Remembering child protection leader, Freda Briggs

Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs, AO. Photo courtesy of The Advertiser.
Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs, AO. Photo courtesy of The Advertiser.

It is with great sadness that UniSA acknowledged the death of one of its most influential educators this month, Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs, AO.

UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd says Freda Briggs’ career as a researcher and educator and a champion and protector of all children, but especially vulnerable children, has been an inspiration.

“For countless students Freda has been a role model in the field of child development,” Prof Lloyd says.

“Her passion and determination for her work was always unbridled.”

In recent weeks Prof Briggs (at the age of 85) had given papers and lectures to a consortium of International Schools on Child Protection and Child Development in Zurich Switzerland and most recently in Indonesia. She was the author of more than 20 books on child development and safe parenting and was considered a pre-eminent expert in this field.

UniSA has established the Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO Memorial Fund to honour Prof Briggs as one of its most influential educators. The fund will help to continue her legacy by supporting scholarships and grants for higher degree research in child protection in the areas of law, education and social work.

Starting out as one of the first female police officers in London, Prof Briggs was confronted with vulnerable children as part of her day-to-day work.

She later undertook teacher training at Warwick University and embarked on an academic career.

As a lecturer, she trained educators to identify children who were victims of abuse or neglect.

She immigrated to Melbourne in 1975 to take up a pioneering position as Director of Early Childhood Studies at the State College of Victoria.

Prof Briggs later moved to Adelaide and rose to the position of Professor of Childhood Development at the University of South Australia.

She became Dean of the Institute of Early Childhood and Family Studies in Adelaide in 1980 and established a world first multi-professional course in child protection, assisting universities in the US, Hamburg and Brazil to create similar courses.

Across her career Prof Briggs has worked as a consultant/advisor, teacher/educator and policy development expert in areas as wide-ranging as providing advice on how foster parents can best support children who have been victims of abuse, right through to advising international governments on the best systems to support early childhood teaching and learning.

She was an expert witness in child abuse trials, advised the Scouts, the Christian Brothers, the Australian Defence Force (cadets) and the Anglican and Catholic Churches on the development of child protection protocols and guidelines, contributed to Senate enquiries and addressed the Australian Parliament.

In 1998, Prof Briggs was the inaugural recipient of the Australian Humanitarian Award. In 2000, she was the first woman and only the second person to be appointed Senior Australian of the Year for her pioneering work for child protection education and the protection of children.

She received the national Centenary Award for outstanding services to the nation and in 2005, she became an Officer of the Order of Australia.

In 2004, in recognition of Prof Briggs’ multi-disciplinary research and expertise, Australian Prime Minister John Howard awarded a $10 million endowment for the provision of a National Child Protection Research Centre at UniSA.

Prof Lloyd says in many ways she was an international treasure.

“Whether it be in advocating for children and the protection of children or championing the rights of older Australians to continue to work, achieve and be properly valued – Freda was there.

“She was the champion everyone wants on their side - dedicated, intelligent and brave – a force to be reckoned with.

“We have been very lucky to have her at UniSA and in our community. She will be missed.”