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Child abuse and neglect: integrated approach essential

Media Release

21 March 2000

A more integrated approach to child abuse and neglect issues, while still dealing with child sexual abuse in its own right, is advocated by the latest paper from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).

No. 146 in the Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice series, Child Abuse and Neglect: Part 1 - Redefining the Issues, by Marianne James, outlines issues relating to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and neglect of children.

"Defining child abuse and neglect is difficult because of the constantly changing parameters. It is no longer possible to separate physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, as many children experience multiple forms of abuse", AIC Director, Dr Adam Graycar, said today.

The paper also outlines the difficulties in estimating the incidence of child abuse and neglect because statistics reflect only those cases reported to agencies and the police. Curent research suggests that in 1997-98, 5.6 children per 1000 were the subject of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect.

In police reports for 1998, more than 50 per cent of all sexual assaults against males involved boys aged less than 15 years, and 40 per cent of all sexual assaults against females involved girls aged less than 15 years.

The NSW Child Death Review Team reported that from June 1996 to June 1997, 26 children and young people died in circumstances indicative of non-accidental injury.

For the period 1989-90 to 1997-98, 284 homicides of children aged less than 15 years were recorded, almost 20 per cent of which could be described as child abuse homicides.

Also raised in the paper are issues of 'systems abuse' in which the under-resourced child-care system is seen as failing to meet the needs of children, sexual abuse in institutions, and paedophilia.

The paper points out that the risk factors and protective factors which have been identified for child abuse and neglect also contribute to juvenile delinquency, youth suicide, youth homelessness and mental health problems.

A second AIC Trends & Issues paper due later in the year will examine practical interventions and prevention activities.