A UNSW child protection expert has called for a major policy and attitudinal shift on the increasing incidence of child abuse and neglect in Australia, saying the time has come for action.
Speaking during National Child Protection Week (Sept 2-8), Associate Professor Carolyn Quadrio, from UNSW's School of Psychiatry, says statistics show reports of child abuse in Australia have doubled in the last five years with almost 700 new reports per day in 2004/5. That translates to one new case every two minutes.
"We know that child abuse and neglect is a significant factor in almost every psychiatric disturbance, and certainly in every common one such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse," Professor Quadrio says.
"In the past, when we have been faced with public health crises, we haven't waited for more data, we have acted to save lives. This should be no different."
Prof Quadrio says at the policy level more funds need to be channelled into prevention programs and early interventions for families most at risk.
"There has to be a willingness to act. One survey on community attitudes found that child sexual abuse was seen as less important than being able to meet mortgage repayments."
Prof Quadrio says the Federal Government's intervention in the Northern Territory has led many Australians to believe the problem is mainly in Indigenous communities, where rates of abuse are five times those in the general community.
"But Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders make up only 2 percent of the Australian population, so by sheer numbers alone there are many more non-Indigenous children affected," she says.
Professor Quadrio says it will take considerable courage to challenge the powerful forces that have always operated to deny the reality of child abuse and its impact on mental health.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Carolyn Quadrio, UNSW School of Psychiatry, 9398 4143, Steve Offner, UNSW Media Office, 9385 1583, 0424 580 208.