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Child Protection in Australia. Dr Leah Bromfield and Ms Prue Holzer National Child Protection Clearinghouse. National Child Protection Clearinghouse. A specialist information, advisory and research unit focused on the prevention of child abuse and neglect

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Child Protection in Australia

Dr Leah Bromfield and Ms Prue Holzer

National Child Protection Clearinghouse

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National Child Protection Clearinghouse

  • A specialist information, advisory and research unit focused on the prevention of child abuse and neglect

    • Based at the Australian Institute of Family Studies

    • Funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

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What does a ‘Clearinghouse’ do?

  • The Clearinghouse provides a range of services to policy makers, practitioners, researchers and the community:

    • publications

    • information & advisory service

    • “help-desk” (part of information and advisory service)

    • Library (part of information and advisory service)

    • childprotect email discussion list

    • a webpage providing useful information and resources

  • The Clearinghouse also undertakes new research

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  • Publications include

    • Child Abuse Prevention Issues

    • Child Abuse Prevention Newsletter

    • NCPC Research Brief

    • Resource sheets

    • Conference and workshop presentations

    • Research reports and journal articles

    • New publications coming in 2006: Policy Brief & Practice Brief

  • Issues papers and newsletters are also available in hard copy and are delivered quarterly

  • To join the Clearinghouse mailing list go to:

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  • Publications

    • focus on providing clear information

    • describing what the research tells us

    • identifying the implications for the sector

    • accessible language

    • brief

  • All Clearinghouse publications are free and can be downloaded from our website, go to:

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Information & Advisory Service

  • Attend and present at conferences

  • Provide presentations for the purposes of promotion or education

  • Representation on key external committees (e.g., reference groups, editorial boards, working groups)

  • Participate in or resource key forums and events

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  • Part of the information and advisory service

  • For information about research evidence in areas of child abuse prevention, child protection, and out-of-home care, for example:

    • Statistics on child abuse and neglect

    • Requirements for police checks

    • Effects of abuse and neglect on children

  • Any person from anywhere in Australia can contact the helpdesk via phone or email

  • 03 9214 7888


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Library services

  • Part of the information and advisory service

  • Extensive collection of materials related to child abuse prevention, child protection and out-of-home care

    • Australian and key international resources

    • Journals, books, articles, reports, etc.

  • Catalogue searchable online

  • Librarian conducts literature searches on request

    03 9214 7888 or

  • Staff from NGOs can become a member (free)

  • Materials also available through inter-library loan

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  • childprotect an email discussion list promoting

    • exchange of information and ideas

    • sharing of resources

  • for professionals working in the field of child abuse prevention and child protection and other interested persons

  • moderated by the Clearinghouse

  • To join go to

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NCPC Website

  • Information and resources for policy makers, practitioners, researchers and the community, including:

    • NCPC Publications

    • Resources (e.g. bibliographies, AIFS library catalogue)

    • NCPC Research

    • Getting help (e.g. reporting maltreatment, police checks, government departments, helplines, internet)

    • Conferences

    • Links to other websites

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NCPC Research

  • The Clearinghouse also undertakes new research

  • Commissioned or self-initiated

  • Examples include:

    • profiling promising practice in recruiting and supporting Indigenous carers

    • impact of neighbourhood on children's outcomes

    • identify commonalities and differences across Australian jurisdictions in the provision of child protection services and associated areas

  • For more information go to:

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Myths about child abuse & neglect

  • Complete ‘Myths and realities’ exercise (handout)

  • First instinct (don’t spend too much time on each item)

  • For each item select either:

  • “myth”, “reality” or “not sure”

  • Source:

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Myths & realities

  • Children are more likely to be abused by people they know than strangers

  • The number of children being abused and neglected is increasing

  • If children don’t witness domestic violence they are not affected by it

  • Child abuse can lead to depression, drug abuse and homelessness in later life





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Myths & realities


  • Boys are rarely victims of sexual abuse

  • Disabled children are more likely to become victims of abuse than non-disabled children

  • Teenagers are sometimes to blame for their abuse

  • Consensual sex between a 14 year old girl and an adult is not abuse

  • Children make up stories about abuse

  • Children who disclose about their abuse and later retract their stories were lying about the abuse






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Myths & realities

  • Reporting to the state child protection authorities can cause more harm than the abuse itself

  • If a child is reported to the state child protection authorities they will always be taken away from their family

  • It is not always obvious that a child is being abused

  • If abuse happened once it is likely to happen again

  • Child abuse doesn’t happen in well educated families






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What is Child Maltreatment?

  • Umbrella term for various forms of ill-treatment of children by caregivers

  • Includes acts of commission (abuse) and omission (neglect)

  • Types of abuse and neglect

    • Physical abuse

    • Sexual abuse

    • Neglect

    • Emotional or psychological abuse

    • Witnessing family violence

  • Continuum from low to high severity

  • Different types frequently co-occur

  • Typically not a single incident - pattern of poor parenting

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Physical Abuse

  • Physically abusive behaviour refers to any non-accidental physically aggressive act towards a child

  • May be intentional or may be the inadvertent result of physical punishment

  • Physically abusive behaviours include: shoving, hitting, slapping, shaking, throwing, punching, biting, burning, and kicking

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Sexual Abuse

  • The use of a minor - female and male - for sexual gratification by an adult, or an adolescent or older child

  • Most commonly perpetrated by someone known to the child - parents, siblings and other family members

  • Includes a wide range of sexual activities: fondling genitals, masturbation, oral sex, vaginal and/or anal penetration, penetration by a finger, penis or other object, voyeurism and exhibitionism, and exploitation through pornography or prostitution

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  • Failure (usually by a parent) to provide a level of care that meets a child’s needs

  • Physical neglectful behaviours include failure to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, supervision, hygiene or medical attention

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Psychological maltreatment

  • Commonly known as “emotional abuse”

  • Includes acts of commission and omission

  • Emotionally abusive or neglectful behaviour refers to inappropriate verbal or symbolic acts and a failure to provide adequate non-physical nurture or emotional availability

  • A pattern of abuse, it is not a single incident

  • Includes rejecting, ignoring, isolating, terrorising, corrupting, verbal abuse and belittlement

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Witnessing family violence

  • Previously included in psychological maltreatment, however there is growing support for it being treated as a separate type of maltreatment

  • Witnessing family violence refers to a child being present (hearing or seeing)

    • while a parent or sibling is subjected to physical abuse, sexual abuse or psychological maltreatment, or

    • is visually exposed to the damage caused to persons or property by a family member’s violent behaviour

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How big is the problem?

  • 252,831 national reports to child protection

  • 46,154 reports substantiated as confirmed incidents of abuse or neglect

  • What is the most common type of maltreatment?

    • neglect, emotional, physical, sexual

  • 22, 130 living in out-of-home care

  • These figures are an inaccurate reflection of the true extent of child maltreatment

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006

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Who maltreats children?

  • National Figures

    • 74 % Natural Parent

    • 10% Step-parent or de facto

    • 7% Other relative or sibling

    • 5% Friend or neighbour

    • 4 % Others (e.g., teachers, sports

      coaches & strangers)

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2002

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Causes of child abuse & neglect

  • No one cause, factors commonly associated with maltreatment include:

    • Alcohol and drug use

    • Mental health problems

    • Family violence

    • Poor parenting skills

    • Early child bearing

    • Large families

    • Children with health, disability or behavioural problems

    • Adults with histories of being abused or neglected

    • Poverty

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Consequences of abuse & neglect

Host of health and social problems, such as:

  • Physical health problems

  • Learning problems

  • Trauma and psychological problems

  • Early school leaving

  • Youth suicide

  • Crime

  • Homelessness

  • Mental illness

  • Drug and alcohol abuse

  • Unemployment

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“…Child abuse will only stop when children like me become important to everyone…”

(Josh, 9 years)

Source: Australian Childhood Foundation. (2004). Play your part.

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What can you do for children? become important to everyone…”

  • Show children they are important and that you care how they feel

  • Try to understand the seriousness and consequences of child abuse and neglect

  • Don’t keep it to yourself – do something if you are worried about a child

  • Child Protection Crisis Service: 131 278

  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Source: Australian Childhood Foundation. (2004). Play your part.

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What can you do for parents? become important to everyone…”

  • Be there to listen. The chance for a parent to talk can be very effective in relieving pressure

  • Let parents know that you understand how challenging parenting can be

  • All parents need support at some time

  • Encourage parents to seek additional support when they need it

  • Parentline: 13 22 89

Source: Australian Childhood Foundation. (2004). Play your part.

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What can you do in your community? become important to everyone…”

  • Raise awareness about child abuse and neglect by talking about the problem, myths & realities

  • Ensure organisations and clubs in your local community that have contact with children have:

    • policies regarding appropriate screening processes

    • policies in place to ensure the organisation is “child safe”

Source: Australian Childhood Foundation. (2004). Play your part.

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More information and resources become important to everyone…”

  • Australian Childhood Foundation

  • National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN)

  • National Child Protection Clearinghouse

  • Australian Council for Children and Youth Organisations

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The role of child protection become important to everyone…”

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National comparison of child protection systems become important to everyone…”

  • Access report from:

  • Scope

    • Who is responsible?

    • Who is mandated to notify concerns?

    • What concerns must be notified?

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National comparison of child protection systems become important to everyone…”

  • Scope cont.

    • On what grounds can statutory authorities intervene?

    • How do child protection services respond?

      • Intake procedures

      • Assessment

      • Investigation

      • Case management

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Statutory child protection departments become important to everyone…”

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Findings become important to everyone…”

  • There were differences in the procedures and legislation guiding who is mandated to report alleged maltreatment and the provision of services

  • However, the core activities being undertaken by child protection practitioners were more similar than different

  • This means, families receive essentially the same types of services regardless of where they live in Australia

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Findings become important to everyone…”

  • The greatest area of difference was in the initial intake phase: the phase from which most statutory child protection data are drawn

  • There was also a great deal of difference in the response provided to those cases that did not meet the threshold for statutory child protection intervention

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VIC Mandatory Reporting become important to everyone…”

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What happens when a report is made? become important to everyone…”

1. Notification: report or allegation made to CP

2. Assessment

  • Did abusive or neglectful behaviour (allegedly) occur?

  • Did it, or is it likely to, cause significant harm?

  • Does the state need to intervene to keep the child safe?

  • Is the child in immediate danger?

    3. Investigation

  • Substantiation: a notification that is found on the balance of probabilities to be true

    4. Case management to keep child safe

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UN Convention on Rights of Child (CROC) become important to everyone…”

  • Australia is a signatory to the CROC

  • Articles in CROC relate to how CP responds

    • In all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration (article 3)

    • A child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents … (article 9)

  • Means that the first preference for CP is to support the parents to enable the child to remain safely with their family

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National Child Protection Clearinghouse become important to everyone…”

Australian Institute of Family Studies

300 Queen Street Melbourne

Victoria 3000 Australia

(03) 9214 7888