If the human suffering of child abuse is not compelling enough, another dimension of Australia’s child abuse problem is the staggering financial cost.
Recently, the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services examined how much was spent in 2014-15 on providing services to children who had experienced, or who were at risk of experiencing, child abuse and neglect.
It found that, nationally, around $4.3 billion was expended on child protection, out-of-home care services, family support services and intensive family support services in 2014-15 (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2016).
That amount represented a 5.8% increase compared with the previous year. Of total national expenditure, out-of-home care services represented 56.2% or $2.4 billion.
The report also found that average recurrent expenditure on family support services, intensive family support services, child protection and out-of-home care services for every child between birth-17 years in Australia was $815, an increase compared with $752 in 2011-12.
Last month, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) released a Resource Sheet which also discussed the long-term costs of child abuse and neglect (2016). It stated that ‘the experience of child maltreatment can come at great cost to individuals and society more broadly. The consequences of child maltreatment can impact on social cohesion and result in considerable costs and ongoing government expenditure’.
Amongst other data, AIFS cited a study by Kezelman et al. (2015) that claimed that the cost to the Australian taxpayer of unresolved child trauma was at least $6.8 billion per annum for child sexual, emotional and physical abuse alone. AIFS also referenced Raman et al. (2005), who estimated the total lifetime costs of providing services to each young person leaving care in Victoria would average around $738,000.
The human and financial costs, now and in the future, of failing children and young people are clearly horrendous. Much important work is underway to turn this situation around, in particular, the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, Australia’s first-ever COAG-endorsed plan of action to tackle child abuse and neglect.
Yet, as I have argued before (2016), we urgently require additional efforts to transform the situation. 2017 is shaping up to be critically important. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will present its final report. The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory will also conclude its work. And, Australia’s record on child safety and wellbeing will come under scrutiny as we are due to submit our combined fifth and sixth periodic reports on progress under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols by January 2018.
Perhaps we are edging closer to the moment when an overarching national plan to comprehensively focus community, government, non-government and business sector attention on all domains of child wellbeing is more likely to succeed. The case for continuing ‘business-as-usual’ seems increasingly unsustainable.
Dr Brian Babington
Australian Institute of Family Studies. (2016). The economic costs of child abuse and neglect. Retrieved from <https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/economic-costs-child-abuse-and-neglect>.
Babington, B.K. (2016), ‘What road ahead? Directions and challenges for the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020′. Developing Practice: The Child, Youth and Family Work Journal. Issue 44.
Council of Australian Governments. (2009). Protecting Australia’s children is everyone’s business: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020. Retrieved from <www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/families-and-children/publications-articles/protecting-children-is-everyones-business>.
Kezelman, C., Hossack, N., Stavropolous, P., & Burley, P. (2015). The cost of unresolved childhood trauma and abuse in adults in Australia. Sydney: Adults Surviving Child Abuse and Pegasus Economics. Retrieved from <www.blueknot.org.au/Portals/2/Economic%20Report/The%20cost%20%of20%unresolved%20trauma_budget%20report%20fnl.pdf>.
Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision. (2016). Report on Government Services. Retrieved from <http://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services>.
Raman, S., Inder, B., & Forbes, C. (2005). Investing for success: the economics of supporting young people leaving care. Melbourne: Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare.