Date: 
Thursday 23 November 2017

The devastating impact of family and domestic violence on children can be seen in heightened rates of suicide, self-harm and injury, National Children’s Commission Megan Mitchell has warned.

Commissioner Mitchell highlighted the link between violence at home and self-harm and suicide in Children, in a speech to the recent Australian Injury Prevention Network (AIPN) Conference in Ballarat.

“Children living with family and domestic violence are not only at an increased risk of experiencing emotional, physical and sexual abuse, we now know that they have higher risks of suicidal ideation and intentional self-harm”, Commissioner Mitchell said.

“Last year, intentional self-harm continued to be the leading cause of death among children and young people aged 5 to 17 years, with on average one child every week taking their own life.”

Commissioner Mitchell said that these numbers were amplified for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.  The Northern Territory — which has the highest proportion of Aboriginal children per capita — reported 13.9 deaths per 100,000 persons in the four years to 2016. That’s 10 times the rate of Victoria, which recorded 1.7 deaths per 100,000.

“Exposure to family and domestic violence is one of the risk factors that may predispose a child or young person to suicidal behaviours. In fact, even witnessing family violence is increasingly recognised as having a negative impact on young people’s wellbeing,” she said.

Children are also the second most frequent group of family violence victims (21 per cent) after intimate partner homicides (56 per cent),” the Commissioner said.

“Children are not just bystanders and witnesses to family and domestic violence, they are also injured or murdered in this context,” she said. “Shockingly, one child every two weeks on average is killed at the hands of their parents.”

Despite this, the experiences and needs of children are often missing from conversations about family and domestic violence.

The Commissioner welcomed national conversations about family and domestic violence that place children at the centre.

This echoed her calls for the establishment of a national research agenda for children aimed at reducing self-harm, and a national policy focus on the unique needs of children affected by family and domestic violence, recommended in her 2014 and 2015 Children’s Rights Reports.