A study has found one third of Australians surveyed would not immediately tell someone if they thought a child was being abused or neglected.
The national online representative survey, carried out by Pure Profile and funded by Act for Kids, asked 1004 Australians aged 18 and over a range of questions about whether they knew the signs of child abuse and what they would do.
More than a third (37.4 per cent) said if they thought a child was being abused they would want to know more about what signs to look for before telling anyone while 16 per cent said they would wait to see if it got worse or continued before doing anything.
Of those surveyed, one quarter said they did not know the signs of child abuse and neglect while 41 per cent admitted they would need to Google how to report suspected abuse.
Act for Kids chief executive Dr Neil Carrington said the survey highlighted a lack of knowledge that Australians have about child abuse and neglect.
“What worries me is that over 90 per cent of people who harm children are in a position of love and trust and the fact that one in four Aussies aren’t confident about what to do in terms of identifying signs of child abuse is really quite worrying,” he said.
“It really highlights the need for more education, not just for our kids, but also for adults to be able to identify the signs of child abuse and neglect and know what to do in that situation.”
The number of allegations of child abuse reported to authorities increased by 30 per cent from 273,000 in 2012-13 to 356,000 in 2015-16, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The most common type of abuse in substantiated cases was emotional abuse, followed by neglect, physical harm and sexual abuse.
When the survey respondents were asked what was necessary to break the cycle of child abuse, 69 per cent said making sure everyone was better informed to identify the signs of abuse.
A whopping 78 per cent felt the public could do better to intervene and improve the likelihood of child abuse and neglect in communities.
Act for Kids National Ambassador Sascha Chandler, who was targeted by convicted paedophile Andrew Dean McIntosh during his school years, said people needed to learn how to recognise child abuse and act on it.
“The way I describe it is that child abuse ignored is child abuse, a lot of these kids don't have a voice of their own,” he said.
“I think people are really sensitive that they don't want to offend someone unnecessarily because it is a huge accusation to make but I think there are ways to remove a child from risk whilst the investigation goes on without offending the person necessarily.”
He said in the three years he was abused, he felt he couldn’t tell adults for fear of getting someone in trouble.
“I had people asking me if anything was going on and I was outright lying about it,” he said.
“I had been threatened and decided that I wouldn't tell anyone and I truly believed that if I had of told someone they wouldn't have believed me.”
He said the manner in which adults react to what they hear from children who disclose abuse was extremely important.
“There are ways of approaching a child and having a conversation about whether there is something going on,” he said.
“There is no point in the adult getting angry and saying ‘I am going to hurt the person’,
“It is about remaining cool, calm and collected because if a child is exposing abuse, they are putting a lot of trust in that adult.”
It took the birth of Mr Chandler’s first child for him to come to grips with what happened to him, to speak up about the abuse he endured.
“I realised that as an adult had a level of social responsibility to ensure that any child was protected, particularly my own,” he said.
He has urged anyone who is concerned for a child to go straight to authorities rather than family or friends.
“It is best to go straight to the authorities because someone needs to investigate it,” he said.
“The same if it happens in a school or church environment, the authorities are trained to investigate this stuff without emotion.
“For anyone in a position of either themselves having been abused and wondering whether to go forward about talking about it or those people who are suspicious of someone's actions towards a child, please come forward, it is always better to investigate and be wrong than not investigate at all when a child's innocence is at risk.”
According to Act for Kids website, there are often behavioural or physical signs of stress when a child has been or is experiencing abuse.
These can include aggressive or submissive behaviour, being overly obedient, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, excessive rocking, humming, sucking or biting, bedwetting, sleeping difficulties, unexplained bruising, alcohol or drug abuse, suicidal tendencies and inappropriate sexual knowledge or actions for the age of the child.
Child Protection Week kicks off today and includes a range of family fun days, community breakfasts and education sessions to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect.
The Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability services has committed $750,000 over the next five years to Act for Kids to continue to raise awareness.
- The Age