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National Children’s Commissioner calls for action after ‘shocking’ research on child maltreatment in Australia

Children's Rights
Content type: Media Release

Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds says ”confronting new findings from the Australian Child Maltreatment Study provide evidence, for the first time, of the scale of child maltreatment in Australia.

"Child maltreatment is a much bigger problem than we thought, leading to serious negative lifelong harms for children, and massive costs to the community.

“The ground-breaking nationwide study of 8500 Australians aged 16 and over has painted a truly harrowing picture of the scale and impact of child maltreatment in this country, with a staggering two-thirds of respondents reporting having experienced maltreatment in childhood.”

32% of these respondents had experienced physical abuse, 28.5% had experienced sexual abuse, 30.9% had experienced emotional abuse, 8.9% had experienced neglect, and 39.6% had experienced domestic and family violence.  39.4% of respondents had experienced two or more types of child maltreatment.

Ms Hollonds said: “Let’s be clear. In a rich and developed country like Australia, high rates of child maltreatment are a sign of failed public service systems: poorly designed, fragmented, and lacking co-ordination across health, mental health, education, and social services.

“A large proportion of children who experience maltreatment will suffer serious problems throughout their lives, including mental health disorders and suicide attempts. Child maltreatment is also a major contributing factor to Australia’s youth justice crisis.

“These tragic harms to children also come with greatly increased costs to the community. Mental health services alone have been estimated by the Productivity Commission to cost well over $200 billion each year.

“Child maltreatment can be prevented and ameliorated, but our policies and service systems are poorly designed, uncoordinated, and not fit-for-purpose. Families who need help are often not able to get the help they need.

“Unlike other countries, we have no National Strategy for Child Wellbeing with clear accountabilities. We have no reporting on budget allocations for child wellbeing. We have no Minister for Children.  We have no vision, and we have had no urgency for change.

“In a prosperous country like Australia, child wellbeing should be a bipartisan priority. Today we have a rare opportunity to build a national agreement to prioritise child wellbeing and create a roadmap for reform.

“In the past we have had no ‘compass’ to guide our decisions and our investments. An evidence-informed, overarching National Strategy for Child Wellbeing, built on the foundations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, could be our guide.

“If these shocking findings from the Australian Child Maltreatment Study do not lead to urgent national action by governments, then the question is:  What will it take to make child wellbeing a national priority in Australia?”

Read the Australian Child Maltreatment Study.

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