Justice and safety

Safety and fairness is important to children (AHRC 2016, 2017). Most children grow up in an environment where they feel safe. However, this is not the case for all children, with some being exposed to crime, violence and other harmful behaviours or environments. These experiences can have a negative influence on a child’s wellbeing and potentially lead to adverse long-term outcomes for the child and the communities they live in. Childhood experiences with violence and/or other unsafe environments can also have an economic impact on society as children who have been exposed to harm may require increased need for support and services for related issues.

Drawing on sources providing different perspectives of justice and safety, this section provides an overview of children’s exposure to violence and crime in their neighbourhoods, homes and schools, and their involvement with the justice system.

Many topics covered in this domain are interrelated and there is overlap in the data presented throughout the topic-based sections. For example, children who may have been the victim of a recorded crime, may also have been in contact with the child protection system, and/or hospitalised as a result of that crime.

The ability to properly explore the overlap between topic areas is limited because of the data sources used. Similarly, national insight on the relationship between topics, such as child protection and youth justice, or maltreatment and health, is only possible through de-identified linkage of multiple data sources. Linkage supports better understanding of protective and risk factors related to childhood harm, outcomes related to harm, and children’s related pathways through the health and welfare system.

The governance supporting children’s safety

While parents and carers play the primary role in ensuring their children are safe, this is a shared responsibility with the wider community and governments.

The safety and appropriate treatment of Australia’s children are governed by policies and legislature at the Australian Government and state and territory government levels.

For most aspects of violence against children, child protection and youth justice systems, states and territories generally have their own legislature. The Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 provide a foundation for states and territories to build upon (AIFS 2018). State and territory legislation is in place to help protect Australia’s children are based on the guiding principle that decisions and actions should be in the best interest of the child.

Legislation is listed and further explored in an Australian child protection legislation Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) Resource Sheet (AIFS 2018).

Related national strategies for children

The safety of children is a priority within a range of national strategies and/or initiatives relevant to most or all snapshots (Table 1).

Table 1: National strategies and/or initiatives relevant to justice and safety

Strategy and/or initiative

National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009–2020, including the Fourth Action Plan 2018–2020

National statement of Principles for Child Safe Organisations

National plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010–2022 

National Standards for Out-of-Home Care

Healthy, Safe and Thriving: National Strategic Framework for Child and Youth Health

Australian Student Wellbeing Framework

In recent years, the need to improve the wellbeing and, specifically, the safety of Australian children has been highlighted by both government and non-government sectors. This includes recognising that current data and reporting are not sufficient, as evidenced by data-related recommendations in reports from the:

The Council of Australian Governments has also established a Bullying and Cyberbullying Senior Officials Working Group to consider strategies and potential initiatives to help reduce bullying, and anti-bullying programs.

What’s missing?

The sections in this domain include a number of established national indicators, however, consistent national reporting is not available in some areas due to lack of a suitable data source and/or indicator. For more information on national data gaps, see Data gaps.

A number of topics were not included for other reasons but could be considered for future updates.

Children’s subjective view of safety

Where available, subjective data have been included. Additional, regular, national data on the child’s perspective of safety is essential for more complete understanding, and evidence suggests that children want to discuss their personal challenges and experiences (Noble-Carr et al. 2017; Queensland Child and Family Commission 2018).

However, there are some challenges to collecting data directly from children which limit availability, including parental consent and issues relating to child disclosure of sensitive or criminal behaviour; for example, instances of child abuse or neglect.

Pathways, transitions and outcomes

National data on the longer term outcomes of children exposed to violence and crime in their neighbourhoods, homes and schools are limited, as is information about their pathways through the health and welfare system. Linkage of relevant data collections, such as child protection, with other sources, including health services, education, or Centrelink data could assist in this area.

Priority populations

National data on exposure to violence and crime in neighbourhoods, homes and schools for children in priority populations are limited. The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC) could be explored in the future as a way of improving information on Indigenous children for topics covered in this domain.

The new Indigenous survey, Family and Community Safety study (FaCtS) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will also assist, as may the First national study of child abuse and neglect in Australia: prevalence, health outcomes, and burden of disease, being conducted from 2019–2023.

Bullying (including cyberbullying)

The Bullying section draws on multiple data sources to provide some insight into bullying at a national level but the data sources are not comparable and there are some definitional issues.

Multiple exposure to violence and crime

Data sources used to report on children’s exposure to crime (including family violence) and bullying do not support analysis of multiple exposure either as victim or perpetrator. Being able to identify children who have had multiple exposures would allow insight into how many children are actually involved in crime and bullying and greater understanding of risk factors and social environments that can be targeted for improvement.

National comprehensive prevalence data on child abuse and neglect

There are currently no comprehensive national data on the prevalence of child abuse and neglect, including re-occurrence, so proxy data from child protection service agencies are used. Australia’s first national study of child abuse and neglect, being conducted from 2019–2023, may provide some insight in this respect.

Specific areas related to children living in non-parental care

A number of topics related to Children in non-parental care are not adequately covered, although development work is underway to collect information on some of these, including:

  • data on children living in non-parental care who have not had contact with the child protection system, including other family-based care arrangements
  • children the subject of a substantiation while in out-of-home care
  • children who maintain contact with their birth families
  • children who are reunified with their families following a placement.

Specific areas related to youth justice

National data on the health and welfare status of children under youth justice supervision, including their health service use, are limited. National data on diverting young people from further involvement in the youth justice system are also not currently available.