Re-designing policy, service and social patterns to disrupt disadvantage
Parents pass on many things to their children: hair colour, preferences, health conditions, knowledge. They also pass on material assets and life opportunities.
The reality is that children receive a lot of foundational advantage or disadvantage just based on the family and postcode they’re born into. Some children will be surrounded by positive role models who look like them and have access to educational opportunities while others may be born into the first, second or third generation of financial struggle and reliance on government services. Where you start has big implications on the types of pathways that are made available to you, meaning some kids have it harder from the outset than others. What’s more, is that the types of opportunities you’re born into are most similar to those you’ll be able to make available for your own children.
Many social challenges such as poverty, trauma, abuse and neglect, obesity, mental health play out within and across generations, yet we often respond to and ‘treat’ them as short and individual, isolated challenges. There is an intergenerational nature to these family challenges, and so to a degree, family cycles are predictable, yet they’re often ‘treated’ at the point of crisis rather than at the first red flag.
When a child is at significant risk of neglect or abuse we remove them into a system of state care, an approach that may well reinforcing cycles of disadvantage. In one Australian state we learnt how 43% of children in out of home care had parents who were in out of home care. We saw that a significant proportion of parents who had children removed from their care would go on to have more children who would be removed. In criminal justice, rather than supporting healing and behaviour change, offenders are isolated from society with little support to re-integrate which perpetuates chronic engagement with justice for individuals and their families. We also know that the triggers for engagement with criminal justice and child protection systems are intimately related. These are brilliantly expensive systems that whilst it may well protect immediate harm to children and society, in the long term puts child, parents, future parents and taxpayers at a disadvantage.