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Study identifies factors associated with child maltreatment in the home

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New research has identified a complex interplay of child, parental, and contextual factors associated with the maltreatment of children by their families.

The comprehensive findings by researchers from Australian Catholic University (ACU) identify key areas that could be targeted with support and parental education to reverse the trend. The research also highlights a variety of protective factors which keep children safe from harm.

The research follows the release of the Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) last year showing 62.2% of Australians aged 16 and over experienced sexual, physical, or , neglect, or exposure to . Almost two-thirds of those were subjected to more than one child maltreatment type.

ACU Institute of Child Protection Studies Director Professor Daryl Higgins, the lead author of the new rapid review research based on 52 studies, and an ACMS chief investigator, said while the associated factors were not necessarily causative, they highlighted key areas that needed to be targeted to better safeguard children.

"This new research has pinpointed multiple issues associated with experiences of child maltreatment and contact with a child protection service that we need to address as a matter of urgency," Professor Higgins said.

"This is not about shaming or targeting individuals or circumstances, but rather about listening to the evidence and providing the supports needed to keep children safe and help families, in all their diversity, to thrive.

"For example, First Nations families were overrepresented in our child protection systems, but this is likely due to systemic issues such as racism, ableism, disadvantage, and violence which has disproportionately affected this group. It does not mean the risk of maltreatment is inherent in this group. What we are seeing is an interplay of associated factors."

The research, published in the Australian Journal of Social Issues was conducted by ACU Ph.D. student Gabrielle Hunt in coordination with the Australian Institute of Family Studies. It identified a range of factors associated with child abuse and neglect including:

  • Child-level factors: Children from First Nations and , those who identify as LGBTQIA+, having a physical or , low birthweight, experiencing two or more before the age of three, prior maltreatment, a history of foster care or group home placements.
  • Family/ parent characteristics: Substance abuse, domestic or interpersonal violence, intergenerational involvement from child protection systems, , criminality, maternal age, poor parenting skills including authoritarian attitudes, poor supervision of children, and failing to meet a child's care needs.
  • Structural or Environmental Factors: Housing instability and homelessness, single parent households, isolation, a lack of support for child rearing, and parental exposure to such as war, or natural disaster.
  • Protective factors: Access to services and support, including participation in therapy, middle and high income, parental education attainment, the support of two parents, positive family relationships, and older maternal age.

Professor Higgins said parent characteristics were the strongest association and better supports were needed. "Government and community efforts must target specific strategies to combat child maltreatment towards these known associated factors, as well as investing in supports across the whole population," he said.

More information: Daryl J. Higgins et al, Child, parent and contextual factors associated with child protection system involvement and child maltreatment in the family: A rapid evidence review, Australian Journal of Social Issues (2023). DOI: 10.1002/ajs4.306

Provided by Australian Catholic University

Citation: Study identifies factors associated with child maltreatment in the home (2024, January 15) retrieved 22 April 2024 from
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