Trigger warning: child abuse, family violence, suicide
When I was ten years old, I had a friend called Mathew. Mathew was one of those kids who couldn’t sit still and was always getting into trouble with the adults around him. He had a short attention span, was a great attention seeker and couldn’t let an opportunity for mischief go past.
Mathew was important to me. He was my friend and I was over the moon when he wrote me a note telling me he ‘loved’ me. One day he tried to give me a gold bangle that I heard he had stolen, and I refused to take it. He outsmarted me and handed it to an adult telling them I had lost it. The bangle was ‘returned’ to me so I took it home. It was 9 carat gold and I was thrilled with it.
Mathew used to come to our house sometimes to play and have dinner, and he was never in a hurry to leave. When my mum drove him home, he used to get very quiet as we approached his house.
Every now and then I would get a glimpse into his life when he would open up about his family. I learned that he loved his mother fiercely and that his home could be a scary place. Some of the things that Mathew told me about were so far outside my sphere of understanding that I couldn’t process them. Because family violence and child abuse were not something that were talked about, I didn’t have a frame of reference to help me understand. I didn’t know that I should tell an adult, or that I could support Mathew to speak up and to get help. Looking back through adult eyes, all of the signs of child abuse were there.
As we became teenagers, we went our separate ways and over time I lost touch with him. I used to hear about him occasionally through my brother and other friends and was sad when I learned that he was starting to run wild. Eventually I heard that he had killed himself. He was still just a kid when he decided death was preferable to living.
Knowing what happened to Mathew, how badly the adults around him let him down, how I let him down, has shaped my entire life. I’ve forged a career in and around child protection and have tried to give voice to children wherever I could. I used to wear Mathew’s golden bangle whenever I appeared in the Children’s Court giving evidence in a child protection contested matter. It connected me with the lived experience of the children involved in the case.
My own boys – twins – recently turned ten and this has prompted me to reflect again on the legacy of Mathew. It is National Child Protection Week. In his name, and the countless others like him, let’s commit to making sure that every child in our country knows that if they need help, as adults we will be there to help them, by responding swiftly, protectively and courageously.
If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 000.
If you have experienced child abuse in an institutional context you can contact our toll-free Child Wise Helpline on 1800 99 10 99 (Monday-Sunday, 9am-5pm AEST).
If you need counselling and support, call the Blue Knot Helpline 1300 657 380 (9am – 5pm, 7 days a week) or email email@example.com or call Lifeline 13 11 14 available 24/7.
Child Wise Executive Director