SA research to tackle harmful behaviour amongst kids in care

The state government is spending half a million dollars on new research to find out how it can prevent children in care from displaying harmful sexual behaviours towards other children, with one researcher warning “urgent action” is needed to address the issue.

Feb 24, 2023, updated Feb 24, 2023
Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Latest data released by South Australia’s Guardian for Children Shona Reid shows 36 per cent of the 120 child abuse notifications her office received last financial year related to allegations of harmful sexual behaviour perpetrated between or from children in care.

The allegations varied from sexual behaviour considered outside the normal or age-appropriate range through to offences for which a child could be held criminally responsible if they are aged over 10.

Child protection experts believe a range of factors cause children in care to exhibit harmful sexual behaviours, including witnessing domestic and family violence, a history of sexual victimisation and cumulative harm from long-term neglect.

It is hoped a new research project led by the University of South Australia’s Australian Centre for Child Protection (ACCP) will help governments better understand the causes and effects of harmful sexual behaviour between children, and to identify treatments to support those who are impacted.

The South Australian Government has committed $500,000 towards the project under a co-funding model with the Western Australian government.

“We must act to tackle this risk of harm to children,” South Australian Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard said.

“Collaborating with organisations like the ACCP to do so is crucial.”

The ACCP is led by Professor Leah Bromfield, who was earlier this month announced as the chairperson of the state government’s new “South Australian Child Protection Expert Group”.

Bromfield described the issue of children displaying harmful sexual behaviours as a “significant contemporary challenge across Australia requiring urgent action to improve responses”.

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“I commend the WA and SA governments on partnering to achieve this nationally-leading initiative,” she said.

“The collaboration between the WA and SA governments will provide direct enhancement to practice in both states while also contributing to the national and international evidence base.

“The combination of research and workforce development within the grant funding will deliver practical solutions and tangible changes to practice.”

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that the diversity of children’s backgrounds and behaviours meant that a single response was not suitable for all children who display harmful behaviours.

It found that a range of interventions were needed, including in some cases, a criminal justice response.

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