Landmark national study kicks off

ACU child protection expert Daryl Higgins has joined a prestigious list of international researchers to deliver a $2.8 million national study unpacking the prevalence and effects of child maltreatment.

The five-year Australian Child Maltreatment Study, which will look at how many Australians have experienced child abuse, has already kicked off.

It brings together researchers in Australia, the United States and United Kingdom to deliver a comprehensive assessment of the mental and physical health outcomes of those affected.

Professor Higgins, Director of ACU's Institute of Child Protection Studies, is one of the chief investigators on the study led by QUT's Professor Ben Mathews.

About 10,000 Australians, aged 16 and over, will be surveyed via telephone interviews on the prevalence, health and economic burdens of child maltreatment – the leading preventable risk factor for mental illness and substance abuse.

Professor Higgins said reducing the prevalence of child maltreatment offered the greatest opportunity to prevent mental illness, suicide and other serious health problems.

"The findings will provide governments and policymakers with the evidence needed to inform decisions about how we can best invest resources to reduce child maltreatment, respond to its effects, and improve ongoing prevention," he said.

QUT's Professor Mathews said the study will generate Australia's first reliable estimate of the prevalence and occurrence of all five forms of child maltreatment: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic violence. It will also measure other major childhood adversities including bullying.

"We have a strong focus on sexual abuse in childhood, including contact and non-contact acts, sexual harassment, and online victimisation. This is particularly important given current national calls for better prevention of sexual violence," Professor Mathews said.

"Domestic violence experienced in adulthood is also a massive national issue, and so we are also generating national data about intimate partner victimisation including physical violence and multiple types of coercive control."

The study will also measure associations between child maltreatment and health throughout life, including mental and physical health, and tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Government, and the Australian Institute of Criminology, it is the most comprehensive national study in this field in Australia.

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