Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Don't turn away from dire child abuse stats

  • 25 May 2017


I woke up, abluted, dressed, slithered off to work, turned on my computer and went for a coffee while the cyberhamster warmed up. With caffeine in my veins and hope in my heart I surfed for news of the world and Oz, that fair, magical kingdom of the fair go and 'she'll be right' attitude.

I've spent 25 years reporting bits and pieces of human misery, yet with increasing mass and social media reportage of child abuse and general awareness of the issues involved, especially around family and domestic violence, I am likely to be optimistic about the possible social change when it comes to how we care for children in this country.

Yet it was depressing, that morning in April, to read the findings of the federal government's Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), which put its CFCA (Child Family Community Australia) researchers on to a project that 'summarises Australian studies that have estimated the prevalence of different forms of abuse and neglect'. The news was not good. It weighs on me still.

The paper looked at percentage rates of Australian kids who suffer physical abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment, exposure to family violence, and sexual abuse. The results are gleaned from numerous studies and governed by a truckload of necessary caveats. It cites five ways Australians are inflicting pain and indifference on children: physically, materially, emotionally, environmentally, and sexually.

In Australia, prevalence rate estimates of physical abuse of children, in the majority of studies, range from 5-10 per cent. But that's only the start of this pentagon of pain. How do we do when it comes to straight out neglect of our kids? (Failing to meet basic needs such as 'adequate food, shelter, clothing, supervision, hygiene, medical attention, safe living conditions, education or emotional development'.)

Prevalence estimates for Australian children 'ranged from 1.6 per cent to 4 per cent'. The paper noted that the studies with the lowest estimates 'used a single item measure of neglect ("I was neglected") that could have led to a conservative estimate'. Further, while the studies were 'reasonably representative', their samples 'slightly under-represented those most at risk ... people with a low socio-economic status'.

As for emotional abuse, while 'more research is needed to comprehensively measure the prevalence of emotional maltreatment in Australia', we are looking at a 'prevalence rate for emotional maltreatment in Australia ... between 9 per cent and 14 per cent'.

Between 4 and 23 per cent of Australian