Australian Institute of Criminology

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Abused children/offending link

Media Release

06 January 2003

New research published today by the Australian Institute of Criminology demonstrates a direct path from child maltreatment to juvenile offending.

A major study focussing on 41,700 children born in Queensland in 1983 found that by the time they were seventeen, 10 per cent of these children had been the subject of a child protection matter with the Department of Families. Twenty-five per cent of the male children and 11 per cent of female children who had been maltreated subsequently offended. Five per cent had appeared in court for a proven offence.

Releasing the study, the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology Dr Adam Graycar said that "the maltreatment of children is a "scourge on our society - a thoroughly inexcusable practice that, unfortunately, our protective and preventive measures have had little overall success in combating".

Dr Graycar noted that not all abused and neglected children proceed to later offending and he said that it is important to identify the predictive factors associated with maltreatment.

Twenty-three per cent of children who were victims of physical abuse subsequently offended, compared with 15 per cent of maltreated children were were not physically abused.

Indigenous children were more likely than non-Indigenous children to have experienced maltreatment, and this occurred over a longer period of time. Maltreated Indigenous children were four times more likely to offend than non-Indigenous children.

The authors of the paper, Dr Anna Stewart, Dr Susan Dennison and Elissa Waterson from the School of Criminology at Griffith University examine 11 predictive factors for youth offending. They find that physical abuse is a significant predictive factor, while sexual and emotional abuse was not related to later offending.

Dr Graycar noted that critically important information for policy-making is yielded from the very large administrative data set used in this study, and furthermore, Significant benefits in crime reduction and outcomes for children can be obtained by directing attention to those children who are maltreated and ensuring that maltreatment is not repeated.