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Child abuse and neglect

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The Parliamentary Library




Education and Welfare Group

20 March 1975


Recognition of the problem of "child abuse" has been very slow. In England although legislation against cruelty to animals was passed in 1824, cruelty to children was not regarded

as a crime until much later. In the U.S.A. the fact that physical

violence was responsible for an unsuspected number of Child injuries was only recognised publicly in the early 1960s when C. -Henry Eempe

coined the phrase "battered child syndrome".

Since then, awareness of and interest in the subject has

increased with the growing realization among doctors and hospital

staff that a large number of the• injuries suffered by young children.are wilfully inflicted. .Research is being undertaken into the incidence, nature and causes of child abuse or baby battering and suggestions made concerning its prevention and


Definition of "Child Abuse"

A generally accepted definition of child abuse is " non-accidental physical attack or physical injury, including minimal as well as fatal injury, inflicted upon children by persons

caring for them".(1)

A broader definition is adopted by the Child Welfare League of America which defines an abused or neglected child as -"One who is physically injured but also as one who may be malnourished; without proper shelter or sleeping

arrangements; ill and lacking essential medical care; sexually abused or exploited; denied normal experiences that would produce feelings of being loved, wanted, secure and worthy (emotional neglect); emotionally distvrbed because of constant friction in the home; or exposed to unwholesome and demoralizing circumstances."(2)

(1) The Battered Child, ed. R.E.Helfer and C.H.Kempei Chicago and London, 1968, p.20. (2) T. Irwin, To Combat Child Abuse & Neglect, Public Affairs Pamphlet, No.508.

Nature of Child Abuse

Physical Abuse

The most common physical injuries are bruises and fractures,,burns, scalding, poisoning, deliberate malnutrition and abrasions. Severe shaking resulting in whip-lash type injuries is common.

Physical injuries also include sexual assaults (rape, incest, sodomy, carnal abuse).

Abuse by Neglect

Deliberate neglect of children is another form of abuse.

Children-have been badly dehydrated, malnourished to the point of starvation, locked up in cupboards or locked out of the house.

Illness or disease has been left untreated.

Emotional Abuse

Severe psychological injury can result where children are rejected by their parents; deprived of mothering; caught up in family dissension; or subjected to other forms of mental harassment.

Effects of Abuse

Physical injuries can_be_so_s_evere that they result in death. Permanent mental or physiqalinjury can be caused both by actual assault or by severe neglect and mental harassment.




The exact incidence of child abuse is unknown as only the most severe cases of physical injury or neglect come to the attention of the authorities. Some of the problems have been the lack of legal protection for a doctor or hospital in reporting

suspected cases and the fact that reporting cases is usually not

mandatory. Surveys carried out in the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand indicate that the number of cases per 100,000 of total population is about 8.5.(1)

Characteristics of Abusers

In most cases of abuse the parents or parent figures of the child are responsible but opinions vary on whether the mother or father is more likely to be the abuser. At a seminar on child protection in Sydney in July 1974, Dr S. Williams of North Ryde psychiatric centre, gave it as his opinion that although more

mothers than fathers physically assault their children, battering by fathers is more prevplent in Australia than in the United States.

The mother is probably more commonly the abuser simply

because she is usually with the child. Where the father stays at home with the child he is likely to be the abuser. In other words, the abusing parent is likely to be the one most in contact with

the child.

The causes of child battering are varied but child batterers tend to have several characteristics in common:

(11 In New Zealand 53 children whose deaths were reported in hospital admission statistics between 1962 and 1969 died by assault.and of these 50 (94%) were under 5 years of age. During the same period an additional 11 children under one year of age were reported as having died of neglect. In 1967, 129 children in the 0 - 4 age group died and more than 5,500 were hospitalized through accidents but how many of these were intentionally injured is not known. Simpson, D.W., Non-Accidental Injury to Preschool Children in New Zealand. New Zealand Medical Journal, 8 January 1975, Vol.81, No.531.


1. Single parents are over-represented, the single parenthood resulting from divorce and separation as well as non-marriage.

De facto relationships are also common.

2. Incidents of abuse can be found through all levels of society but are more common among the lower socio-economic group.

3. The parents' levels of education tend to be low and their occupational status would correspond to the low educational

achievement. Incomes tend to be significantly lower than for the general population and unemployment higher.

4. A high percentage of abusing parents seem to have conceived pre-maritally.

5. There appears to be a high incidence of criminal convictions against abusive fathers.

6. Families tend to have a high degree of geographic mobility and consequently do not form strong relationships with others in the neighbourhood. There is a high degree

of social isolation with lack of support from relatives, friends or professionals.

7. Living conditions are often poor, dirty and overcrowded with lack of proper food and amenities.

8. Battering parents were often themselves battered as children.

9. The abusive parent may be habitually aggressive, emotionally impoverished or mentally retarded.

10. Drug addiction and alcoholism are common problems with abusing p2rents.


The reasons for child battering seem to arise from the stresses imposed by the poverty, isolation, ignorance and

unhappiness already mentioned, allied with unrealistic perceptions

of children. There is a general ignorance of what mothering involves and no realistic recognition of and empathy with the child's needs and capabilities. Unrealistic expectations in early training lead to disappointment and harsh punishment. Jealousy of the child

may also be a factor and the child may be seen as a rival for the other parent's affection. The abased child is often seen as

"different" by the parent and this may be reinforced by unusual circumstances at birth (e.g. illegitimacy, depression, multiple birth, prematurity), physical appearance or mental abnormality.


Australia-wide figures on the incidence of child abuse are unobtainable since there is no mandatory reporting and the problem is a matter for the States. A survey conducted over 31 months in a 380 bed pediatric hospital in Victoria revealed an incidence of more than one known case per month. Another estimate based on attendances and knowledge of the Infant Welfare Centres in 1968

suggested that in Victoria alone 10,000 children under 5 were at 1) risk. A research project in Victoria ( has received reports concerning 174 children in the first year of whom 137 under 6 years were found to have suffered maltreatment. Of these children

79.9% were under 3 years of age. Eighty children required

hospitalization for periods of less than a week to six months and there were 5 fatalities.


New South Wales

. The New South Wales Crimes Act 1900, Section 43 deals with the exposing or abandoning of a child under the age of two years "whereby the life of such a child was or is endangered or its health was or is likely to be seriously injured"; Section 44

(1) See page


makes it an offence for a person maliciously to cause bodily harm to any wife, child, ward, apprentice or servant or to any insane person"; Sections 59 and 61 deal with assaults occasioning actual bodily harm and with common assaults and apply to persona of all ages and not specifically to children. The penalties provided in Sections 43, 44 and 59 range from two to five years penal servitude.

The Child Welfare Act 1939 (Sections 148 and 149) provides for action against any person who ill-treats a child.

It also makes provision for the care and protection of young

children who are subjected to ill treatment. Section 72 states that a neglected child may_ be brought before a children's court, a neglected child being a child or young person "who without reasonable excuse is not provided with sufficient and proper food, nursing, clothing, medical aid or lodging, or who is ill treated

or exposed."

There is no specific reporting statute in New South

Wales. Apparently no action would lie against a medical practitioner for reporting a case of child abuse if the report was confined to the facts of the case as known to the person reporting

and it was made in good faith„

Child Welfare legislation is at present under review

in New South Wales and a project team has reported on desirable legislative provisions for the protection of children, including the ill treatment of children. A reporting statute based on South Australian legislation was recommended.



Sections 81 to 84 of the Social Welfare Act 1970 cover the ill treatment, both mental and physical, of children under the age of 15 years with penalties ranging from $1,000 fine to

12 months imprisonment.

(1) For South Australian legislation, see Appendix I.


There have been several research projects undertaken

in Victoria on battered children aimed at establishing the size and nature of the problem in the State. The first of these was undertaken by Dr Dora Bealestock and Drs John and Robert

Birrell and the publication in the Australian Medical Journal

of the findings of these doctors brought the problem of child abuse into public prominence. As a result a committee was set up to report to the Chief Secretary and the Minister of Health.

The Committee reported late in 1967 and again in 1969. In October 1973 a research project was launched, sponsored by the Government

of. Victoria and planned and conducted as a joint venture by the Department of Health, the Royal Children's Hospital and the Mental Health Authority with the co-operation of the Social

Welfare, Law and Police Departments, the Office of the Government Statistician and the Children's Protection Society. It also has the support of the Victorian Branch of the AMA.

The aim of the project is "to assess the incidence of maltreatment of children throughout the State of Victoria and to obtain information about the nature of child maltreatmenti the medical, sociological and pathological features." The research

is initially focused on children under 6 years of age and is carried out through the establishment of.a system of voluntary reporting by members of particular occupational groups likely to observe cases of maltreatment. A. pilot assessment centre has been established at the Roy-R1 Children's Hospital to evaluate the methods to be used in assessing the children and their parents.

Letters were sent to all medical practitioners and members of other professions such as social workers, teachers, infant welfare sisters, district and bush nurses and members of the

police force.

A copy of the report form which is being used as part of the voluntary reporting system is attached. (1) There is no

legal protection for a doctor making a report - though the Chief'

(1) See Appendix II.

Health Officer has stated that it is generally considered that

a practitioner would not be liable to any claim in law and if there were such an action the Government "has undertaken to take

any measures that would indemnify the defendant".


Section 35 of the Medical Acts 1939 to 1971 provides that the failure of a medical practitioner to report certain

specified injuries which he is not satisfied were accidentally sustained constitutes misconduct. This provision could apply to battered children. In addition the criminal code and Section 69 of the Children's Services Act provide that it is an offence punishable summarily to ill treat a child.

South Australia

The Community Welfare Act (which became law in July 1972) in Section 72 provides for a fine not exceeding $500 or

imprisonment up to 12 months for the ill treatment of a child by any person having the care of that child. Any legally qualified practitioner who suspects such ill treatment is required to report it to the police or the Department of Community Welfare.

Full legal protection is provided for any person who makes such a report.

Western Australia

In addition to the provisions of the Criminal Code the

Western Australian Child Welfare Act provides for penalties from $10 to $100 or six months hard labour for ill treatment of a child. There is no provision for the mandatory reporting of such ill treatment.



The Child Welfare Act 1960 and legislation concerning assaults on persons of all ages provide penalties for the treatment of children. Reporting of suspected cases is not

mandatory though this is likely to be reviewed. Legal protection is provided under the Defamation Act 1957 for persons reporting cases to the Childhood Injury Investigation

Committee. A Committee had been established in 1970 by the Minister for Health to formulate an acceptable state-wide plan to co-ordinate the activities of persons or bodies in

any way involved with children under seven suspected of having been maltreated, or likely to be maltreated. As a result the Childhood Investigating Committee was formed with an intentionally non-emotive name with the function of ensuring that each case

of suspected non-accidental injury could be dealt with expeditiously and effectively and to conduct research into the whole problem. Information on the mechanics of reporting suspected cases was distributed to all doctors.

Australian Capital Territory

The NSW Crimes Act applies to the ACT and in addition provision is made under Sections 49 and 122 of the Child Welfare Ordinance 1957-1974 for the apprehension of ill treated children and their protective detention until court action can be taken.

There is no provision for mandatory reporting of cases of abuse.

Northern Territory

Sections of the Child Welfare Ordinance 1958-1971 and of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act and Ordinance 1966-1973 provide for penalties not exceeding 8400 or 12 months imprisonment for "neglecting!' a child. There is no provision for mandatory reporting nor is there legal protection for a doctor who makes a report.



Each State has legislation which makes fairly adequate provision for the protection of Children who are maltreated

sufficiently severely to come to the notice of the court.

South Australia and Tasmania offer legal protection to a doctor

or other person reporting cases of abuse, but such reporting is not compulsory except in South Australia and in Queensland where a doctor may be guilty of misconduct if he does not report

cases which come to his notice.

Other States are reviewing legislation and considering the advisability of making the reporting of suspected cases of

abuse mandatory.

Voluntary Schemes


The Wayside Chapel, Kings Cross, Sydney, has a service named Prevention, which aims at assisting those families in which a child is at risk. Staffed by trained nurses, Prevention provides

a telephone service and home visits. A one—to—one relationship

is the basis of the scheme.

Crisis Schemes

Parents Anonymous and Lifeline are two schemes operating in some areas to provide a "hot line" or personal help in times

of crisis.



United Kingdom


In the United _Kingdom there are no exact figures of the number of children involved in cases of abuse since there is no

mandatory reporting. Public awareness of the problem increased in the 1960s and by 1970 reports of battering had become so frequent

that the Department of Health sent a memorandum to doctors calling their attention to the dangers of the situation. The Department estimated that at least 3,000 infants and children were injured or

seriously deprived annually and that 40 babies aged less than one year were being killed every year. In 1973 it was estimated that 4,400 children were treated annually in hospital casualty departments with injuries of an inadequately explained nature.

At one hospital the mortality rate resulting from cases of known

physical abuse was found to be 15%.

A two year research project undertaken by Jean Renvoize (1)

found that every year between four and five thousand children are injured by their parents and guardians, that four hundred of these

children under the age of one suffer permanent brain damage and that probably as many as seven hundred die as a result of their injuries.


In England and Wales the major statutes providing for the

prevention of cruelty to children are the .Children and Young

Persons Acts of 1933 and the corresponding Acts of 1937 for Scotland and 1968 for Northern Ireland.

(1) Children in Danger, 1974, 10.3.

These Acts provide for a fine or term of imprisonment for any person over 16 years of age who has the custody, charge

or care of any child or young person under 16 years of age wilfully to assault, ill-treat, neglect, abandon or expose him or cause or procure the same in a manner likely to cause him

unnecessary suffering or injury to health.

The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and other statutes and the common law also specify other offences,

including homicide or infanticide.

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

The N.S.P.C.C. was founded in England in 1883, twelve

years after the formation of the Society in New York. Over the

years the Society, a voluntary body, pressed for protective legislation for children and was finally successful with the

passing of the Children and Young Persons Act in 1933.

The Society became increasingly concerned about the Battered Baby Syndrome and in 1969 set up a department to research into the problem and do casework in the London area. The research undertaken was an in-depth study of 78 battered children under the age of 4 years who were injured in the 12 months following let July 1967. The results were published by Angela Skinner and Raymond Castle - 78 Battered Children: A Retrospective Study.

United States of America

The problem of child abuse in the USA has only become of public concern in very recent years as realization of the extent of the problem has grown.



The National Center for the Prevention and Treatment

of Child Abuse and Neglect in Denver, Colorado, estimates that

60,000 cases of child abuse are reported annually. In 1973 the New York City Human Resources Centre received 13,000 reports of child abuse or suspected abuse in New York alone. Some experts

believe that violent abuse and neglect are now the largest causes of death among US children and that the incidence is increasing with the economic recession and the consequent additional stress

within the family.(1 ' These figures, together with the fact that many cases are not reported and those that are come to light only when the victim has suffered acute psychological or physical damage or death, highlighted the need for action at Federal level.


On 31 January 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was approved in the United States. Prior to this, Federal support for programs dealing with child abuse had been available through title IV-B of the Social Security Act, which

authorizes child welfare and child protective services. In 1973, of the $4.6m budget available for child welfare services, only

$507,000 was spent on activities relating to child abuse.

The Act provides for the establishment of an office to be known as the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (2)

which will -

(1/ ,compile, analyse and publish a summary annually of recently conducted and currently conducted research on

child abuse and neglect;

(2) develop and maintain an information clearing house on all programs, including private programs, showing promise of success for the prevention, identification

and treatment of child abuse and neglect;

(1) See Hard Times for Kids too, Time, 17 March 1975, p.48. (2) Not to be confused with the National Center at Denver, Colorado.


(3) compile and publish training materials for personnel who are engaged in or intend to engage in the prevention,

identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect;

(4) provide technical assistance (directly or through grant or contract) to public and non-profit private agencies and organisations to assist them in planning, improving, developing, and carrying out programs and activities

relating to the prevention, identification and treatment

of child abuse and neglect;

(5) conduct research into the causes of child abuse and neglect, and into the prevention, identification and

treatment thereof; and

(6) make a complete and full study and investigation of the national incidence of child abuse and neglect, including a determination of the extent to which incidents of child

abuse and neglect are increasing in number or severity.

The Act defines the term "child abuse and neglect" as "the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, negligent treatment,

or maltreatment of a child under the age of 18 by a person who is responsible for the child's welfare under circumstances which indicate that the child's health or welfare is harmed or threatened thereby."

Training programs under the Act are to be developed and established for professional and paraprofessional personnel in the fields of medicine, law, education, social work and other

related fields. Training programs are also envisaged for children and for persons responsible for the welfare of children, in methods of protecting children from child abuse and neglect.

Centers staffed by multidisciplinary teams of trained

personnel are to be established to provide a broad range of services related to child abuse and neglect including direct support and supervision of satellite centres, attention homes and advisory and consultative services to individuals and agencies

which request them.


Teams of professional and para-professional personnel

are to be provided on a consulting basis to small communities

where such services are not available.

Grants are to be provided for innovative programs and

projects in such areas as parent self-help,prevention and

treatment of drug-related child abuse and neglect and other programs which show promise of successfully preventing or treating cases of child abuse and neglect.

Grants may be made to assist the States in developing, strengthening and carrying out child abuse and neglect prevention and treatment programs provided that the State -

(1) has in effect a child abuse and neglect law which includes provisions for immunity from prosecution

for persons reporting instances of child abuse and neglect;

(2) provides for the reporting of known and suspected instances of child abuse and neglect;

(3) initiates an investigation promptly on the receipt of such a report and if abuse or neglect is found, takes

immediate steps to protect the health and welfare of the child as well as of any other child under the same care;

(4) demonstrates that it has administrative procedures, trained personnel, training procedures, facilities and multidisciplinary programs to deal effectively with child abuse and neglect cases;

(5) preserves the confidentiality of all records in order to protect the rights of the child, his parents or guardians;

(6) provides for the cooperation of law-enforcement officials, courts of competent jurisdiction, and appropriate agencies providing human services;

(7) appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the child whenever judicial proceedings result from a case of child abuse or neglect;


(8) shall use the Federal funds to supplement and increase the level of State funds available for such programs and projects;

(9) provides for the dissemination to the public of

information on the problem, prevention and treatment

available for child abuse and neglect;

(10) gives preferential treatment as far as is feasible to parental organizations combating child abuse and neglect.

The funds to be provided under the Act amount to

$15m June 30 1974 $20m June 30 1975 $25m June 30 1976 $25m June 30 1977

The Act also provides for the appointment of an Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect to assist in coordinating programs. The Board is required to submit a report within

18 months on the programs assisted under the Act. This report is to include a study of the relationship between drug addiction and child abuse and neglect. The Board consists of representatives of federal agencies with responsibility for programs and activities related to child abuse and neglect.

Programs and Projects

In July 1974 the Health Education and Welfare Department announced that 11 grants had been made for projects, including:

volunteer-based model for protective services in a 4 county area; establishment of a 24 hour centre and hot line; improved case handling and treatment by the use of interdisciplinary coordinating teams; setting up of a family learning centre project serving abused or neglected children and their families by coordinating existing resources and increasing treatment options especially related to crisis response and children's needs; establishment of an urban hospital-based program including family intervention, coordination of services among relevant agencies, a community education program and follow up of abused children.


A Family Care Center for children under 2 years of age and siblings who are victims of child abuse will serve as an alternative to the detention of parents and the separation of the child from his parents with placement in foster homes.

Individual, group and family therapy will be available and the group will focus on family reunion.

In announcing the grants the HEW secretary said that "finding improved ways of identifying, treating and preventing this nationwide phenomenon has become a major objective of the Department."

Parents Anonymous

In August a grant of $198,655 was announced to Parents Anonymous Inc. of Los Angeles, California. The aim of the grant is to enlarge the existing 80 chapters to 200 chapters and self-help groups. It is anticipated that by the end of the 3-year grant such groups will be operating in all States.

Parents Anonymous functions through small (average 10 members) self-help groups which represent guidance, counsel and support to parents who realize they need help and are seeking it. Parents who have abused, or fear they will abuse their children can work together anonymously in order to change destructive feelings and behaviour.

The grant will provide for the production and dissemination of a wide range of information for parents, state and local governments and private interest groups.

Parents Anonymous arose from Mothers Anonymous, which was established in 1970. The name was changed when it was found that fathers were in need of help too. It is estimated that there have been at least 5,000 members since 1970.


In January 1975 further grants were announced by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (established by the

1974 Act). Twelve grants were made to establish centers to provide comprehensive services to abused children and their families. Eleven grants were provided to set up resource projects to offer technical assistance to professionals and agencies involved in combating child abuse and neglect. Other projects were concerned with evaluation of programs, computerization of

information on programs and research, data collection, and the development of curricula for training medical, law enforcement,

education and social service personnel in the identification, reporting and referral of child abuse and neglect cases.

Some Exp erimental Services

Extended Family Center, California

The Extended Family Center in California was established in February 1973 and is supported by the Office of Child Development. The aim of the center is to develop the resources of the extended family for isolated parents who are acting out their problems through violence against their children. One of

the most needed services has been relief from the 24 hour care of children. Day-care facilities are therefore available from 9 - 6 and there is an after hours telephone number of ring in

times of stress.

It has been found at the center that the children need specialized attention, as they tend to be either very withdrawn

or overactive. After initial regression on entering the center, the children begin to respond to the safety of the environment and the positive support given helps the child to cope with limitations of the home. The parents learn a different type of

child care through the center and are given support and understanding by the staff and each other. Formerly abusive parents are employed on the staff, which helps them relate to other parents.

"Rarely is it formal therapy that brings about changes in the behavior of abusive parents.

Rather we have found it is the relationship between parents and staff and parents and parents that allow a parent to gradually develop the confidence needed

to bring about the necessary change in his or her


Denver, Colarado

Foster grandparents or parents are used as mother surrogates both to provide mothering for the child and to help the battering mother. Working under trained social workers,

mothering aides are chosen because they are able to be non-directive and non-critical and have flexibility, patience and

compassion. They are paid a small hourly rate to make contact with the abusing family and to become a friend and confidant=

This approach has been used successfully by C.H. Kempe in Colorado and about 80% of the children have been able to return to their families without further abuse.


There would seem to be three main areas where an Australian Government could take action on the matter of child

abuse and neglect:

(1) by developing legislation for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect in the ACT and Territories which could become model legislation for the States to follow.

(1) Elsa Ten Broeck, The Extended Family Center, Children Today, March/April 1974, p.6.



(2) by establishing a national centre to co-ordinate

and initiate research in the States and to act as a repository and clearing house for data.

(3) by providing funds to States and voluntary organizations which are concerned with the prevention and treatment of child abuse and with research into the problem.

Some Aspects to be Considered,


The aim of legislation, it can be argued, should not be to punish the abuser, but to protect the child by isolating the circumstances in which abuse or violence occurred and then to provide rehabilitative measures to help:the abusing parents.


The difficulty in framing legislation is, of course, in

devising adequate definitions of the terms "child abuse" and/or neglect" and in making the legislation effective. Wilful

physical abuse is relatively clear cut, but to determine when neglect becomes maltreatment is more difficult. Similarly, it may be difficult to define when emotional or psychological abuse or neglect becomes a genuine cause for action. The effects of

emotional abuse are less tangible than physical abuse but can be no less harmful and the child no less in need of protection.

Mandatory Reporting

The reluctance of doctors and hospital personnel to report cases of suspected child abuse bears on the question of whether such reporting should be mandatory.

(I) Newberger, The Myth of the Battered Child Syndrome, Current Medical Dialogue, April 1973, p.327, states that "We are coming to see that the essential element in child abuse is not the intention to destroy a child but rather the inability of a parent to nurture his offspring."


The arguments against mandatory reporting are:

(a) parents may not seek medical attention for the child if it is known the abuse will be reported;

(b) doctors fear their professional relationship with the parents and child may be jeopardised;

(c) there is a natural reluctance on the part of medical and other personnel to initiate actions which may lead

to legal proceedings.

The main argument favouring mandatory reporting is that

the protection and welfare of the child must be paramount and all other considerations secondary. If mandatory reporting is not

limited to medical personnel, but is a requirement for any person who becomes aware of child abuse or neglect, the child has more

chance of receiving the needed protection. (1)

If reporting is mandatory, it is necessary to ensure that all persons likely to be in a position to detect abuse (doctors, dentists, teachers, welfare workers, hospital personnel) are fully

informed on appropriate reporting referral procedures. They also would require a guarantee of full legal protection.

Prevention andTreatmvt.


The people in a position to detect children at risk need to be able to recognise early symptoms and indications and follow these up. For example, there may be indications that the child may be at risk even before it is born, and medical staff should be trained to detect these. Rejection of the baby by the mother after birth, unwillingness to breast-feed or to cuddle the child

can also be signs of potential risk. Some sort of training

(1) The few statistics available from USA indicate that non-medical reports form a substantial proportion (over half) of reported cases of abuse. The whole question of mandatory reporting is covered in Alan Sussman, Reporting Child Abuse: A Review of the Literature, Family Law Quarterly, Fall, 1974, Vol.VIII, No.3.


programme designed to improve identificatiOn techniques and knowledge generally of the problem and drawing upon many disciplines,

would thus seem to be requires. Courses designed to assist people to be better parents also merit consideration and could be provided,

for example, at secondary schools.

Central Registry

Consideration could be given to the establishment of

a central computerized registry for cases of battering and neglect.

Such a registry would enable recurrent cases to be identified, as a feature of families with children at risk is high mobility or hospital or doctor hopping to avoid identification. The computer could be used to maintain a watching brief over all

children in Australia, although questions about privacy, access to the records and so on would need careful consideration:.

Se.aration of Parents and Child and Su..ortive Famil Services

There is generally a reluctance to separate a child, from

its family and often an attempt is made to protect the child by

close supervision rather than by removing it to an institution.

Unless the supervision is adequate, however, many, this field recommend the separation of the child from the abusing

parent for a time, at least. In South Australia, for example, a nurses' seminar recommended that any child admitted as a case of battering should be made a ward of State. The child's welfare should be paramount and this was the only way it could be properly

safeguarded. Separate legal representation for the child is another consideration. The hospitalization of the child can provide a temporary separation during which an assessment of the situation can be made. Treatment of the parents must accompany treatment of the child and the battering parent's or guardian's attitude to the child must change before it is safe to allow the

child to return.


A range of services would need to be available to provide, for example, the therapeutic intervention necessary for violent

parents. A small clinic with a highly specialized staff may be

the most effective agency.

In its submission on the Review of Child Welfare Legislation in New South Wales, the N.S.W. Branch of the Australian

Association of Social Workers affirmed that the child's first and basic right is to be protected wherever possible from the loss . of . the security of the family. The provision of preventive family services were seen, therefore, as the most effective safeguard.

The submission recommended that the parents be offered skilled services to help overcome their problems,as well as long term supportive Family Services. The need for skilled non-threatening, non-judgmental help and counselling in these cases was stressed.

Final Note

As well as specialist services designed to meet the specific problems of child abuse and neglect, it is noteworthy that most of these cases occur where there is family stress, of which poor housing, overcrowding, poverty and lack of supportive

services for mothers, e.g. day care, may be symptoms. Effective

action on these problems may well reduce but not eliminate the problems of child abuse and neglect.

Education and Welfare Group



Part IV Division II

Cruelty to children


South Australia

Community Welfare Act, 1972 No. 1

Subdivision 7 - Protection of Children

72. Any person having the care, custody, control or charge of a child, who without lawful excuse -(a) neglects to provide such food, clothing and lodging for the child as the court thinks reasonably



(b) ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes the child, or causes the child to be ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed, in a manner that the court thinks likely to subject the child to unnecessary risk, danger, injury or suffering,

shall be guilty of an offence and be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or imprisonment for any period not exceeding twelve months.

Reports of 73. (1) If a person to whom this section applies suspects cruelty upon reasonable grounds that an offence under section 72 of this Act has been committed against a child under the age of fifteen years, that person shall, as soon as is

reasonably practicable, report to a member of the police force or an officer of the Department that he suspects the commission of such an offence and the observations and opinions upon which the suspicion is based.

(2) Where a report has been made pursuant to subsection (1) of this section -(a) the making of the report shall not in any proceedings before any court or tribunal be held to constitute

a breach of professional etiquette or ethics or a departure from accepted standards of professional conduct; (b) in any proceedings for defamation, the report shall

be regarded as absolutely privileged;

(c) the making of the report shall not constitute a ground for civil proceedings for malicious prosecution or conspiracy;

(d) the report shall not be admissible in evidence before any court or tribunal except where it is tendered in evidence by the person by whom it was made in answer to a charge or allegation against him;


(e) a person shall not be compelled in any proceedings before any court or tribunal to produce the report, any copy of or extract from the report or to disclose any of the contents of the report,




1972 Community Welfare Act, 1972 No. 51

Part IV

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section, Division a person to whom this section applies is -any legally qualified medical practitioner; any registered dentist;

any person, or any person of a class declared by proclamation to be a person or a class of persons to whom or to which this section applies.

(4) The Governor may by proclamation declare that this section shall apply to any person or class of persons and may by subsequent proclamation vary or revoke any such proclamation.

(a) (b)

and (c)

Subdivision 8 - Miscellaneous

74. (1) Subject to this Act, the Director-General may grant to the foster parent, or to any other person in charge, of any child who is -under the care and control of the Minister;

under the guardianship of the Director-General under the Adoption of Children Act, 1966-71,

such financial or other assistance for the care and maintenance of the child as may be determined by the Minister.

(2) For the purposes of this section, the governing authority or person in charge of any home or place in which any such child is cared for shall be deemed to be the person in charge of the child.

75. (1) No person, other than a parent, shall care for or keep in his immediate custody any child under the age of fifteen years for a continuous period exceeding six months, or for periods aggregating more than six months

in any period of twelve months, unless -(a) he is a relative of the child; (b) he is an approved foster parent under this Part;

ASsist-ance to foster parents, etc.

Restric-tion upon children living

outside the custody of their parents.


CONFIDENTIAL Department of Health Victoria 295 Queen Street



CHILD'S NAME (or initials)




Agency or Organization:


Date of this Report:

SEX BIRTH DATE ........... /19


(or initials) ADDRESS 1. Date of Incident

2. Description of the Injury 3. Circumstances reported by the parent or parent substitute

4. Were there any inconsistencies between the reporting of the incident and your o*n findings?

5. Initial Treatment Referred to Hospital No If yes, name hospital Date of hospitalisation 6. Other comments

Signature ......................

In regard to legal liability it is generally considered that a professional person giving the information sought in this report form in good faith is not thereby rendering himself liable to any claim at law.

However, in the most unlikely event of such an action, the Government would take the appropriate measures including indemnifying the defendant as necessary.

W.J. STEVENSON Chief Health Officer and Chairman, Commission of Public Health