1979 marked the International Year of the Child — and the year of my worst ever haircut.
At that time we were a family of five children under 10 — and I remember clearly how closely my dad stood by, watching. Standing sentinel.
An architect with a full beard and flares — he was everywhere. Poolside, watching like a hawk. Holding the ladder as soon as someone stepped on. Stopping the car if a seatbelt wasn’t on.
But it was three shocking tremors that moved him from active parent to active campaigner. The first — his one year old darling goddaughter drowned in her family pool, the second — a dear little boy we knew, hit by a car and killed, and third — his youngest child hospitalised as a result of a bad burn in own backyard.
Each terrible accidents, each in loving, caring, attentive families, and each, preventable.
When there is total grief and trauma, there’s nothing to do but comfort and console the families involved. And while it shouldn’t take tragedy to change things, quite often it’s tragedy that lights the spark of change.
While his son was recovering in hospital, my dad met two exceptional paediatricians, Professor John Pearn and Professor Fred Leditschke — outstanding pioneers dedicated to promoting the cause of child safety and after this incident, my parents were driven to do more to promote child safety.
While nothing replaces personal responsibility, risks to children can be reduced with good design and standards, and a community that seeks to improve training, manufacturing and education all help to prevent incidents that harm little ones, lead them to hospital with possible lifelong implications.
It was this mission that formed the Childhood Accident Presentation Foundation — now known as Kidsafe.
The establishment of Kidsafe put the issue of child safety on to the national agenda — these experts advised governments on the safety of products and helped manufacturers to design safer products, from baby gates, car seats, and bunk beds.
They advocated for reforms mandating seatbelts in cars and fences around pools, and the introduction of standards around children’s products such as cots and clothing.
As an architect and designer, my dad was consulted for his professional advice and knowledge on safe design of buildings and products.
Since the establishment of Kidsafe, the number of child deaths and hospitalisations has more than halved.
However, there’s still more to do and we cannot be complacent. More children die of injury than of cancer and asthma combined.
Each year, more than 150 Australian children are killed and over 68,000 hospitalised as a result of unintentional injuries.
I know it all too well — I have nursed a kid who got finger stuck in a drain, had a fall from a highchair, and fell through an old glass door — each changes us as parents, makes us that bit more vigilant and hyper aware of risks.
When I snapped a picture of the back to school prep-work in the Shorten household, the last thing I thought of was that it would go viral.
I mean vegemite, Ryvita and blueberries get the tick for a school lunch, but certainly not interesting enough to get people talking.
Until — curious case of the wall burn was spotted. Within a couple of hours people were speculating all kinds of conspiracy stories about the burn mark against the stove.
The mark was the result of one of our eager youngsters in the kitchen a number of years ago, something that brought about one of those household lectures that isn’t quickly forgotten.
The attention on the post is an opportunity to highlight the importance of being vigilant to safety when it comes to our kids — and making sure we aren’t complacent about our own homes.
Dad has always emphasised the importance of personal responsibility — telling us, “If not me who, if not now, when?”
During her six years as Kidsafe patron, mum once said that “preventing childhood injuries isn’t about wrapping children in cotton wool. It’s about supervision, creating, maintaining safer environments, where kids can learn and grow and play.” I think this is as relevant as ever.
As the kids go back to school and summer holidays turn into sports routines, there’s no better time to visit the Kidsafe website for more information on how to look for household hazards, and make sure a scare doesn’t turn into a scar.