Primary and secondary prevention of abuse and neglect

17.31 Barnardos Australia has noted

[A]busive families are socially vulnerable and thus will have periods when they cope adequately and rapid periods of disintegration. Services should therefore be available but be flexible enough to change with need. ..[I]f the causes of abuse and neglect lie in the long-term disadvantage of families and their subsequent social isolation, the short-term approaches are unlikely to make a difference to the family’s functioning.[50]

17.32 The federal Government is responsible for many of the services that aid in the prevention of child abuse and neglect and provide assistance to vulnerable families.[51] These services include income support, child care, housing and medical services. The 1994 AIFS report The Commonwealth’s Role in Preventing Child Abuse found that, while the Commonwealth funds and plans services, policies and programs aimed at children and families, the division of responsibility for child and family protection is less than clear among different levels of government and the co-ordination of policy, research and planning service delivery is less than ideal.[52]

17.33 The report made eight recommendations for better federal support of child protection policies and strategies, including recommendations that the Commonwealth instruct a responsible body to produce an annual report on policies and programs for children and families with children. It recommended that this body eventually take on responsibility for policy and program co-ordination at the federal level, undertake a national program of research into child abuse prevention strategies across all portfolios and evaluate current child abuse prevention programs.

17.34 DRP 3 suggested that the Child Protection Council be revived.[53] The Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services submitted to the Inquiry that

…the Standing Committee of Community Services and Income Security Administrators, which reports directly to the Federal and State Community Services Ministers, is the most appropriate location for responsibility for monitoring and co-ordinating issues relevant to the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

In order to draw more effectively on the breadth of experience in the community, it has been decided that a community based advisory council…will be set up. This body will provide community perspectives on child abuse and parenting education issues to the Minister for Family Services.[54]

The Minister for Family Services announced the establishment of this council, the National Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse, on 9 September 1997.[55]

17.35 This arrangement may suffer from a divided focus between the Standing Committee answering to the Ministerial Council and the new Advisory Council answering to the federal Minister. However, it goes some way to satisfying the Inquiry’s recommendation for government and community liaison on prevention of child abuse and neglect. The Advisory Council must be assured some degree of independence in identifying areas for attention. We recommend that this council work closely with OFC and the Standing Committee of Community Service and Income Security Administrators.

Recommendation 166 Research should be conducted and data collected on child protection strategies across portfolios. This research should focus not only on those policies and programs that specifically address child abuse prevention but also on policies and programs directed at children, and families with children, that have implications for child abuse prevention, such as income support, child care, housing and medical services. It should identify those areas in which the federal Government could encourage co-operative arrangements with and between States and Territories for the effective provision of services. It should form the basis for OFC’s advice to the federal Government on the co-ordination necessary for the provision of primary and secondary prevention services by federal agencies.

Implementation. OFC should support this research and co-ordinate data collection to these ends. It should publish its findings in its annual reports on the status of children in Australia (see recommendation 3) and provide the required advice.

Recommendation 167 The proposed National Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse should be provided with some measure of independence to identify issues and problems requiring attention. Links should be developed and maintained with OFC and with the Standing Committee of Community Services and Income Security Administrators.

Implementation. The Department of Health and Human Services should take the appropriate action.

[50] L Voight & S Tregeagle Effective Child Protection Monograph 19 Barnardos Australia Sydney 1995, 5.

[51] Primary prevention aims to stop abuse before it starts by targeting members of the community through broad based programs to raise awareness of the problem and provide support services. Secondary prevention programs are aimed at reducing the incidence of abuse and neglect by appropriately identifying families who are more likely to abuse or neglect their children and providing them with support and services to resolve their problems: see G Calvert ‘Using mass media campaigns to prevent child sexual assault in New South Wales’ in G Calvert, A Ford & P Parkinson (eds) The Practice of Child Protection: Australian Approaches Hale & Iremonger Sydney 1992.

[52] M Rayner The Commonwealth’s Role in Preventing Child Abuse AIFS Melbourne 1994. This report has been released but not yet published.

[53] Draft rec 9.7.

[54] DRP Submission 75.

[55] J Moylan, Minister for Family Services Media Release 9 September 1997.