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Better domestic and family violence responses needed to keep kids safe

Queensland’s Child Death Review Board (CDRB) has released an analysis of the child protection system’s responses for families experiencing domestic and family violence.

CDRB Chairperson Luke Twyford said a high prevalence of domestic and family violence was observed in child death cases reviewed by the Board since it was established in July 2020.

“Children’s exposure to domestic and family violence, whether experienced directly or passively, can have significant and lasting impacts on their development, health, behaviour, and psychological and emotional wellbeing,” Mr Twyford said.

“Of the child deaths reviewed by the Board, most were not directly related to domestic and family violence; however, violence was present in a high number of cases.

“This prompted the Board to analyse a sample of 43 child death cases to identify recurring issues and improvements in the responses provided to families who are known to the child protection system and experience domestic and family violence.”

Mr Twyford said suggested improvements included recognising risks to children of domestic and family violence, focusing responses around the impacts on children, and building staff capacity within the child protection sector.

“The key learning from this analysis was that children who grow up in environments of domestic and family violence need to be considered victims in their own right, not merely witnesses, and any improvements in system responses need to maintain this focus,” Mr Twyford said.

“The analysis found the risk of harm to children was being missed where children were not interviewed appropriately, decisions about their safety were made based on incomplete information, or risk assessments did not consider all types of harm caused by domestic and family violence.

“Domestic and family violence services play a key role in supporting parents and children; however, the analysis found uptake of these programs was low, particularly by the offending parent, with barriers including waitlists, fear that engagement would lead to further involvement from the child safety authority, and lack of follow-up for families that relocate.

“Some First Nations families experienced barriers to support when they were referred to services without discussions around culturally appropriate and trauma-informed options.

“Programs that focus on fatherhood were found to be a significant motivator to encourage fathers to accept accountability and facilitate behaviour change, although these practices are not well embedded across men’s behaviour-change programs.”

Mr Twyford said cumulative harm caused by children’s ongoing experiences of domestic and family violence can be difficult to identify when frontline staff capacity was impacted.

“Gaps in knowledge or training can lead to responses that do not recognise complex factors that surround domestic and family violence, resulting in suboptimal responses to children and parents,” Mr Twyford said.

“Training is integral to supporting frontline staff to identify and respond to violence; however, despite the good intent of workers, the system faces workforce turnover and capacity challenges, which impact agencies’ ability to retain contemporary workforce knowledge and experience.

“The analysis highlighted the need for staff to have a strong understanding of domestic and family violence when assessing the risks to children and develop ways that workers can effectively respond during periods of high demand to ensure continuity of knowledge in responding to violence.”

The Child Death Review Board’s Annual Report 2021–22 was released in December 2022, which included six recommendations made to government. The outcomes of this analysis underpin one of those recommendations.

The analysis, Reviewing the child protection system’s response to violence within families, and Annual Report 2021–22 are available to view here.

[ENDS] 10 January 2023

Media Contact: Child Death Review Board – Kirby Cook ph: 0434 683 265