Definitions of child abuse and neglect

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See more resources on Definitions of child abuse and neglect in the AIFS library catalogue

Examining child protection practice in New South Wales : non-accidental injury and the principle of strict liability.

Hansen P and Ainsworth F
Children Australia v. 45 no. 1 Mar 2020: 8-13
This article discusses definitions, processes, and outcomes when a case of 'non-accidental injury' comes into in the child protection system in New South Wales. It raises concerns about the strict liability approach that is adopted, as well as the reliance on one medical opinion and manner of substantiation, which effectively prevent any option of restoration. As a first step, it calls for more data to be collected on how decisions are made and what criteria are used to establish or substantiate a finding of non-accidental injury.

Definitions of child abuse and neglect

Child Welfare Information Gateway (U.S.), United States. Children's Bureau
Washington, DC : U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau, 2019.
This document sets out how child abuse and neglect are defined across the various jurisdictions of the United States. It summarises federal, state, and U.S. territory laws that define the conduct, acts, and omissions that constitute child abuse or neglect that must be reported to child protective agencies, as well as standards for reporting, persons responsible for the child, and exceptions. The types of maltreatment defined include physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Abandonment and parental substance use also included in some States. At the Federal level, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) has defined child abuse and neglect as "any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caregiver that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm".

Trauma informed care

Gatwiri K, McPherson L, Cameron N and Parmenter N
Sydney, N.S.W. : Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care, 2019.
This research briefing explains what trauma, complex trauma and trauma informed care are. It clarifies some of the various terms, phrases and concepts that are developing in literature and outlines what is known about the severity and complexity of trauma and the impact on physiological, neuropsychological, social, cognitive and emotional development. This paper was produced by the Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care, a partnership between the Australian Childhood Foundation and Southern Cross University established to support the rollout of the new Intensive Therapeutic Care system across New South Wales.

The construction of child neglect in English-speaking countries : children, risk and poor families.

Mason J
Children and Youth Services Review v. 97 Feb 2019: 112-119
This article traces the history of how government and charities have understood and approached child neglect in English-speaking countries. It looks at the ongoing prominence of poverty in state and philanthropic agency policies and argues that current policies need to move away from this paradigm in order to better target and serve children at risk of neglect. Themes include the historical connection of child removal, neglect, and poverty, ideologies based on work and productivity, and the role of structural issues.

Cumulative harm in the child protection system : the Australian context.

Sheehan R
Child and Family Social Work v. 24 no. 4 Nov 2019: 421-429
This systematic review examines understandings of cumulative harm in Australia and effective child protection responses. In begins by investigating how cumulative harm to children is identified, assessed, and included within child protection legislation, policy, and practice, before considering what is known about effective responses and whether they are incorporated into practice.

Australian legal definitions: when is a child in need of protection?

Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies
Melbourne, Vic. : Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2019.
This resource sheet sets out the legal definitions of child abuse and neglect in each Australian jurisdiction, including the point at which, and the circumstances in which, a state or territory is mandated to intervene to protect children. This resource sheet serves as a single reference guide for practitioners and researchers, and highlights the range of different ways in which states and territories define a child 'in need of protection' or 'at risk'.

World perspectives on child abuse 2018

Dubowitz H, Hein H and Tummala P
Aurora, Co. : ISPCAN, 2018.
This biannual survey provides a comparison of child protection services and policies around the world. Each country profile describes what behaviours are viewed as maltreatment, whether various responses and reporting requirements are established under law, reporting and substantiation rates, out of home care rate, family and child services available, law on child sexual exploitation, and contact agencies. This 13th edition presents survey findings from 2018, with 88 countries taking part. It also features two special articles: 'Prevalence of corporal punishment and harsh verbal punishment in 36 countries', concerning developing nations, and 'Building systems to address child abuse and neglect: successful collaborations with international partners'.

Measuring the scale and changing nature of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation: scoping report

Kelly L and Karsna K
Barkingside, U.K. : Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, 2018.
This report is part of ongoing work to understand the scale and nature of child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom. This scoping paper provides background work into reaching current best estimates for both child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation. Sections include: current definitions and framings; issues and challenges for measurement; prevalence research; major studies; what we currently do and do not know; the scale in official/agency data; data from local authority children's services; data from criminal justice agencies; using administrative data to estimate prevalence; and improving data on child sexual abuse and online sexual abuse. The findings highlights the challenges from the different definitions and aims of prevalence surveys and official record keeping sources, and the need to improve and coordinate how child sexual abuse and exploitation are defined and recorded.

Trends in online child sexual abuse material

ECPAT International
Bangkok : ECPAT International, 2018.
This report provides insights into recent and changing trends in the online sexual exploitation of children, including the nature and content of abusive material, victim characteristics, production and distribution, and characteristics of offenders. Eighteen analysts and law enforcement experts from EUROPOL, INTERPOL, and child hotlines were interviewed, and terminology, data collection, detection, reporting, intervention, and policing issues were also raised. Interviewees spoke of offenders' deft exploitation of new technologies, and the decrease in age - and the increase in severity of abuse - of children being victimised. Prevalence is near impossible to measure, and though reporting rates are up, the volume of material far outstrips law enforcement's ability to fully investigate, measure, or analyse this crime.

Key terms in respectful relationships education

Partners in Prevention (Program), Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria
Collingwood, Vic. : Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, 2018.
This guide provides a glossary of terms used in primary prevention and respectful relationships work in Victoria. It was developed to help professionals and practitioners understand and distinguish between some of the key terms used regarding respectful relationships, family violence, child abuse, dating violence, gender-based violence, gender equality, prevention and intervention, social norms, victims, perpetrators, specialist services, disclosure, mandatory reporting, and drivers and reinforcing factors.

A review of cumulative harm : a comparison of international child protection practices.

Bryce I
Children Australia v. 43 no. 1 Mar 2018: 23-31
This article explores the prevalence of cumulative harm as a subtle and pervasive harm type, often dismissed or ignored in child protection assessment and reporting practices. The author examines a range of trends and research that identifies current gaps in the legislative response to cumulative harm identification and intervention. Through analysis of the current practices informing child protection in Australia, it is clear that there is movement towards a more holistic understanding of harm and the impacts of long-term maltreatment. However, a nationwide level of consistent practice has not yet been achieved, which places cumulative harm and reoccurring maltreatment on an equal footing with episodic maltreatment, particularly in relation to notification and reporting. Internationally, although variations are evident, just as they are in national framework, there is an inclusive impetus towards early intervention as a means of addressing harm prior to the onset of cumulative impact. There is a growing emphasis on children's wellbeing, development and universal right to quality of life and fair treatment.

Deflection, denial and disbelief: social and political discourses about child sexual abuse and their influence on institutional responses : a rapid evidence assessment

Lovett J, Coy M and Kelly L
London : Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, 2018.
Definitions and understandings of what counts as child sexual abuse have been subject to substantial change over time. For example, legal definitions of offences have determined whether or not certain manifestations of child sexual abuse have been recognised as a criminal offence. To assist their work, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has commissioned this rapid evidence assessment to summarise the existing evidence base about social and political discourses concerning child sexual abuse in England and Wales from the 1940s to 2017, to understand the ways in which these discourses may have influenced responses to child sexual abuse by institutions. Themes include shifting understandings of child sexual abuse, 'dominant' and 'counter' discourses, a model of discourses about child sexual abuse, overlaps of deflection and denial, discourses of power and belief, and and institutional relevance.

What is child abuse and neglect?

Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies
Southbank, Vic. : Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2018.
This resource sheet provides practitioners, policy makers and researchers with a working definition of child abuse and neglect. It presents a general definition of child abuse and neglect as well as definitions of the five commonly regarded subtypes: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to family violence. The resource sheet also provides information about whether the abuse constitutes grounds for child protection and whether the abuse is a crime under criminal law, with the possibility of punishment of the offender.

Protection from child emotional abuse in family law parenting matters over two regimes of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth): policy, legislation and judicial reasoning

Brown A
This thesis examines whether family law in Australia provides protection for emotionally abused children. It reviews the 1975 Family Law Act in the context of two recent major legislative frameworks: the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 and the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011. The thesis also evaluates how closely Australian family law's conceptualisation of emotional abuse reflects the understanding of emotional abuse in social science literature. The study finds that each of the law reforms provided a legislative framework which enabled the Family Court to assess the need to protect emotionally abused children and make appropriate orders. However, it also found that the extent to which each regime's legislative framework enabled judicial officers to protect children was affected by the policy underpinning the amendments and how (and whether) the legislature recognised and addressed the issue of emotional abuse in the section 4 definition of abuse and the section 60CC best interests considerations.

Youth homelessness and its relationship with family conflict: models for policy and practice

Roche S and Barker J
Melbourne : Institute of Child Protection Studies, 2017
This study adds to what is known about how family conflict and breakdown are associated with youth homelessness. Drawing on interviews with young people, parents, and practitioners, it investigates the social and cultural factors that contribute to family conflict and breakdown that may lead to young people experiencing homelessness, and how family conflict is experienced and understood. The report then considers how this knowledge can improve practice in youth homelessness programs. A model of the sources of family conflict is also developed, which can be utilised for practice and policy purposes. The findings highlight the different experiences of family conflict and how the young people make highly considered decisions about leaving the family home, often taken over a long period of time.

Online grooming of children for sexual purposes: model legislation & global review

Koons Family Institute on International Law and Policy, International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children
Alexandria, VA : International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, 2017.
"Prompted by the increasing number of cases of online grooming of children and relative lack of awareness of the growing issue, this original report analyzes legislation related to the online grooming of children for sexual purposes in 196 countries around the world. The report includes sections regarding definitions; offenses; and sanctions and sentencing, followed by an overview of related regional and international law, a discussion of implementation and good initiatives, and a global review of country-specific legislation that evaluates national legislation against 5 core criteria."

A continuum of responses for harmful sexual behaviours: an issues paper

Meiksans J, Bromfield L and Ey L
Adelaide, S. Aust. : Australian Centre for Child Protection, 2017.
In 2017, the Western Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People commenced a project aimed at improving what is known about children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours and enhancing service responses. This issues paper was commissioned to provide an overview of treatment responses, including the state of the evidence, individual therapeutic responses, group programs, school-based interventions, promising programs and emerging research, and barriers to responding. Information is also presented on definitions and prevalence. Harmful sexual behaviours can be traumatic both for children perpetrating the behaviours as well as children who are the target of such behaviours, but there are a range of promising approaches for treatment and intervention.

Child neglect: key concepts and risk factors

Parkinson S, Bromfield L, McDougall S and Salveron M
Adelaide, S. Aust. : Australian Centre for Child Protection, 2017.
This report was commissioned to provide an overview of the key concepts in defining child neglect and the common risk factors for neglect. The key implications for practice are also summarised. Broadly, child neglect involves acts of omission where there is a lack of care to provide for the development of a child and failure to protect them from harm. There is general consensus on five sub-types: supervisory neglect, physical neglect, medical neglect, educational neglect, and emotional neglect. This report is part of a broader suite of work by the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services Office of the Senior Practitioner to update their policy and practice resources on neglect.

Grooming and child sexual abuse in institutional contexts: research paper

O'Leary P, Koh E and Dare A
Sydney : Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2017.
This report provides an overview of key conceptual issues in the definition and understanding of grooming - particularly as it relates to institutional child sexual abuse. Drawing on the authors' expertise and a targeted synthesis of key literature, it discusses: the extent and quality of evidence on grooming; the core characteristics of grooming techniques; grooming as it relates to perpetrators, victims and institutions; and how an improved understanding of grooming might inform efforts to identify, respond to, and prevent institutional child sexual abuse. Grooming can be defined as the use of a variety of manipulative and controlling techniques, with a vulnerable subject, in a range of inter-personal and social settings, in order to establish trust or normalise sexually harmful behaviour, with the overall aim of facilitating exploitation and/or prohibiting exposure. This report was commissioned to help inform the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Corporal punishment: key issues

Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies
Melbourne, Vic. : Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2017.
Corporal punishment is a contentious and much debated issue within the community. Written for service providers and practitioners, this resource provides an overview of the research and legislation on the corporal punishment of children in Australia. Topics include: defining physical punishment in contrast to physical abuse; research on the use of corporal punishment and its impact on child outcomes; children's perceptions; which children more likely to experience corporal punishment; alternative discipline techniques; Australian legislation and the criminal defence of 'reasonable chastisement'; and corporal punishment in early education and child care settings and alternative residential care settings.

Age of consent laws

Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies
Melbourne, Vic. : Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2017.
Age of consent laws are important measures for protecting children and young people from sexual exploitation. According to criminal law in Australia, the age of consent refers to the age a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person. When a person engages in sexual behaviour with someone below the age of consent, they are committing a criminal offence (child sexual abuse). This fact sheet outlines the principles behind this law, compares the age of consent across the different states and territories of Australia, and discusses legal defences against sexual interactions with persons under age, including 'normal' sexual exploration versus inappropriate and abusive sexual behaviour. Note, this fact sheet is written for practitioners and researchers; younger readers seeking advice are advised to visit alternative websites (listed).

Reporting of fatal neglect in NSW

Scott D
Sydney, N.S.W. : NSW Ombudsman, 2017.
One task of the NSW Ombudsman is to review the deaths of children that may be due to abuse or neglect. This report was commissioned to help improve their work with cases of fatal child neglect. The report first reviews the Australian and international literature on definitions and reporting approaches for fatal neglect, the role of Child Death Review Teams, and the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. It then reviews the NSW Ombudsman's reporting of neglect-related child deaths since 2002 and provides advice on improving reporting methods in New South Wales. The research shows that despite considerable academic debate there is no universal definition of fatal neglect, rather definitions are operationalised according to the context in which they will be applied. Though the NSW Ombudsman's Child Death Review Team reports are among the most comprehensive in the world, there is some room for improvement in the reporting of fatal neglect to help facilitate public health responses and improve understanding of the context and impact of fatal neglect.

Strengthening the oversight of workplace child abuse allegations: a special report to Parliament under s.31 of the Ombudsman Act 19743

NSW Ombudsman
Sydney, NSW : NSW Ombudsman, 2016.
The NSW Ombudsman manages the reportable conduct scheme, which provides independent oversight of the handling of child abuse and neglect allegations made against the employees of thousands of government and non-government agencies in New South Wales. The NSW Ombudsman recently sought advice from the Solicitor General on what constitutes 'substitute residential care', and their reply substantially expands the number and type of agencies and individuals that should be monitored. This paper was prepared to bring the practical implications of this advice to the attention of Parliament, and calls for Parliament to review what ought to be the reach of the reportable conduct scheme. The NSW Ombudsman believes that it is the nature of an organisations' involvement with children, rather than their particular legal or management structures, that should determine whether they fall within the reportable conduct jurisdiction, and that there is a need to better align the coverage of the reportable conduct and Working With Children Check schemes.

World perspectives on child abuse

Dubowitz H, Bornes N and Tummala P
Aurora, Co. : ISPCAN, 2016.
This biannual survey provides a comparison of child protection services and policies around the world. Each country profile describes what behaviours are viewed as maltreatment, whether various responses and reporting requirements are established under law, reporting and substantiation rates, out of home care rate, family and child services available, law on child sexual exploitation, and contact agencies. This 12th edition also features a regional comparison on what is considered child maltreatment, specific types of policies and services at a national level, legal responses to child sexual exploitation, services to address child maltreatment, strategies to prevent child maltreatment and their perceived effectiveness, barriers to prevention, and involvement by community sectors.

Understanding child neglect from an Aboriginal worldview: perceptions of Aboriginal parents and human services workers in a rural NSW community

Newton B
"Very little is known about how Aboriginal parents experiencing vulnerabilities and communities perceive child neglect, despite Aboriginal families being disproportionately likely to encounter child protection services compared to other groups in society. Through this research I aim to develop an Aboriginal understanding of child neglect by exploring perceptions of child neglect, the factors influencing these perceptions, and the challenges Aboriginal families experience in caring for children. The research was undertaken in an Aboriginal community in rural NSW. Indigenous research methods were used at all stages of the study including a participatory approach through community forums. Eighteen Aboriginal parents and nine Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers participated in semi-structured in-depth interviews. Participants were also asked questions about a series of vignettes where children were at risk of neglect. I found that Aboriginal parents perceived child neglect in a similar way to Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal human services workers; overall participants perceived child neglect in a way that is consistent with mainstream views. I also found that a combination of personal and environmental influences informed perceptions on child neglect. Violence and substance abuse were main risk factors for child neglect. Historical trauma, lateral violence, racism and discrimination, and feeling powerless were prevalent in the community and this had a significant impact on the ability of some parents to care for their children. Another key finding was that many parents were raising children in isolation and that, contrary to the expectations about the collective child-rearing practices within Aboriginal communities, there was not a shared responsibility for caring for all children in this community. I conclude that there are little differences in the way Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people understand child neglect. Instead it is the difficult circumstances experienced by Aboriginal families that keep parents from actualising their parenting expectations."--Author abstract.

Terminology guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse

Terminology and Semantics Interagency Working Group on Sexual Exploitation of Children, ECPAT International
Bangkok : ECPAT International, 2016.
This document provides guidance for individuals and agencies working for the prevention and elimination of all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children on understanding and using the different terms and concepts they may encounter in their work. It is the product of an international working group of government and non-government agencies which was established to engender more clarity in the conceptualisation, definition, and translation of this issue, and so enhance prevention and protection efforts. Definitions covers sexual violence against children, child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation, prostitution, child pornography and child sexual abuse material, sexting, solicitation, sex tourism, trafficking and sale of children, child marriage, slavery and child labour, and victims and perpetrators.

Developing a revised typology of child homicide.

Biron D and Reynald D
Children Australia v. 41 no. 1 Mar 2016: 8-15
The problem of child homicide continues to be of major concern to researchers, policy makers and child welfare advocates everywhere. In particular, there is debate around the fundamental issues of defining and classifying such deaths. Here, a revised typology of child homicide is developed, by way of an update of the categories of fatal assault first delineated in Lawrence (2004). Taking into consideration significant advances in the field over the past decade, the typology is based primarily upon the developmental stages of the child, with the concept of homicide as the extreme manifestation of aggregate violence and maltreatment also central. The problem is further placed into the context of (1) child death research and review, it being argued that child homicide should ideally be studied as a sub-set of the entire cohort of child deaths for a particular jurisdiction, and (2) child maltreatment generally, in that wherever practicable child homicide research should consider fatalities in conjunction with other serious or near-fatal cases of abuse and neglect.

Mandatory reporting and the difficulties identifying and responding to risk of severe neglect : a response requiring a rethink.

Lonne B
Mathews, Ben, ed. Bross, Donald C., ed. Mandatory reporting laws and the identification of severe child abuse and neglect. Dordrecht : Springer, 2015 Child maltreatment 4 9789401796842: 245-273
This book reviews key issues in mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect in Australia and overseas. This chapter focuses on severe child neglect, including the complex nature of neglect, types of neglect, difficulty in predicting future harm, and the merits of mandatory reporting in cases of severe neglect.

Equipping child protection practitioners to intervene to protect children from cumulative harm : legislation and policy in Victoria, Australia.

Broadley K
Australian Journal of Social Issues v. 49 no. 3 2014: 265-284
Many children are repeatedly reported to statutory child protection services, but do not receive the protection they need. Many such children are suffering chronic maltreatment, which is likely to result in cumulative harm. Chronic maltreatment encompasses emotional abuse and chronic neglect. As a result, children can experience a range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural problems that are more serious than those associated with other abuse types. This paper focuses on the Victorian statutory child protection system, and considers why cumulative harm is not receiving the attention the legislation intends. Under the Victorian legislation cumulative harm must be proven on grounds of emotional abuse and/or neglect. However, it is difficult for child protection practitioners to place before the court the necessary evidence to establish these grounds. The paper concludes that the legal definitions of emotional abuse and neglect should not require evidence of a link between the abusive actions of the parent and the poor outcomes for the child. The evidentiary focus should be on the actions of the parent. Furthermore, legislation should focus on abusive parental behaviours that are likely to result in cumulative harm, which are more concrete and measurable than emotional abuse and neglect, such as intimate partner violence and parental illicit drug use.

Understanding child neglect

Scott D
Melbourne, Vic. : Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014.
This paper provides an overview of current thinking and emerging research on child neglect. Child neglect is one of the most commonly reported forms of maltreatment, yet it is also one of the most difficult to conceptualise, substantiate, and respond to. This paper discusses definitions of neglect, types, prevalence in Australia and overseas, child and family risk factors, impact in childhood and later life, and services responses and intervention.
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