04 April 2012

Emeritus Professor Dorothy ScottOne of the most critical challenges in dealing with the increasing rate of child abuse and neglect in Australia will lie in dealing with the problems of adults.

Delivering the 2012 Catherine Helen Spence Commemorative Oration in Adelaide tonight, leading Australian researcher in child protection, University of South Australia Emeritus Professor Dorothy Scott will examine the strong nexus between child abuse and neglect and parental problems such as mental illness and substance abuse.

Presented by UniSA’s Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, the Oration will be introduced by Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill in the Allan Scott Auditorium at UniSA’s City West campus from 5.30 pm.

“I think some of South Australia’s key pioneering women - Catherine Helen Spence, Mary McKillop, Caroline Emily Clark - really understood that the state of the parents, their poverty, isolation, poor education, or mental illness all serve to make children vulnerable,” Prof Scott said.

“It has been expressed perfectly in a UNICEF report concerning these issues ‘the challenge of ending child abuse is the challenge of breaking the link between adults’ problems and children’s pain’.”

Professor Scott said there was a strong need for more research into child abuse and neglect, its impacts and most importantly, the policies and programs that will be most effective in preventing child abuse.

“We need a strong research base to underpin what we do in preventing and responding to child abuse,” she said.

“The research that has been done supports our understanding that these issues are complex and actions that may seem to be in the best interest of children are not always without other harms and consequences.

“Child protection workers walk a tightrope because while it is risky not to remove some children from their families it is also risky to take children away.

“When children are removed from their families, multiple placements are very common and often lead to lead to behaviour and attachment problems. We need to be careful that what we do now will not contribute to a generational cycle of child abuse, violence and substance abuse.”

Prof Scott said it was clear from analysis of data in relation to children who are taken into care that parental substance abuse and particularly alcohol abuse, family violence and mental illness were key risk factors for child abuse and neglect.

She said it was vital that resources are invested in developing models of social support and family-centred care services that are better integrated.

“We need to build communities that even by their physical nature encourage connection so that families are not isolated. We need to ensure our services are more integrated so that problems in vulnerable families can be identified and addressed before the family is in crisis.

“We also need to ensure that there is appropriate support for children who are taken into care.”

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