also beyond) and we must grapple with the discourse of power in relation to other marginalised and priority groups; which is particularly critical and urgent with our First Nations Australians.
Artwork © Hanna Barczyk for the Safeguarding Childhood Report.