Friday, 26 October 2007

Rise in children's deaths

MORE children died in NSW last year - 628 - than in any year since 2002. Of those 110 had been identified as "vulnerable", as their families had contact with the Department of Community Services.

The number of deaths rose from 599 in 2005. There were 84 deaths (13.5 per cent of the total) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who make up 3.5 per cent of the population, the annual report of the Government's child deaths review team showed.

Deaths of children under the age of one rose from 367 to 401, including many cases involving conditions present from birth. There were 54 deaths of infants after they were left to sleep.

Sixty-five children died in traffic accidents, 15 from drowning and 10 from assaults. Seven children and young people died from suicide - the lowest number since 1996.

In one case a child's mother fell asleep in the bath with a child and one child died from injuries, including a fractured skull, suspected to have been caused by abuse.

The report said: "In another incident, risk of harm reports related to the physical and psychological wellbeing of the child as a consequence of exposure to domestic violence, parental drug use and neglect."

The Commissioner for Children and Young People and head of the review team, Gillian Calvert, said the increase in infant deaths was believed to be the result of the higher birthrate.

Half the children who had had contact with the department died from disease or morbid conditions, in a quarter the cause of death was yet to be determined and another quarter was from falls, traffic accidents or other incidents.

"It's not [all] about child abuse, it's actually a measure of whether they're vulnerable," Ms Calvert said.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

SA row over smacking children

South Australian Democrat MP Sandra Kanck has criticised a move in State Parliament to legally endorse the smacking of children.

Family First Upper House member Dennis Hood has introduced a bill seeking to endorse the legality of "reasonable chastisement" of children.

Ms Kanck says research shows that smacking does not improve children's behaviour, and teaches them that violence is a way of resolving conflict.

Ms Kanck says the bill does not clarify what constitutes a reasonable level of smacking.

"This is such a grey area and the definition in the bill does nothing to assuage my fears about [it] and how it could be used to justify the unjustifiable." she said.

Ms Kanck says the proposal could contravene the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child.

She says the convention calls on governments to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence and abuse, including while in the care of their parents.

"So if you read the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, this would actually be saying that we ought not pass legislation such as this." she said.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Principals agree: cut out social subjects

PRIMARY school curriculums have too many subjects and schools are too underfunded to meet standard requirements for English, maths and science, a national study of principals has found.

The study underpins Australia's first primary school charter endorsed by principals who want the educational focus put back on literacy, numeracy and science.

However, a proposal to include stand-alone history in that list was yesterday replaced with a subject called Social Education, a mix of history, geography, and environmental and cultural studies.

The change raised concerns from the federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, who said history should be taught as a distinct subject.

The Federal Government funded research for the Australian Principals Association that found national standards were beyond the reach of many schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, unable to attract a high level of staff and private contributions from parents.

The association released a draft report in August, recommending that subjects that taught life and social skills, including manners, nutrition, drug education and financial literacy, be dropped from primary school curriculums.

The association's national president, Leonie Trimper, yesterday said her members had endorsed the draft charter, agreeing the curriculum had become cluttered with minor subjects.

"The curriculum is far too crowded and we know from our research that not all schools can do what is being asked of them," she said. "The social responsibilities being placed on primary schools are ever increasing, taking time and resources away from our core business."

Ms Bishop said that while she supported the charter's goal of reducing clutter in curriculum, "we must avoid at all costs the mistake that is Studies of Society and Environment, which became a mish-mash of subjects that lacked rigour in any of them".

"I would be concerned if the recommendation in the APPA Charter led to a watering down in the quality of teaching history and geography in primary schools," she said.

Ms Trimper said history had been replaced with social education because her members considered that history was "too narrow and conjured up the idea of rote learning".

"People wanted a new term and said it needed to be about geography and the environment and cultural understanding," she said.

The primary school charter received the support of 90 per cent of 1580 responses to an online survey, representing the views of 3500 principals.

The principals will now seek to have their document placed on the agenda for discussion at the next conference of state and federal education ministers.

The principals also expressed concerns about the enrolment of students with severe behavioural problems because of the lack of additional help for such students. The study of 30 primary schools around the country found that schools that enrolled severely disabled and emotionally disturbed students were in many cases inadequately resourced.

"Such students are frequently assigned to regular classrooms with aides who are employed for a fraction of the week. The school is expected to find the resources for the rest of the time," the study found.