Vi­o­lence hits be­fore birth

Sunday Mail - - NEWS - LAUREN NOVAK

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.

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