Violence hits before birth
DOMESTIC violence is happening in more than twothirds of cases in which families are reported to childprotection authorities before their baby is even born.
The Sunday Mail can reveal the findings of new research into how commonly pregnant women and their unborn babies are subjected to domestic violence as the state’s Child Protection Department commits to developing a new policy to address the harm it does to children. A report by the State Government’s Early Intervention Research Directorate, yet to be made public, has found that domestic violence was a factor in 70 per cent of reports to the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL) involving pregnant women.
The researchers examined a sample of 131 reports of suspected abuse or neglect of an unborn foetus in 2014.
They found that domestic violence was mentioned in 91 reports.
Child Protection Department chief executive Cathy Taylor said a new policy, under development, would help staff better recognise the signs of domestic violence in homes and understand its impact on children.
“Domestic and family violence is a form of child abuse, whether children experience the violence directly or not,” she said, adding that the “longlasting impact it has on children is of growing concern” to authorities.
Flinders University Professor Sarah Wendt has been working with the department for about a year to develop the new policy, interviewing about 100 child protection staff and workers at frontline anti-violence services.
Prof Wendt said the two sectors must collaborate more closely and not “ignore” the role of the abusive parent, who was often male.
“We often only talk to the women … because it’s easier and safer to talk to the victim,” she said.
“Child protection (workers) need to understand how family and domestic violence erodes parenting capability and how a victim uses multiple strategies to try to protect herself and her children.”
Prof Wendt said children could be hurt by physical or sexual abuse but were almost always indirect victims of abuse at home.
“Living in a house where there is control and fear, they pick up that stress,” she said.
“Watching mum get hurt or being in another room and hearing that level of violence, watching mum try to recover or clean herself up, or dad stomping around afterwards, has a significant impact.”
Prof Wendt’s findings have been presented to about 60 child protection staff so far and the department recently held three workshops on assessing perpetrators’ behaviour patterns and the impact they have on the way families function.
Another workshop is planned for this month and the program will be expanded next year.