Since PeakCare asked member agencies and other interested parties to send their commentaries on the Queensland child protection system, the areas of domestic violence and child sexual abuse have received significant attention. The need to remain mindful of confidentiality in circumstances of domestic violence and child abuse reporting has also received comment.
The issues of domestic violence and child sexual abuse are amongst the most complex when navigating the child protection arena. They are also the issues most likely to hit the ‘hot buttons’ across our communities. For some members of our society accepting that people they love and trust can harm their partners and/or their children and then to stand up to such perpetrators who may be family members, close friends, colleagues or respected community members proves to be immensely difficult time and time again. As such, denial and victim blaming are common experiences for women and children facing these issues.
To holistically address the issues of violence and sexual abuse in Queensland, governments, organisations, communities and family members need to be cognisant of the prevalence of abuse and stand united against the silence perpetrators aim for. All groups then need to come together to look at the most effective means of addressing these harmful issues in our society.
In calling on our members and key stakeholders to make comment on child protection in preparation for Queensland’s 2012 election, some key points raised and solutions offered are as follows:
It has been suggested that the silos regarding information sharing need to be broken down and more integrated communication systems such as evidenced by the Singapore model where each stakeholder has access to information be adopted.
School based programs on early intervention as prevention need to be adopted as core curricula and resourced adequately. The earlier the intervention, the better the short and long term outcomes. However, some evidence suggests that school aged teaching on abuse in intimate relationships needs to be followed up with workplace education as it can be difficult for school aged children to integrate the learning around intimate partners and children prior to having such lived experiences. Therefore some prevention and early intervention models that denote success talk of engaging employers in their educative processes.
Queensland needs improved justice responses to men who use violence. International literature and models trialled around the world point significantly to the need to hold perpetrators accountable both for their abuse and then for taking their rehabilitation seriously. The criminalisation of domestic violence is also considered a significant step forward in having perpetrators understand the seriousness of their abusive conduct. Queensland needs to consider this option. Furthermore, integrated courts that respond to domestic violence and other coexisting factors such as child protection matters are an important step in a holistic systemic response.
An adequate number of accommodation responses for women and children escaping domestic violence are needed. Various models of service need to be identified including refuges.
The confidentiality of these safe places needs to be upheld at all times by all parties involved in supporting women and children to live in safety. Feedback thus far has commented on breaches of confidentiality by departmental officers that have led perpetrators to know the location of refuges and therefore victims. Such breaches have led to women and children being relocated yet again and further upheaval for children in attending yet another new school. Extreme caution needs to be exercised. The capacity of perpetrators to ‘charm’ and ‘con’ is well documented. Staff members in Department of Communities, Department of Housing and other government and Non-Government Organisations need to be given clear instruction to ensure women and children escaping domestic violence are able to relocate without fear of the workers supporting them being ‘tricked into’ disclosing their whereabouts by perpetrators endeavouring to locate them.
Similar feedback has been received about family violence and processes of disclosure. Children who inform trusted adults about their abuse need to know the consequences of their disclosures and the likelihood that if the perpetrator is a parent they will be informed of the notification. Even though notifications are confidential, concerns have been raised as to how easily some parents can track the disclosures back to a child. Even in cases where the child withdraws the statement upon interview by the Queensland Police Service (QPS) they still remain vulnerable as, regardless of the child’s stated intent to proceed no further with the matter, parents are still notified by the QPS that a complaint has been received. This has led to concerns that child abuse will go further ‘underground’ whilst children and their advocates elect to remain silent instead of speaking out due to fears for the short term safety ramifications for children when doing so.
Making notifications and managing a child’s risk post disclosures is an on-going minefield for professionals across education, health and human services settings. This is an area that requires further attention and wide reaching discussion to establish safe protocols for children and young people as well as parties acting on their behalf.
CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE:
The Queensland government must remain committed to the implementation of the National Child Protection Framework signed by COAG in 2009.
Organisations with a specific role in advocating for the interests of children who have been sexually abused are keen to ensure that the Queensland government implements strategies to achieve Outcome 6:
Child sexual abuse and exploitation is prevented and survivors receive adequate support. Children are protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse through targeted prevention strategies, and survivors are supported by the community and through specific therapeutic and legal responses.
In upholding the principles of Outcome 6, the Queensland government in partnership with Non-Government Organisations needs to also ensure the requirements of the supporting outcomes pertaining to child sexual abuse in the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children are met:
- Raise awareness of child sexual exploitation and abuse, including online exploitation
- Enhance prevention strategies for child sexual assault
- Strengthen law enforcement and judicial processes in response to child sexual assault and exploitation
- Ensure survivors of child sexual assault have access to effective treatment and appropriate support
Again, the solutions offered include raising awareness of child sexual abuse and investing in wide reaching community education campaigns for all children and families. Preventative strategies that have a strong evidence base of success need to be adequately funded to ensure sound outcomes.
The importance of hearing children and paying attention to their disclosures was also highlighted. In order to be a State that operates with the best interests of children at the core of our system and processes, children need to be considered in all decisions that affect them. This isn’t always easy to achieve and as such significant resources need to be available to ensure children are heard and then supported through their healing.
Concern about the current forensic nature of our child safety system has been raised as a significant factor impeding the capacity to protect Queensland children from sexual abuse. Given the widely documented difficulty in holding perpetrators to account for child sexual abuse, the current leaning of the child safety system to the burden of proof as opposed to professional assessments ascertaining the likelihood of sexual abuse having occurred and on-going risk has been highlighted as a major concern in protecting Queensland children. Qualified and well trained professionals are required to employ their skills in identifying and assessing risk factors and key indicators whilst also identifying the ‘nuances’ associated with perpetration that are more difficult to detect and prove forensically.
The importance of skilful assessment is an area about which PeakCare receives on-going feedback. Concerns are expressed that staff undertaking assessments are often the most inexperienced and under-skilled members of the Department, when what is required is the expertise of the most skilled and experienced staff to make such complex calls. Assessment processes require significant attention and on-going evaluation.
The need for improved communication and understanding of procedures between family support and child protection agencies, Department of Communities (Child Safety Services) and the family law courts also been highlighted. Organisations working in child protection and domestic violence note that these systems often work in isolation of each other and employ processes that are complex to understand. Hence, protecting children from on-going sexual abuse, particularly when the offender is a parent, is difficult given the cost of the family law system and the complexity of navigating it when clients are often self-represented. Workers from the Non-Government sector at times find the advocacy required when supporting clients through such systemic demands is beyond their scope of expertise.
A substantial increase in resourcing for law enforcement agencies to investigate child sexual offences, including online and historical offences has also been called for. So too has been the need to ensure children and young people receive specialist therapeutic intervention at the earliest point possible.
Funding and resourcing for services that offer therapeutic intervention for children who have been sexually abused as well as support services for their family members is of vital importance. It is widely understood that child sexual abuse is the silent epidemic of all societies globally and yet in Queensland, it remains an underfunded and largely un-resourced area. Whilst adding funding and resources to this area of child protection, it is also essential that we ensure that therapists receive appropriate training in childhood sexual abuse and effective interventions.
Policy and Research Manager – PeakCare Qld