Date: 
Tuesday 1 December 2015

About this project

In 2015 the National Children’s Commissioner conducted research and consultations on the impact of family and domestic violence on children and young people. The Commissioner’s investigation involved a series of expert roundtables, individual consultations and a submissions process. This page provides a summary of the key findings and recommendations from the national investigation. Chapter 4 of the Children’s Rights Report 2015 contains the full results.

Overview
New data about children's experiences
Key findings and recommendations
Developments since the 2015 report


Overview

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires Australia to use a child rights-based approach to address family and domestic violence (1) so that:

  • vulnerable and marginalised groups of children are protected
  • the best interests of children are prioritised
  • the views of children are respected
  • prevention measures consider the impact of family and domestic violence in terms of children’s development.(2)

While negative outcomes are well recognised and documented, factors that mitigate the impacts of family and domestic violence and promote resilience are less well understood.

Differences in outcomes and impacts for children in different populations highlight the need for more in-depth research on the factors and interventions that enhance children’s resilience and ability to cope with experiences of family and domestic violence.

Efforts to understand children’s experiences are complicated by the difficulties of isolating the impacts of family and domestic violence from other detrimental environmental factors, such as poverty, parental substance abuse, family dysfunction and mental ill-health.

The impact of family and domestic violence on some groups of children is further compounded by experiences of discrimination and marginalisation. In this context, groups of children and young people who are particularly vulnerable include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, children with disability, children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

It has also been observed that the effects of family and domestic violence manifest differently depending on the developmental stages of the children.


New data about children's experiences

New data was sourced for the Commissioner’s national investigation to help build a picture of how children are affected - as witnesses, bystanders and victims. Some of the key findings are presented below.

ABS Recorded Crime – Victims data between 2010 and 2013 about the number of police recorded child victims of physical assault and sexual assault in a residential location aged 0 to 17 years:(3)

  • There were 14,048 police recorded child victims of physical assault by a family member in New South Wales, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.
  • There were 12,073 police recorded child victims of sexual assault by a family member in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

ABS 2012 Personal Safety Survey estimated data about the number of adults who first experienced physical abuse and sexual abuse when they were aged 0 to 14 years:(4)

  • It was estimated there were 839,400 adult women and 596,400 adult men who first experienced physical abuse by a family member as a child aged between 0 to 14 years.
  • It was estimated there were 515,200 adult women and 97,800 adult men who first experienced sexual abuse by a family member as a child aged between 0 to 14 years.

National Centre for Longitudinal Data research summaries:(5)

  • Approximately 6% of mothers participating in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children reported that they had been afraid of their current partners.
  • Remoteness was the single biggest predictor of partner violence in the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children.

Kids Helpline data about the number of contacts received from children aged 5 to 17 years between January 2012 and December 2014 where family or domestic violence was raised as the main concern or as a second significant concern:(6)

  • Of the 999 contacts where the main or secondary concern raised was family or domestic violence, 34% were from children aged 10 to 13 years.
  • The largest proportion of the 999 contacts (40%) were in relation to exposure to violence between parents, or between a parent and a partner or ex-partner

Key findings and recommendations

(Recommendations 1 and 2 of the Children's Rights Report relate to the National Children's Commissioner's project on Business and Children's Rights)

Inconsistent terminology and definitions across state and territory jurisdictions in relation to children affected by family and domestic violence reduces the comprehensiveness of data collection.

Under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is working to implement a national data collection and reporting framework.
This framework uses behaviour-based definitions of family, domestic or sexual violence to capture cohesive national data about ‘family and domestic violence’. This approach is promising but much work remains to be done to achieve behaviour-based definitions that are fully inclusive of all children, including those at particular risk.

Recommendation 3: The Annual Progress Reports of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children should detail how all jurisdictions are working towards implementing the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Data Collection and Reporting Framework. Click here to read about progress made towards this recommendation. 
Recommendation 4: Data about a child’s experience as a victim of family and domestic violence should be recorded as a separate entry in the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Data Collection and Reporting Framework, and not just part of an adult entry.
Recommendation 5: Data about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex status should be recorded in the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Data Collection and Reporting Framework.
Recommendation 6: The Annual Progress Reports of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children should detail how the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey is working towards surveying adequate sampling sizes across vulnerable groups. Click here to read about progress made towards this recommendation. 

 

The negative outcomes of family and domestic violence on children are well recognised and documented. However, factors that mitigate the impacts of family and domestic violence and promote resilience are less well understood.

Differences in outcomes and impacts for children in different populations highlight the need for more in-depth research on the factors and interventions that enhance children’s resilience and ability to cope with experiences of family and domestic violence.

Efforts to understand children’s experiences are complicated by the difficulties of isolating the impacts of family and domestic violence from other detrimental factors, such as poverty, parental substance abuse, family dysfunction, mental ill-health and experiences of discrimination and marginalisation.

The effects of family and domestic violence manifest differently depending on the developmental stages of the children affected.

Recommendation 7: Support for the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) project by the Australian Government Department of Health is extended after 30 June 2016 and support for the Mothers and their Children’s Health (MatCH) project by the Australian Government Department of Health is also extended after its National Health and Medical Research Council grant expires in 2017.
Recommendation 8: Support for the ‘Improving the developmental outcomes of Northern Territory children: a data linkage study to inform policy and practice in health, family services and education’ currently being conducted in the Northern Territory by Menzies School of Health Research is provided by the Australian Government Department of Social Services after its National Health and Medical Research Council grant expires in 2017.

 

Overall, there is no coherent public policy approach to children affected by family and domestic violence. This results in uncoordinated and poorly directed responses to children who experience family and domestic violence.

Children’s experiences of family and domestic violence are typically described as ‘witnessing violence’, ‘being exposed to violence’, and ‘being directly abused in the context of family and domestic violence’.

These three categories have traditionally been treated as separate entities. However, witnessing and exposure to family and domestic violence are increasingly being recognised as forms of abuse that can be reported to child protection authorities.

Child protection systems have not been designed to consider the co-existence of an adult victim and child victims, often leading to removal rather than a cohesive family-centred approach.
In the main, children receive support in the context of the needs of the parent escaping family and domestic violence, rather than in response to their specific therapeutic needs.

Recommendation 9: The Council of Australian Governments prioritise the development of a child-focused policy framework for responses to family and domestic violence. Click here to read about progress made towards this recommendation.

 

During the examination a number of concerns were raised about the capacity of the family law system to deal with family and domestic violence involving children.

Key concerns raised during the examination included:

  • lack of understanding and inappropriate responses to family and domestic violence by those working in the family law system
  • conflicts between the right of parental contact and the rights and best interests of the child
  • court decisions which do not yet fully reflect the amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) in 2012
  • inappropriate use of mediation for some families.

In this context, the Australian Institute of Family Studies recently completed a project evaluating the 2012 amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). Similarly, the Family Law Council is undertaking a review of the intersection of family law and child protection systems, and ways of improving assistance to families with complex needs.

The Family Court of Australia provides special case management in those cases where a child has experienced ‘serious physical abuse or sexual abuse’ (the Magellan Program).

Given the known impact of all types of family and domestic violence on children, and the complexity of cases that now present to the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, consideration should be given to expanding the Magellan Program to incorporate the broader definitions of family violence and abuse as reflected in the 2012 amendments.

Recommendation 10: A review of the criteria for entry into the Magellan program should be undertaken by the Family Court of Australia or another appropriate entity.  Regard should be given to the findings and recommendations of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence and also the Family Law Council Inquiry into families with complex needs and the intersection of the family law and child protection systems.

 

Gaps in the data undermine our ability to understand the full impact of family and domestic violence on children and build a national picture about these children.

There is only limited breakdown on the age of child victims of physical assault and sexual assault, although this may improve with the provision of the dates of birth of victims in the next cycle of data collection by the ABS.

There is no ABS 2012 Personal Safety Survey data about people’s experiences of childhood abuse between the age of 15 and 17 years.

There is limited data about offenders and perpetrators due to discrepancies in definitions and the coding of data across jurisdictions, which may improve with the adoption of the ABS National Data Collection and Reporting Framework.

Recommendation 11: The Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey should extend its collection of information from men and women aged 18 years and over about their experiences of abuse from the ages of 0-15 years to the ages of 0-17 years.
Recommendation 12: The Australian Bureau of Statistics prioritise working with state and territory jurisdictions to achieve national consistency in the coding of offender relationships to child victims.

 

There is a clear need for early intervention, especially in the period from conception to early childhood, to prevent domestic violence and provide better support and education for new and would be parents.

Pregnancy is widely recognised as a high risk time for family violence. Despite this, no jurisdiction currently collects information on family violence as part of its Perinatal Data Collection. Some jurisdictions routinely screen women for family and domestic violence, while others screen on a case by case basis. The need for early intervention was also reinforced by the data provided by the ABS and Kids Helpline, which showed that younger children were predominately the victims of violence.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are overrepresented in the context of family and domestic violence, including as victims of physical and sexual assault.

The need for a spectrum of primary, secondary and tertiary interventions to overcome disadvantages faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families was raised throughout the investigation.

The Third Action Plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children includes a cross-cutting strategy to address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families dealing with complex issues, including family and domestic violence, focusing on early intervention.

The Indigenous Health Equity Unit at the University of Melbourne has established a Scientific Committee to progress a research agenda on the impact of a First 1000 Days approach to family and domestic violence interventions to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. The results of this work will provide a strong basis from which to guide intervention in the early years.

Recommendation 13: Options for data collection on screening for family and domestic violence during pregnancy through the National Perinatal Data Collection are progressed by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Recommendation 14: The Australian Government Department of Social Services support the work of Professor Arabena and the Indigenous Health Equity Unit at the University of Melbourne to progress the early intervention research agenda under the First 1000 Days initiative.

 

Sibling violence, and family and domestic violence experienced by female children aged 15 to 17 years emerged as particular areas where targeted research is needed.

Siblings account for a sizeable proportion of physical assault and sexual assault offenders in those jurisdictions with available data. For example, in NSW in 2010-13, 13.41% of Indigenous child victims and 11.65% of non-Indigenous child victims of physical assault reported the offender was their sibling. For sexual assault, these proportions were 6.47% of Indigenous child victims and 5.84% of non-Indigenous child victims.

The extent and impact of sibling violence is an area requiring further research.

Female children aged 15 -17 accounted for a significant proportion of child victims who reported the offender was their partner. For example, in NSW in 2010-13, 84.07% of Indigenous and 87.15% of non-Indigenous female child victims of physical assault aged 15-17 reported the offender was their partner. For sexual assault, these proportions were 45.34% of Indigenous and 49.68% of non-Indigenous female child victims aged 15-17.

Research into educational programs targeted at children and young people to prevent violence is required to better meet the needs of and understand the situation of female teenagers experiencing violence.

Recommendation 15: The next ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety) Research Program should include research into sibling violence.
Recommendation 16: The next ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety) Research Program should include research into female children aged 15 to 17 years affected by family and domestic violence.

 


Developments since the 2015 report

The Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children presented their final report to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in April 2016. This report acknowledged that the needs and wellbeing of children and young people should be considered across all areas of action in government responses to violence against women.

Importantly,  Action Area 3 of the panel’s report  states that children and young people should be recognised as victims of violence against women in their own right, and recommends that the views and experiences of children and young people be taken into account during the scoping, design, and evaluation of services.(8)

In September 2015, in response to the initial advice of COAG’s Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children, the Commonwealth Government announced $100 million for a Women’s Safety Package.(9)

This funding supports the work being undertaken as part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (the National Plan) and is in addition to the Commonwealth Government’s $100 million investment in the Second Action Plan of the National Plan.(10) COAG has also agreed to undertake a national educational campaign for reducing family and domestic violence.(11)

It is encouraging that a number of states and territories have also made significant commitments to address the impact of family and domestic violence on children and young people: 

  • In August 2015, the Tasmanian Government announced funding of $355,000 for the delivery of respectful relationships education in all Tasmanian schools, from Kindergarten to Year 12, as part of the Tasmanian curriculum.(12)
  • In April 2016, the Victorian Government announced an investment of $21.8 million to strengthen respectful relationships education within the state curriculum, from Kindergarten through to Year 10.(13)

In 2016, as a result of strong advocacy to ensure the experiences of children involved with the family law system are understood and their voices heard, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has been commissioned by the Federal Attorney-General’s Department to undertake the research project: Children and young people in separated families: family law system experiences and needs.(14This project is designed to build on the existing research on separated families to develop a better understanding of the experiences of children and young people after the separation of their parents, and the extent to which their needs are being met by the family law system.(15) The project will address a significant gap in knowledge by gathering information directly from children and young people themselves. The project will involve interviews with children and young people between 10 and 17 years of age. For more information about this project, view the Australian Institute of Family Studies website

 

Progress towards 2015 Children's Rights Report Recommendations 

Recommendation 3 

In 2016, the Department of Social Services reported to the National Children's Commissioner that this year they are in the process of reinstating the National Data Improvement Working Group, with representatives from each state and territory, to support the ongoing implementation of the National Data Collection and Reporting Framework (DCRF). The DCRF is the first step towards building a stronger evidence base for more accurate and reliable statistical outputs. The DCRF is a broad level conceptual map that provides a systematic way of organising data about experiences of family and domestic violence for statistical measurement. It also provides specification and standard for key data items for both data collection and reporting purposes.

The Department will use this working group to test the possibility of jurisdictions providing regular reports on their progress in implementing the DCRF. The department also noted some states, such as Victoria, are developing a family violence data framework and making improvements to their Family Violence Database.

Recommendation 6

The Department of Social Services also indicated to the National Children's Commissioner that work is already underway to improve data on violence against vulnerable groups. On 7 August 2015, the Minister for Social Services announced funding of $160,000 for the Diversity Data project. The project, undertaken by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), reviewed existing knowledge about how women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women with disability experience violence, identified key gaps in data and considered options to improve data collection for these groups in the future. This information will be used to improve data on vulnerable groups.

Recommendation 9

The Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children presented their final report to COAG in April 2016. The need to consider children and young people more fully in federal, state and territory government responses to violence against women was a cross-cutting issue in all areas of action outlined in the report.

A focus on children and young people was also specifically outlined in Recommendation 3.1 of the report, which stated:

       All Commonwealth, state and territory governments should, when collecting data and carrying outresearch on violence against women and their children, recognise that children and young people are victims of violence against women in their own right.
       Governments should:

  • ensure data collected on violence against women includes information on children and young people and their experiences as direct and indirect victims of violence; where appropriate,  specific data on diverse groups of children and young people should be collected
  • ensure the views and experiences of children and young people are taken into account in the scoping, design and evaluation of services and programmes, where appropriate.(16

 


Support Services

If you are feeling distressed or are experiencing family and domestic violence and would like to talk to someone, please contact:

 


References

(1) Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20 November 1989, 1577 UNTS 3 (entered into force 2 September 1990) Article 19.
(2
Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No 13: The right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence, 56th sess, UN Doc CRC/C/GC/13 (18 April 2011) [59–63].
(3) See Appendix 8 of Children’s Rights Report 2015.
(4) See Appendix 9 of Children’s Rights Report 2015.
(5) See Appendix 10 of Children’s Rights Report 2015.
(6) See Appendix 11 of Children’s Rights Report 2015.
(7) Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government, COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children: Final Report, (2016) 61.
(8) Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government, COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children: Final Report, (2016) 61.
(9) Prime Minister of Australia, Transcript of joint press conference: women’s safety package to stop the violence, 24 September 2015 (the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Rosie Batty and Ken Lay). At https://www.pm.gov.au/media/2015-09-24/transcript-joint-press-conference... (Viewed 22 February 2017) .
(10) Prime Minister of Australia, Women’s Safety Package to Stop the Violence, (Joint Media Release, 24 September 2015). At http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/media/release-womens-safety-package-to... (Viewed 22 February 2017).
(11) Prime Minister of Australia, Women’s Safety Package to Stop the Violence, (Joint Media Release, 24 September 2015). At http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/media/release-womens-safety-package-to... (Viewed 22 February 2017).
(12) Minister for Education and Training, Family Violence Action Plan: Education (Media Release, 13 August 2015). At http://www.premier.tas.gov.au/releases/family_violence_action_plan_educa...  (Viewed 22 February 2017).
(13) Minister for Education (Vic), Promoting respectful relationships in our schools and kinders, (Media Release, 13 April 2016). At http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/promoting-respectful-relationships-in-our-...  (Viewed 22 February 2017).
(14) Australian Institute of Family Studies, Children and young people in separated families (2016). At https://aifs.gov.au/projects/children-and-young-people-separated-families (viewed 22 February 2017).
(15) Australian Institute of Family Studies, Children and young people in separated families (2016). At https://aifs.gov.au/projects/children-and-young-people-separated-families (viewed 22 February 2017).
(16) Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government, COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children: Final Report, (2016) 61.