In 2006, I took my first steps into the world of international development.
Having spent almost a decade at the helm of the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies in Australia, following postgraduate studies and a long career in social work, I had a strong desire to continue working for an organisation focused on improving the lives of vulnerable children. To do this at a global, rather than national, level was an exciting opportunity.
The complexities of protecting children
My experience thus far had taught me that myriad factors can result in increased vulnerability for children. Nor are these influences confined to national borders. Children suffering from a lack of proper parental care, inadequate food, shelter or clothing, poor health care and low family incomes can be found in each corner of the globe.
However, during my early days with ChildFund, I was quick to discover how extreme deprivation and poverty adds so many additional layers of complexity to the issue of child protection in countries where there is no social safety net in place.
In the communities where ChildFund works, the majority of parents are dedicated to giving their children a better future and are determined to provide access to those opportunities unavailable during their own childhoods. Most importantly, parents are desperate to ensure that their children survive to adulthood.
Yet natural disasters, civil upheaval or a chronic lack of basic services are sadly not within their control. It is devastating for any parent to discover that, despite their most concerted efforts, they are not able to provide their children with the protection they rightly deserve. Many parents in developing countries live constantly with this fear.
This is where I believe ChildFund best fulfils its mission: by providing support to families and communities where all other possible options have been exhausted. We have the ability and know-how to fill the missing gaps — provide help, guidance and support with no strings attached — and work alongside communities to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved for children.
Along this 75-year journey, ChildFund’s approach to helping children has changed and evolved, moving from a focus on orphanages for destitute children, to family support and then to community partnerships that deliver effective development programs. Our child focus has strengthened, and children are actively consulted and encouraged to voice their opinions on plans for their communities. Taking the time to learn from mistakes has also been integral to our development.
We can be proud of what we have achieved so far. According to the World Health Organisation, the likelihood of a child dying before reaching the age of 5 is now approximately 7 percent, compared to 25 percent in 1950. This is a remarkable global achievement.
There is an oft-quoted phrase in our sector: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I would like to think that ChildFund is a member of that village.
A shelter from the storm