8/3/13 Rachel Browne; Sun-Herald journalist
The number of child abuse and neglect victims rose 20 per cent last year, reversing a long-term decline. A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows the number of children involved in substantiated cases of abuse and neglect increased from 31,527 to 37,781 in 2011-12. Child welfare experts believe the spike revealed in the report, Child Protection Australia 2011-12, is due to improved investigation methods but cannot rule out a real rise in the incidence of abuse.
Tim Beard, head of the institute’s child welfare and prisoner health unit, said the rise was due to a number of factors, including greater awareness of child protection because of inquiries being held in Victoria and Queensland.
“The most serious cases are now getting the attention they warrant, which is why we are seeing such an increased level of substantiation. We cannot rule out a higher prevalence of abuse and neglect but there has to be more to it than that to explain such an increase.” Substantiated cases of abuse and neglect have been falling since 2007-08, with University of Sydney child protection expert Judy Cashmore saying investigation methods have improved. “The most obvious explanation is a difference to the prioritisation of the cases which get followed up,” she said. “There have also been changes in practice in various states which allow more caseworkers to get out in the field.”
There were more than 250,000 notifications of alleged abuse involving 173,502 children in 2011-12. Of the notifications, 46 per cent were investigated, finding 48,420 substantiated cases involving 37,781 children. NSW had the highest number of notifications, with almost 100,000 allegations of abuse. It also had the highest number of substantiated incidents with 23,175 cases. There were 63,830 notifications in Victoria, with 9075 substantiated. Louise Voigt, chief executive of child welfare group Barnardos Australia, said child abuse was still a critical problem. “Society’s standards on child rearing have improved considerably and what we’re seeing is increased recognition of what constitutes abuse and neglect,” she said.
Nationally, the most common type of substantiated abuse was emotional (36 per cent), followed by neglect (31 per cent), physical (21 per cent) and sexual (12 per cent). Infants under 12 months were most likely to suffer substantiated abuse and neglect. Aboriginal children were eight times more likely to be the subject of substantiated abuse and neglect than non-Aboriginal children.