Australian Child Maltreatment Study—What does it mean for the Child & Family Sector?
On 4th July 2023, ACWA brought together over 90 policy makers, practitioners and academics to hear about the findings of the landmark Australian Child Maltreatment Study from one of its principal authors, Professor Ben Mathews (QUT).
Following a powerful ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ by young Wiradjuri woman, Savannah Fynn, the event was formally opened by the Minister for Families and Communities, The Hon. Kate Washington MP.
The Minister expressed deep shock at the findings, recognising both the urgent need to use this research to achieve the type of cultural shift required for the community to understand the social and emotional cost of child maltreatment and the need for policy makers and practitioners to keep child wellbeing at the centre of decision making.
Professor Ben Mathews outlined the key findings of the Study, which included:
- 62% of Australians have experienced 1 or more types of maltreatment.
- 48% of those who experience maltreatment go on to develop a mental health disorder.
- People who have experienced maltreatment are 4.6 X more likely to attempt suicide, 3.9 X more likely to have self-harmed in the past 12 months and 6.2 X more likely to be cannabis dependent.
- Girls experience 2 X rate of sexual abuse and 1.5 X rate of emotional abuse compared to boys.
- Exposure to domestic violence has the highest prevalence and most commonly co-occurs with other types of maltreatment.
- Sexual abuse towards a young person by another young person that is known to them is significantly increasing.
We were fortunate to be joined by a panel of experts including:
- Elaine Thomson, Acting Executive Director, NSW Office of the Senior Practitioner, Department of Communities and Justice
- Dr Paul Gray, Associate Professor, University of Technology Sydney, Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research
- Annette Michaux, Director, The Parenting Research Centre/Raising Children Network
- Anne Hollonds, National Children’s Commissioner
The panel members each shared their responses to the ACMS and reflected on things we can do in practice to impact the prevalence of child maltreatment in our society, including:
- Taking a public health approach that includes promoting universal primary prevention messages about valuing children, upholding their rights, and providing opportunities for every parent to access parenting skills education.
- Reducing sources of toxic stress within families through greater access to evidence-based supports for families to address risk factors. Services need to be targeted to the needs of parents experiencing different kinds of vulnerabilities (such as poverty, addiction or mental illness) or at times of greater vulnerability (such as recent separation).
- Conducting further research into the cause of the increase in sexual abuse inflicted by boys and delivering education around attitudinal and behaviour change.
- Acknowledging and valuing cultural continuity for its role in healing and recovery, especially for Aboriginal children.
In closing the event, ACWA CEO, Maree Walk thanked Professor Mathews and the whole research team for this incredible contribution, saying, “We really want them to know that we understand what a great gift they have given our whole sector”.
Find out more about the Australian Child Maltreatment Study