Meet The Locals: Child Protection Specialist Fiona Williams
It’s a fantastic legacy to be able to change the world.
Meet Fiona Williams from Torquay, who works in Child Protection/Child Safeguarding. Across her thirty-year career, Fiona has worked with vulnerable young adults and out in the field implementing policies that offer children across the Asia/Pacific the best shot at life.
All the while, she’s been a busy Torquay community member and mother of two. I sat down with this inspiring woman for a conversation to find out all about it.
Fiona, thanks so much for the chat. How long have you been on the Surf Coast?
We moved down from Melbourne due to my husband, Eugene’s, work. He is an infectious diseases specialist and took up a position at Barwon Health in Geelong. My son was two and a half years old, and I was pregnant with my daughter. We thought we’d try it for a while, and we fell in love with living in Torquay. Twenty-one years later, we’re still here.
In your opinion, why is the Surf Coast such a great place for raising children?
Children on the Surf Coast have a unique sense of freedom and safety in their environment. Then there is, obviously, the connection with nature and being outdoors as well. My own children made incredibly strong friendships growing up in a tight-knit community. While the Surf Coast and Torquay, in particular, have become so much bigger, it hasn’t changed that sense of belonging to a community. That’s been such a lovely part of being here. I don’t know if we would’ve gotten that elsewhere.
Tell us about your work?
I started as a family law solicitor and then worked in the juvenile justice/child protection area, with young people who were homeless and at-risk, representing them in the criminal and the child protection system. Working in that role, I became very aware that many ended up on the streets due to abuse, mainly in the home. I decided to work at the more preventative end of child protection. When I was at home with the kids, I studied for a Master’s in International Development through Deakin University, which led me to work for Save The Children.
That must have been fascinating work. What did you do?
My role was to ensure everyone was aware of our policies and procedures for child safety/child protection. Save The Children sends many people overseas to work in very vulnerable communities. As an organisation, it’s paramount our staff and volunteers are safe and know the obligations when working with children or vulnerable communities. We need to do everything we can to make sure we’re not sending anyone who may be a risk to children as there’s a lot of high level of trust. It’s been a privilege to implement these policies and systems into the organisation across various countries.
Just researching the market?
Did you get to travel?
I’ve worked in Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Japan, Myanmar, and remote parts of Australia. We had an Indigenous program where we’re engaging indigenous staff and speaking with them about child safeguarding. I went to the top of remote West Australia and lived in a donger. I learned so much from that experience. It was amazing to sit and listen to the women tell me their community’s strengths to keep children safe. We needed to draw on those strengths and bring that into our policy and our systems. In the development sector, there’s a tendency to think we’ve got all the answers. Ultimately everyone has the same ideas around child rights and child protection, so we need to ensure that it’s culturally appropriate to make policies and systems that work for people every day.
So tell us about your new job?
I’m working for Australian Volunteers International (AVI). A few years ago, the Australian government became aware that entirely well-intentioned volunteers travelled from Australia to work in orphanages. UNICEF released a report stating that around 85% of those children have at least one living parent. Poverty, access to education and disability are some of the key factors why children end up in orphanages and families send children on the premise they will be educated. However, the result is these children are deprived of growing up in a family and orphanage owners look to make money by meeting demand from tourists and volunteers. Growing up in a residential institution is harmful to a child’s development and wellbeing. The Australian government and DFAT set up my project to work with all the key stakeholders from the Pacific and Myanmar to create awareness around the impact of volunteering and tourism on children. So we do lots of work in partnership with the tourism sector and government putting in place Child Safe practices within the tourism and volunteering industry. For example, awareness for tourists and the sector to look at activities that may be disruptive or harmful for children, or breach their right to privacy. We wouldn’t allow tourists to visit children here randomly.
I believe you also use your skills here on the Surf Coast?
I’m currently a board member with Great Ocean Road Health and previously with Bethany community services. I was on a panel to implement recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses Into Child Sexual Abuse. It’s been fantastic to be working in that space, and you see the changes. It can be a sensitive and confronting issue but people need to talk about it. It’s fantastic when you can get that conversation going, and people feel safe to talk about it as it makes a massive difference to kids.
Thanks for your excellent service and time today, Fiona.
You can find local child protection resources at raisingchildren.net.au