Focus on children and young people

People who use violence against or in front of children and young people cause lifelong harm.

Children and young people are still developing their identities, values and behaviours. The experiences they have during this time can have a profound, long-term effect on their lives. If they experience family violence during childhood, it can have a big effect on their developmental, social and emotional wellbeing. However, if we support them to develop healthy and respectful relationships, they can become agents of generational change.

People who use violence against or in front of children and young people cause lifelong harm.

Children and young people who experience this violence have an increased risk of social, physical and mental health challenges. This includes anxiety and depression, self-harm and suicide, dependence on alcohol and drugs [1], disengagement from education, physical injury and disability [2].

They have unique and specific needs that are different from adults [2]. However, they may not be treated as a victim survivor in their own right.

Too often, they are seen as an extension of a parent seeking help. They may feel vulnerable and unsupported by services. Accommodation may not cater to their needs [3].

  • 7,486 children and young people under the age of 18 were victims of family violence in 2022 [4]
  • 36% of recorded family violence incidents occurred in front of a child or young person in 2022 [4]
  • 10% of cases of child abuse in 2018–19 included sexual violence as the primary type of abuse [5]
  • 48% of all assault-related hospitalisations of children were perpetrated by the child’s parent [3]

Engage children and young people to create generational change

By engaging children and young people in their formative years, we can challenge harmful attitudes before they become entrenched.

We know that rigid gender norms, stereotypes and other forms of inequality influence children. These continue to be reinforced throughout their lives [6].

We will continue to support schools and early childhood settings to provide respectful relationships education. This promotes and models respect, positive attitudes and behaviours, and teaches school communities how to build healthy relationships, resilience and confidence.

Beyond the classroom, we will continue our work to prevent family and sexual violence in the places where children and young people interact, including online. This will help them to develop healthy attitudes and respectful relationships.

In particular, we must continue our tailored prevention and early intervention projects that work with children and young people at heightened risk of experiencing or using family or sexual violence.

Provide support for children and young people where, when and how they need it

Children and young people need to feel a sense of agency about when and how they decide to seek help [7]. They should be able to make informed choices about getting support alongside or separately from family members.

Spaces and services that children and young people use should be designed with their specific needs in mind. This means using language that is accessible for children and young people [2]. It also means giving them opportunities to seek help and communicate through the technology and platforms they regularly use.

We must tailor support to the stage of development and unique needs of each individual child and young person. This includes children and young people of all genders, abilities and cultural backgrounds and faiths, and LGBTIQ+ young people in every part of Victoria.

In particular, young people aged 15 to 19 must not be lost in the gap between child and adult services [8].

We need to better understand the journeys of children and young people through the family violence system, from their first point of contact to their recovery. This will highlight what is working well and what is not, to help strengthen how we support them.

We must better connect family violence services, sexual violence services, children and family services, and specific services for young people. This will help these services work together with a shared focus on the child or young person seeking support.

Enable Aboriginal-led services for Aboriginal children and young people

Like all children, Aboriginal children and young people have the right to feel safe, heal and have a future free from violence. However, the ongoing effects of colonisation increase the risk of violence towards them and compound the trauma when they experience violence [9].

Family violence is one of the leading reasons Aboriginal children are removed from their family and placed into out-of-home care [10]. This means culturally safe initiatives to prevent and respond to family violence are vital to keeping Aboriginal children safe with their family.

We need to support Aboriginal children and young people to understand their rights and recognise violent or controlling behaviours. We need to address risks in families earlier. This work must be informed and led by Aboriginal people and organisations.

When Aboriginal children and young people do experience violence, we must support them to feel safe and heal. This healing should incorporate a strong sense of cultural identity, family and community.

This is why Aboriginal-led services must be funded and supported as the primary providers of healing and family violence services for Aboriginal children and young people.

At the same time, it is important that we make all family violence services culturally safe for Aboriginal children. This will help Aboriginal children and young people make informed choices about how and where they seek help.

Support children and young people who use violence to heal and change their behaviour

Most children and young people who use violence have experienced family violence themselves. In fact, 9 out of 10 adolescents who use violence at home say they have seen or experienced family violence [6].

This means that supporting children and young people to heal from their own trauma is a critical part of working with them to change their behaviour.

When our justice system interacts with these children and young people it must do so in a way that is trauma-informed. It needs to help them access services and support that are tailored to their individual needs, circumstances and stage of development. The focus of these services and support should be to address the root causes of their behaviour. This will help them to have healthy, supportive and violence-free relationships.

Currently, each area of the state has a dedicated program for these children and young people aged 12–17 years. However, there is high demand for this program, including for children as young as eight and young people up to the age of 25.

To move forward, we need to continue to listen to these children and young people. We need to provide them with meaningful opportunities to inform our decisions, act on their needs, and address their concerns and suggestions.

References

[1] ACMS (Australian Child Maltreatment Study) 2020, ACMS findings launched, accessed 26 June 2023.

[2] Fitz-Gibbon K, McGowan J and Stewart R 2023, I believe you: children and young people’s experiences of seeking help, securing help and navigating the family violence system. Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Monash University.

[3] AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2022b, Australia’s children: children and crime, accessed 8 June 2023.

[4] CSA (Crime Statistics Agency) 2022b, Victoria Police data tables (2021–2022): Table 4 Affected family members by sex and age July 2017 to June 2022, accessed 1 August 2023.

[5] AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2020, Sexual assault in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 7 June 2023.

[6] Fitz-Gibbon K, Meyer S, Boxall H, Maher J and Roberts S 2022, Adolescent family violence in Australia: a national study of prevalence, history of childhood victimisation and impacts, Research Report Issue 15, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.

[7] Morris A, Humphreys C and Hegarty K 2020, ‘Beyond voice: conceptualizing children’s agency in domestic violence research through a dialogical lens’. International Journal of Qualitative Methods.

[8] Melbourne City Mission 2021, Amplify: turning up the volume on young people and family violence, research report, accessed 20 June 2023.

[9] Department of Health and Human Services 2018, Dhelk Dja: safe our way - strong culture, strong peoples, strong families, State of Victoria.

[10] CCYP (Commission for Children and Young People) 2016, Always was, always will be Koori children: systemic inquiry into services provided to Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care in Victoria, State Government of Victoria.

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