Children in Western Australia are five times more likely to access a mental health service before they turn 18 if they are subjected to domestic and family violence.
The new report revealing this is the first of its kind in the country, run through Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety by researchers at the University of WA.
It investigates the link between children accessing mental health services and their experiences with violence in the home, using police data and health records for children born in WA between 1987 and 2010.
A massive 79 per cent of children who were exposed to violence at home had contact with a mental health service, compared to 16 per cent of children who accessed a service with no exposure.
Lead researcher Carol Orr said they had looked into the cases of almost 60,000 children. Just 16,000 had experienced domestic violence but were still the clear majority accessing support.
She said the results showed a real need for early trauma-informed intervention in WA.
“This research is unique because it used data recorded by police and hospitals to cover a large sample size and broke it down by individual mental health needs,” she said.
“It showed that on average children are exposed to family and domestic violence from age six, but are not getting any form of mental health support until 12.
“There is a real disconnect there; six years when some help should have been provided but wasn’t.
“Early intervention with these kinds of issues is paramount and there needs to be a coordinated approach between government and non-for-profit agencies to fill in the gaps... there are large steps that need to be made.”
The research organisation’s chief executive Padma Raman said children experiencing domestic and family violence “need access to services that are holistic and able to address multiple needs.”
“Collaboration is the key to effective care – and to avoiding the potentially negative impacts of multiple services working in disconnected ways with children and families,” she said.
“Even where there may be no or limited visible signs of mental distress, we should be encouraging everyone in a child’s network to take the opportunity to act early and buffer the risk of mental ill health.
“Children shouldn’t have to be visibly struggling with their mental health before the trauma of violence is addressed.”
The organisation’s separate study of 10,000 women, released this year, indicated domestic violence incidents increased during the pandemic, as people lost work and financial pressures climbed.
Minister for the Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence Simone McGurk said ensuring children had support was “crucial to break the cycle of violence.”
“As the state’s first Minister for the Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence, I am determined to make support services more accessible for everyone, no matter where they live,” she said.
“There is no doubt long-term and systemic change is needed - and through our Path to Safety (Western Australia’s strategy to reduce family and domestic violence 2020-2030) we are ensuring we have a sustained, whole of government focus on continuing to prevent, recognise and respond to family and domestic violence in all its forms.”
She said the government had implemented new initiatives over the past few years, including $2.5 million to create two new family and domestic violence counselling services for young people, police and frontline responder training and the trial of the Building Animal Relationships with Kids (BARK) Program.
Federal Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth said the latest research from UWA highlighted “the intergenerational impact of domestic and family violence.”
“I am concerned that children who have experienced domestic and family violence are more likely to be diagnosed with a range of mental health issues, including a twofold increase in substance abuse,” she said.
“Also concerning is the delay between police or health intervention for domestic and family
violence and a child receiving a mental health service.
“This is why Minister for Women Katy Gallagher and I will meet with our state and territory counterparts on Friday to discuss the important issues impacting Australian women and children including the next National Plan.”