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Practical intervention and prevention of child abuse and neglect

Media Release

28 December 2000

Child abuse prevention is a complex and sensitive policy area. Early intervention which results in more positive parent-child interaction has been demonstrated to have significant benefits for vulnerable children and for society as a whole.

In a report released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology it has been estimated that the total expenditure relating to the notification and substantiating of child abuse amounts to approximately $90 million within Australia. However, international research has indicated that offering early intervention to families at risk of abuse costs approximately one twentieth of the actual costs associated with abuse.

In releasing the report, Dr Adam Graycar, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology stated there has been little evaluation on the effectiveness of child abuse programs. "Within the Australian context, evaluation studies are hampered by a lack of accurate measures of the incidence of child abuse and a lack of uniform definitions of what constitutes child abuse", Dr Graycar said.

"Within the Australian context, there is a need for more rigorous research into child abuse and more rigorous evaluation of programs currently in place, in order to better construct good policy and best practice interventions".

Nonetheless, key examples of "best practice" exist in the international domain, with the Boston Community Intervention to Reduce the Risk of Child Abuse program (USA), the Colorado Rethink Parenting and Anger Management program (USA), the Child Abuse Unit in Health Classes in Schools program (USA) and the Don't Shake the Baby program (USA) all demonstrating promising results in terms of addressing child abuse, following rigorous evaluation.

In terms of early intervention, fewer examples can be cited, but one noteworthy Australian example includes the Family CARE project, which aimed to provide home-based nursing services to vulnerable families. Evaluation of the program indicated improved quality of parental partnerships, less child abuse potential, less parental depression, better parental attachment to infants, less illicit drug use by parents and less infant bruising, among a range of other beneficial outcomes.