Chapter 13 Harm to children

Key statistics at a glance

Child abuse and neglect

  • In 2011-2012, there were 23,175 substantiated notifications of child abuse or neglect for children aged 0-17 years[1], relating to 14,677 children[2] (9.2 per 1,000 children in NSW). 
    • Over two-thirds (68.3%) of substantiated notifications in NSW in 2011-2012 were for one or more forms of abuse, with the remainder being for neglect (31.7%).  
    • Just over half (53.0%) of the children[3] who were the subject of a substantiation were female.
    • Aboriginal children were over eight times more likely to be subject of a substantiation than non-Aboriginal children (56.7 per 1,000 compared with 6.8 per 1,000). 

Domestic and family violence

  • In 2011, 14,930 children and young people aged 0-17 years (9.0 per 1,000) were protected by an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) in NSW. 
    • 36.5 per cent of people protected by ADVOs in 2011 were children.
    • A greater number of females aged 0-17 years were protected by an ADVO than males aged 0-17 years (9.6 per 1,000 compared with 8.4 per 1,000).

Children as victims of certain crimes

  • Assault was the most common type of offence against children and young people recorded by police in 2011.  There were 16,472 recorded victims aged 0-19 years (9.3 per 1,000).
    • Almost three-quarters of these assault victims (72.0%) knew the person who assaulted them.
  • Sexual assault was the second most common offence against children and young people recorded by police in 2011. There were 4,151 recorded victims aged 0-19 years (2.3 per 1000 children and young people).
    • Around five in six of these sexual assault victims (83.5%) knew the person who sexually assaulted them.
  • There were 1,129 robberies recorded with a victim aged 0-19 years (0.6 per 1,000 children and young people); 237 recorded victims of kidnapping/abduction (0.1 per 1,000 children and young people); 29 recorded homicides; and seven recorded blackmail/extortion offences.

Hospitalisations due to assault

  • In 2009-2010, 526 children aged 0-17 years were hospitalised with injuries caused by assault (0.32 per 1,000 children).
    • Almost two-thirds of these children (342; 65.0%) were injured due to assault by bodily force. 
    • Male children were 3.5 times more likely than female children to have been hospitalised due to an assault.
    • Aboriginal children were 3.0 times more likely to experience an assault-related hospitalisation compared with non-Aboriginal children.

Introduction

The experience of abuse and neglect, crime, and other forms of harm can have profound effects on children and young people.  Trauma caused by experiences of crime, abuse and neglect, is common.  Physical manifestations of trauma include headaches, nightmares, and changes in appetite.  Emotional and behavioural reactions experienced by children can include feelings of guilt or shame, fear and anxiety, withdrawal from others, bad behaviour, clinging to adults, and difficulties at school (Commissioner for Victims’ Rights).  Contact with the court system is particularly traumatic for children, with re-traumatisation a real risk (Richards, 2009).

Continuing abuse and exposure to abuse can leave children with serious health and education problems and difficulties in their social development (NSW Police, 2010).  Child abuse and neglect can affect children’s physical, emotional and cognitive development in the long term.  For some children, abuse and neglect can be fatal. 

This chapter provides information on some of the ways in which children are affected by abuse, neglect, and other forms of harm.  It pulls together disparate data sources to cover the areas of child abuse and neglect; domestic and family violence; children as the reported victims of crime and intentional injury against children.  These data paint a picture of some of the most serious forms of harm to children.

The data in this chapter are made available as a resource for policy and service delivery professionals working in both government and non-government settings to enhance knowledge about children’s lives. Since the purpose of reporting these data is to inform the development of legislative, policy, program and service delivery responses and support their continuous improvement, many of the measures point to deficits or problem areas. While deficit measures miss the positive aspects of children’s lives, such measures assist to identify areas where prevention efforts should be targeted, and highlight equity and efficiency concerns.

The data presented are drawn from existing collections, and established state, national or international measures are reported. Some additional information is presented to fill data gaps identified through the work of the NSW Commission for Children and Young People.

All data presented in this chapter are drawn from administrative data sources.  Readers should keep in mind that all administrative data sources have some limitations[4], and are not necessarily complete. These data reveal associations between variables, but these should not be interpreted as causal relationships. 

In addition, readers should be aware that underreporting is common in these areas.  The sensitive nature of child abuse and neglect, the difficulties children have in telling others and being believed, and the lack of evidence available means that child abuse and neglect often goes undetected (Irenyi, 2007).  Similarly, NSW Police report that domestic and family violence is under-reported, and it is difficult to estimate the number of children affected by it.  The figures presented are therefore likely to underestimate the true incidence of harm experienced by children.

Child abuse and neglect

Child abuse can include sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment (including emotional abuse and psychological neglect), physical neglect and witnessing family violence. These types of abuse do not occur independently with any victim likely to experience more than one form of abuse (Higgins, 2004). Children who are abused can also be neglected.

Child abuse and neglect remains a national and NSW priority. NSW 2021: A plan to make NSW number one aims to reduce the rate of children and young people reported at risk of significant harm by 2021. Nationally, the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (CoAG), seeks to achieve a sustained reduction in child abuse and neglect.

NSW Community Services collects data on the number of substantiated child protection notifications through its Key Information and Directory System (KiDS). These data are also collated by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) in its Child Protection Collection.

In 2011-2012, there were 23,175 substantiated notifications of child abuse or neglect for children aged 0-17 years[5], relating to 14,667 children[6] (Table A13.1) (XLSX 226.3KB).  This represents a rate of 9.2 per 1,000 children in NSW.

Notification data identify the type of abuse and/or neglect, with the most serious type being the one recorded for children that suffer multiple types. Over two-thirds (68.3%) of substantiated notifications in NSW in 2010-2011 were for abuse, with the remainder being for neglect (31.6%). Emotional abuse was the most common form of abuse (30.2%), followed by physical abuse (19.7%) and sexual abuse (18.4%) (Figure 13.1) (Table A13.2) (XLSX 226.3KB).

Figure 13.1: Children aged 0–17 years with a substantiated notification, by type, NSW, 2011–12

Source: KiDS - CIW annual data

There was a decline in the number of substantiations of child abuse and neglect notification between 2007–08 and 2010–2011 with an increase in 2011-2012. The biggest decrease was seen between 2008–09 and 2009–2010 (Figure 13.2) (Table A13.3) (XLSX 226.3KB).   This decrease may be partly explained by changes in the reporting requirements following the NSW Keep them Safe reforms[7].

Figure 13.2: Trends in substantiation of a notification, children aged 0–17 years, NSW, 2007–2008 to 2011–12

Source: KiDS - CIW annual data (Table A13.3) (XLSX 226.3KB).

Characteristics of children who were the subject of a substantiation

Just over half (53.0%) of the children[8] who were the subject of a substantiation were female (Table A13.4 (XLSX 226.3KB)).  The most common primary reason for substantiation for females was neglect (29.1%), followed by emotional abuse (28.4%).  The most common primary reason for substantiation for males was also neglect (34.5%), followed by emotional abuse (32.3%).

Infants (aged 0-1 years) were the most likely age group to be the subject of a child protection substantiation (15.4 infants per 1,000).  Rates of children subject of a substantiation fell across successive age groups (Figure 13.3) (Table A13.5) (XLSX 226.3KB). There were:

  • 10.8 per 1,000 children aged 1-4 years;
  • 9.4 per 1,000 children aged 5-9 years;
  • 8.1 per 1,000 children aged 10-14 years; and
  • 4.0 per 1,000 children aged 15-17 years.

Figure 13.3: Rate per 1,000 children aged 0–17 years who were the subject of a substantiated notification, by age, NSW, 2011–12

Source: Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2012. Child protection Australia 2011–12. Child welfare series no. 55. Cat. no. CWS 43. Canberra: AIHW and ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing. (Table A13.5) (XLSX 226.3KB).

In 2011-12, 4,247 Aboriginal children were the subject of a substantiation in NSW (Table A13.5 (XLSX 226.3KB)).  Aboriginal children were over eight times more likely to be subject of a substantiation than non-Aboriginal children (56.7 per 1,000 compared with 6.8 per 1,000). Neglect was the most common primary reason for substantiation for Aboriginal children[9] (38.1%, compared with 29.1% for non-Aboriginal children) (Table A13.6) (XLSX 226.3KB).

The regions with the highest substantiation rates were the Western (16.1 per 1,000) and Northern region (15.1 per 1,000).  The Metro Central region had the lowest rate (3.5 per 1,000) (Table A13.7) (XLSX 226.3KB).

Keep Them Safe: A shared approach to child wellbeing is the NSW Government’s five-year plan to change the way children and families are supported and protected. Its aim is to improve the safety, welfare and well-being of all children and young people in NSW.

Keep Them Safe was developed by the NSW Government in response to the 2008 findings of the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW.

Domestic and family violence

Domestic and family violence describes behaviour which is violent, threatening, coercive or controlling within the context of a family or intimate relationship (NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice, 2013). Domestic violence includes physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, intimidation, economic deprivation or threats of violence (Mitchell, 2011).

There are currently no comprehensive data sources available regarding the true incidence of domestic violence involving children (Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2011).  Data on Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs) provide one measure of the numbers of children impacted by domestic violence, though these data should not be taken as an indication of the true prevalence of domestic violence.

An ADVO is a court order that protects a person from domestic violence inflicted by another person. An application for an ADVO may only be made by a person for whose protection the order would be made, their guardian, or a police officer. However, in cases where the person requiring protection is a child under 16, only a police officer may apply[10].

In 2008, in recognition of the impact witnessing domestic violence can have on a child, statutory requirements changed to make it mandatory for courts and NSW police officers to name children who have a domestic relationship with an adult protected by an ADVO on the order unless there was a good reason for not doing so[11].  Prior to 2008, it was at the discretion of the court or police officer as to whether or not to include the child's details on the order.  ADVO data are collected by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

In 2011, 14,930 children and young people aged 0-17 years (9.0 per 1,000) were protected by an ADVO in NSW (Table A13.8) (XLSX 226.3KB).  Children made up 36.5 per cent of people protected by ADVOs in 2011.

More females aged 0-17 years were protected by an ADVO than males aged 0-17 years (9.6 per 1,000 compared with 8.4 per 1,000) (Figure 13.4) (Table A13.8 (XLSX 226.3KB)).  For females, rates of ADVO protection initially decreased with age, but increased sharply at 15-17 years. Rates of protection decreased with age for males. 

Figure 13.4: Children protected by ADVOs (number per 1,000), by age and gender, NSW, 2011

Source: BOCSAR customised request and 2011 ABS estimated residential population. (Table A13.8) (XLSX 226.3KB).

The proportion of children protected by ADVOs varied across regions in NSW[12].  The Far West (25.4 per 1,000), North Western (18.6 per 1,000) and Northern (18.3 per 1,000) regions had the highest rates of children protected by ADVOs.  Within Sydney, Blacktown (13.2 per 1,000) and Outer South Western Sydney (12.1 per 1,000) had the highest rates of children protected by ADVOs in 2011 (Table A13.9) (XLSX 226.3KB).

The proportion of children protected by ADVOs has increased over the four year period 2008–2011 (Figure 13.5) (Table A13.10) (XLSX 226.3KB).  In 2008, 5.6 per 1,000 children were protected by an ADVO.  This rose to 6.8 per 1,000 children in 2009, 8.1 per 1,000 children in 2010, and 9.0 per 1,000 children in 2011.  This upward trend was apparent across all age groups.

Figure 13.5: Trends in children protected by ADVOs (number per 1,000), by age, NSW, 2008–2011

Source: BOCSAR customised request and 2011 ABS estimated residential population (Table A13.10) (XLSX 226.3KB).

Some of this increase might be explained by a flow-on effect from the changes to reporting requirements that occurred in 2008.  ADVOs are put in place for as long as the Court deems necessary to protect the complainant.  Terms between six months to two years are typical in practice.  The rate of adults protected by ADVOs has not increased over this period, suggesting that some of the increase in children protected might be due to children being named on orders already in place for a parent or other family member. 

Children as victims of certain crimes

The ABS Recorded Crime-Victims Data collects data on offences recorded by the police. It provides a good source of data on selected offences by age, sex and the relationship to the victim.  This section reports on offences that occurred in 2010-11 with a recorded victim aged 0 to 19 years[13].

Assault

Assault was the most common type of crime experienced by children and young people in 2011, with 16,472 recorded victims (9.3 per 1,000 children and young people) (Table A13.11) (XLSX 226.3KB).

  • Overall, rates of assault were higher for males than females (9.9 per 1,000 males compared with 8.5 per 1,000 females). 
  • Rates of assault increased steeply with age, at 1.5 per 1,000 for 0-9 year olds, 9.8 per 1,000 for 10-14 year olds, and 24.7 per 1,000 for 15-19 year olds.

Almost three-quarters of young assault victims (72.0%) knew the person who assaulted them (Table A13.12) (XLSX 226.3KB).

  • Family members were the perpetrator in over half (59.6%) of the assaults against 0-9 year olds, and around a quarter of those against 10-14 year olds and 15-19 year olds (24.6% and 25.8% respectively).
  • Non-family members known to the victim were the perpetrator in a quarter (24.9%) of assaults against 0-9 year olds, over half (55.9%) of those against 10-14 year olds, and about two in five (41.1%) assaults against 15-19 year olds.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault was the second most common offence recorded by the police against children and young people in 2011, with 4,151 recorded victims (2.3 per 1000 children and young people) (Table A13.11) (XLSX 226.3KB).

  • Females have a higher rate of sexual assault victimisation than males (3.9 per 1,000 compared to 0.9 per 1,000).
  • Rates of sexual assault were highest for females at 15-19 years (6.1 per 1,000) and for males at 10-14 years (1.3 per 1,000).

Around five in six sexual assault victims (83.8%) knew the person who sexually assaulted them (Table A13.12) (XLSX 226.3KB).

  • Family members were the perpetrators in over half of all sexual assaults against 0-9 year olds  (60.5%), around a third of those against 10-14 year olds (34.2%), and a quarter (23.2%) of those against 15-19 year olds.
  • Non-family members who were known to the victim accounted for a third (32.3%) of all sexual assaults against 0-9 year olds, and around half of those against 10-14 year olds and 15-19 year olds (51.8% and 50.5% respectively).

Other types of crime

There were 1,129 robberies recorded with a victim aged 0-19 years (0.6 per 1,000 children and young people) (Table A13.11) (XLSX 226.3KB).

  • Males experienced robbery at about five times the rate of females.
  • Rates of robbery were highest among 15-19 year olds. 

There were 237 recorded victims of kidnapping/abduction aged 0-19 years (0.1 per 1,000 children and young people) (Table A13.11) (XLSX 226.3KB).

  • Similar numbers of males and females were recorded as having experienced kidnapping/abduction.
  • Rates of kidnapping/abduction were slightly higher among children aged 10-14 years than the other age groups.

There were 29 recorded homicides and seven recorded blackmail/extortion offences with victims aged 0-19 years (Table A13.11) (XLSX 226.3KB).

Hospitalisations due to assault

Physical injury is one measure of the impact of some types of crime on children.  Injury data are available from the NSW Admitted Patient Data Collection (APDC), an administrative data source containing admissions to all hospitals in NSW[14].  In 2009-10, there were an estimated 22,805 hospitalisations for all kinds of injury experienced by children aged 0-17 years.  Hospitalisations that were due to assault are explicitly identified within these data[15]

In 2009-2010, 526 children aged 0-17 years were hospitalised with injuries caused by assault (0.32 per 1,000).  

Almost two-thirds of these children (342; 65.0%) were injured due to assault by bodily force.  Fifty-eight (11.0%) children were injured by assault by sharp objects; 41 (7.8%) were injured by ‘other maltreatment’[16]; and 37 (7.0%) were injured by assaults with blunt force (Table A13.13) (XLSX 226.3KB).

Over the period 2000–2001 to 2009–2010 the number of incidents of hospitalisations due to assault has remained steady, at around 0.3 to 0.4 per 1,000 children (Figure 13.6) (Table A13.14) (XLSX 226.3KB).

Figure 13.6: Incidents of hospitalised injury due to assault, involving NSW children aged 0–17 years by year, NSW, 2000–2001 to 2009–2010

NSW Commission for Children and Young People calculations based on NSW Admitted Patient Data Collection, NSW Department of Health; ABS population data. (Table A13.14) (XLSX 226.3KB).

In 2009-2010, the following demographic differences were recorded in hospitalisations for assault (Table A13.15) (XLSX 226.3KB)[17]:

  • Male children were 3.5 times more likely than female children to have been hospitalised due to an assault.
  • Young people aged 15–17 years had the highest rate of injuries due to assault (1.3 per 1,000), while children aged 5-8 years had the lowest rate (0.04 per 1,000).  Using 1–4 year olds as a reference:
    • Children aged less than one year were 3.2 times more likely that those aged 1-4 years to be have been hospitalised due to assault.
    • 9–14 year olds were 2.7 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault.
    • 15–17 year olds were 19.7 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault.
    • 5–8 year olds were less likely (0.6 times) to be hospitalised due to assault, though this was not a statistically significant difference.
  • Aboriginal children were 3.0 times more likely to experience an assault-related hospitalisation compared with non-Aboriginal children.
  • Compared with children living in major cities[18]:
    • There was no statistically significant difference in assault rates for children living in inner regional areas.
    • Children living in outer regional areas were 1.6 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault.
    • Children living in remote areas were approximately 2.0 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault, though this was not statistically significant.
    • Children living in very remote areas were approximately 3.3 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault, though this was not statistically significant.
  • Compared with children in the least socio-economically disadvantaged (first) quintile[19]:
    • Children in the second quintile were 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault.
    • Children in the third quintile were 1.7 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault.
    • Children in the fourth quintile were 1.6 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault.
    • Children in the most disadvantaged (fifth) quintile were 2.2 times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault (Table A13.15) (XLSX 226.3KB).

The geographic areas in NSW with the highest rates of child hospitalisations due to assault were the Far West, North Western and Murrumbidgee (all at 0.6 per 1,000 children) (Table A13.16) (XLSX 226.3KB).  Within Sydney, the highest rates were recorded in Blacktown (0.6 per 1,000 children), followed by Central Western and Outer Western Sydney (both at 0.5 per 1,000 children).

References

Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (2011). Children affected by domestic violence.  Literature review for The Benevolent Society, funded by the Department of Family and Community Services, Office for Women’s Policy.

Commissioner for Victims’ Rights, South Australia (date unknown).  Children as Victims of Crime.  Government of South Australia.  Available from: http://www.voc.sa.gov.au/Information/Particular_circumstances/children.asp

Currie, J & Widom C.S (2010). ‘Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect on Adult Economic Well-Being’, Children Maltreatment, (15) p111

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) (2009). Domestic violence laws in Australia, The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.  Available from: http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/our-responsibilities/women/publications-articles/reducing-violence/national-plan-to-reduce-violence-against-women-and-their-children

Mitchell, L. (2011). Domestic Violence in Australia—an Overview of the Issues. Parliamentary Library, Department of Parliamentary Services.  Available from: http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library

NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice (2013).  The NSW Domestic Violence Strategy: Improving the NSW Criminal Justice System’s Response to Domestic Violence 2013-2017.  Available from: http://www.domesticviolence.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/domesticviolence/index.html

Richards, K (2009).  Child complainants and the court process in Australia. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice, No. 380, July 2009, Australian Institute of Criminology. 

[1]Substantiated notifications refer to child protection notifications which were investigated, with the investigation concluding that the child was being, or had been, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed.  They may also include children who have no suitable caregiver, for example children who have been abandoned.  Substantiation does not necessarily mean that there was sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution.
[2] Some children were the subject of more than one substantiated notification.
[3]If a child was the subject of more than one type of abuse or neglect as part of the same notification, the type of abuse or neglect reported is the one considered by the child protection workers to cause the most harm to the child. Where a child is the subject of more than one substantiation during the year, the type of abuse or neglect reported is the one associated with the first substantiation decision during the year.
[4] Administrative data may be subject to item non-response, transcription errors, coding errors, clerical and editing errors; and data conversion errors.
[5]Substantiated notifications refer to child protection notifications which were investigated, with the investigation concluding that the child was being, or had been, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed.  They may also include children who have no suitable caregiver, for example children who have been abandoned.  Substantiation does not necessarily mean that there was sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution.
[6] Some children were the subject of more than one substantiated notification.
[7] In January 2010, the threshold at which mandatory reporters are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect was raised from ‘risk of harm’ to ‘risk of significant harm’.  Prior to this, NSW had one of the lowest thresholds for statutory intervention in Australia.  To support this change, Child Wellbeing Units (CWUs) were set up in the agencies responsible for the largest number of child protection reports.  CWUs assist mandatory reporters to identify services for children (and their families) who may need support but do not meet the threshold for statutory intervention.  Further information can be found at: www.keepthemsafe.nsw.gov.au/initiatives/child_wellbeing_units
[8]If a child was the subject of more than one type of abuse or neglect as part of the same notification, the type of abuse or neglect reported is the one considered by the child protection workers to cause the most harm to the child. Where a child is the subject of more than one substantiation during the year, the type of abuse or neglect reported is the one associated with the first substantiation decision during the year.
[9]See previous footnote.
[10] The provisions for ADVOs are made under the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007.
[11] These changes were introduced under the Crimes (Domestic & Personal Violence) Act 2007.
[12] The recorded location is for the person of interested (POI) in the ADVO, not the child.
[13] The ABS report Recorded Crime-Victims data for 15-19 year olds as a single cohort.  For this reason, the data presented in this section are for children and young people aged 0-19 years, rather than 0-17 years.
[14] All inpatient separations (discharges, transfers and deaths) to Public (including Psychiatric), Private, and Repatriation Hospitals, Private Day Procedures Centres and Public Nursing Homes.
[15] Assault is a broad category, encompassing sexual assault by bodily force; neglect and abandonment; other maltreatment; assaults by other specified and unspecified means. This is defined as ICD-10 codes from X85-X99 and Y00-Y09.
[16] ‘Other maltreatment’ includes mental cruelty, physical abuse, sexual abuse not with bodily force and torture.
[17] The differences noted are all statistically significant (p<0.05).
[18] Remoteness was calculated using the ABS’ Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) Correspondences, determined using the usual place of residence of the child.
[19] The NSW Department of Health uses five groupings (quintiles) of socio-economic disadvantage, determined by the usual place of residence of the child.  These are calculated using the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage, one of the ABS’ Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA). The least disadvantaged areas are in the first quintile and the most disadvantaged areas are in the fifth quintile.