By Leanne Francia
NCWQ Child, Youth & Family Adviser
(Disclaimer – This report contains discussion on family violence and suicide)
It is exciting to be able to incorporate the Youth portfolio into the first Child and Family Report for 2019. The social issues and challenges facing our children, young people, and families are complex. Family violence and poverty are issues that impact many individuals and we all bear responsibility to do better for our children, young people, and most vulnerable. This report focuses on family violence and suicide experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, family violence experienced by separated mothers and children, and youth’s experiences of poverty.
Family Violence – Overview of Community Attitudes
Family violence remains a significant welfare and health issue in Australia, costing the Australian government $13. 5 billion annually. The numbers relating to family violence homicides are horrifying. RedHeartsCampaign.org reported that in the period January 2018 to October 2018, of the 187 Australians killed, 73 were alleged to be family violence related. Governments across Australia are providing more funding and resources to improve availability of and access to services. However, it is arguable that legislative and policy reform continue to be held back whilst family violence remains acceptable in society. So what does the latest research tell us about community attitudes towards family violence in Australia?
The 2017 National Community Attitudes Against Women Survey (NCAS) is the longest running survey of community attitudes towards violence against women and has continued to track changes in Australian attitudes since 1995, within a sample size of 17,500 Australians aged 16 years and over. The NCAS found overall that Australians are less likely to hold attitudes supportive of violence against women. However, common myths still exist. Over 40% of individuals believe that sexual assault accusations are used as a way of getting back at men; over one third of individuals believe women are partly responsible if their partner shares intimate photos without their permission; and over a third of individuals think it is natural for a male to want to appear in control of his partner in front of his male friends. It is clear that our society still has some way to go in changing attitudes towards family violence.
Family Violence – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children
The Family Matters 2018 data found that, within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients accessing homeless services, one in four was a child under the age of ten. Emotional abuse and exposure to family violence were the most common child protection concerns. There is a clear over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, and only two states (one of which is Queensland) have a statewide program to both, support Aboriginal families to participate in child protection decisions, and develop strategies that are overseen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. It is important that our community continues to recognise the social dynamics, structures, and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their community.
As equally challenging is the topic of suicide within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. Findings were recently handed down in Western Australia by Coroner Ros Fogliani, in relation to Aboriginal youth suicide in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and Northern Territory. This inquiry focused on the deaths of 13 youth, the youngest of which was just 10 years old. Some of these youth had reported histories of sexual abuse, exposure to alcohol abuse, and significance domestic violence. One, who was to leave his home community with a full academic scholarship for boarding school, took his own life a week before his 13th birthday. Since 2002, there have been 40 government reports into Aboriginal youth suicide, with over 700 recommendations, most of which have not been fully implemented.
It is of grave concern that so far in 2019, there have been eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth aged 17 and under, who have taken their own lives, with four more attempting suicide. Coroner Fogliani referred to the crushing effect of intergenerational trauma as a contributing factor, but as community Elders have stated, these individuals are trying to pick up the pieces, and bureaucracy is not listening. Picking up the pieces includes many chronic matters that are cited by Elders on a regular basis — health, housing, education, overcrowding, domestic violence, and child abuse. The focus must now shift from recommendations to various government agencies, to working closely with communities, in a framework that supports culture and communities to address change.
Overview of Family Violence and Separated Families
At the NCWA Conference in October 2018 several resolutions were passed. Resolution 7 related to the rights of the child, and protection of the child’s interests following parental separation. Resolution 7’s focused on changes within the family law system wherein the appropriate State or Territory investigative bodies carry out full investigations into allegations of child abuse, prior to decision making within the family court.
The latest findings from the “Domestic and Family Violence and Parenting: Mixed Method Insights into Impact and Support Needs” project undertaken by ANROWS and the Australian Institute of Family Studies report that one in four mothers reported experiencing physical violence prior to separation, with three in ten mothers reporting experiencing emotional abuse following separation.
Negative consequences resulting from family violence after separation, include negative material and health consequences, distress, and psychological strain. The fact that family violence may be sustained over a substantial amount of time after separation, indicates the need for ongoing support for these mothers and their children, and the need for serious consideration of perpetrators access to, and time with, children. There needs to be a stronger focus on family violence for separated mothers and children in both program development and policy.
Overview of Poverty
In Australia one in six children live below the poverty line. The ACOSS “Poverty in Australia 2018 Report” stated that there are 731,300 children, under the age of 15, living in poverty.
Youth and Poverty
Life if tough for youth in today’s society. Another layer of complexity is added for youth whose home life is dominated by material worries. Findings from research indicates it is not just not having enough money for food or school clothes that impacts youth. A study conducted on 2,700 Australian students aged 11 to 16 reported that most of these disadvantaged students were missing out on items that led to social exclusion. Social exclusion encompassed being the odd one out, the one not taking any extra curricular (or even school) activities, or the one wearing last years’ school uniform. In addition to missing out on activities, material deprivation (missing out on three meals a day, not having a computer or mobile device, or not being able to enjoy a regular meal out with family or friends) was identified. For these young people, material deprivation was associated with lower levels of life satisfaction, contentment, feeling safe, being connected with community, friends and family, undermining of young peoples’ sense of well-being at school, motivation at school, and for some, performance at school. Within these findings, material hardship clearly becomes an obstacle to young people realising their potential in life, and relationships. Addressing poverty at a young age is an important place to start.
Remember “when women support each other, incredible things happen”. Clearly, there remains much work to be done, and I encourage us all to continue working together in advocating for our children, youth, and most vulnerable. If there are issues that NCWQ can support you in, then please let us know, so we might continue to create positive change in the lives of women and children.
Family Matters retrieved from http://www.familymatters.org.au/whos-with-us/family-matters-snapshot-2018-embargoed/
Davidson, P., Saunders, P., Bradbury, B. and Wong, M. (2018), Poverty in Australia, 2018. ACOSS/UNSW Poverty and Inequality Partnership Report No. 2, Sydney: ACOSS.
Smyth, B.M., Hunter, C., Macvean, M., Walter, M., & Higgins, D. (2018). Education in family life in Australia. In M. Robila and A.C.Taylor (Eds), Global perspectives on family life education. (pp. 93-113). New York: Springer.
The Conversation retrieved from https://theconversation.com/one-in-five-nsw-high-school-kids-suffers-severe-deprivation-of-lifes-essentials-107600
The Red Heart Campaign retrieved from http://theredheartcampaign.org/the-toll-of-violence-in-australia/