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Age group 0 to 5 years

Safe in the community

Feeling safe and secure is a critical foundation for children’s healthy development.

Feeling safe in their neighbourhood and other communities or groups is essential for young children as it provides them with the confidence to explore and learn about their environment outside of the family.1 When young children feel unsafe this can result in developmental problems including difficulties forming positive and trusting relationships and socio-emotional issues.2

Overview and areas of concern

Limited data is available on whether WA young children aged 0 to 5 years feel safe, or are safe, in their community.

Overview

This indicator intends to collect data on whether WA children feel safe in their communities and how many WA children have experienced violence or abuse in their community.

In WA in 2018, 461 children aged 0 to nine years were recorded as victims of assault and 351 children were recorded as victims of sexual assault.1

Areas of concern

No data is available on whether WA young children aged 0 to five years feel safe in their community.

Other measures

Injuries and poisoning are major causes of hospitalisation for young children in Australia. A measure on child deaths or injuries has not been selected for the Indicators of wellbeing as data is regularly compiled by Kidsafe WA and the WA Ombudsmen.

For information on child deaths refer to the Ombudsmen’s annual Child Death Review. For information on injuries for children refer to Kidsafe WA Childhood Injury Bulletins & Reports.

Endnotes

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, 4510.0 - Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2018, Table 7 - Victims, Age by selected offences and sex, States and territories, 2018, ABS.
Measure: Feeling safe in the community

Communities have a significant influence on children’s lives. Safe and cohesive communities can improve children’s safety and help children thrive.1,2

While young children aged 0 to five years do not generally participate in their community without a parent or carer, they are present and engaged in their neighbourhood parks, streets, playgroups, shopping centres and other spaces with their parent/carer. They can therefore learn from, and experience, pleasure or anxiety through engaging with people and spaces in their community. Young children are also very influenced by the attitudes and experiences of their parents or caregivers and if a parent or caregiver is fearful this will influence a young child’s perceptions and behaviours.

How community is defined is not clear-cut; community often refers to the local neighbourhood, however, it can also include online communities, faith-based communities, sporting or activity-based communities and school communities. Adult perceptions of whether communities feel safe and supportive may not reflect those of the young people in that community.3

Research asking very young children about their experiences in their communities is limited.

There has been no research with WA children under six years of age and their perspectives on feeling safe in their community.

Institutions form part of the community and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) has highlighted that many institutions have failed to protect children.

The Royal Commission reported that children are highly vulnerable to abuse perpetrated by a wide range of people associated with institutions, including staff, professionals, families, carers and other children. Furthermore, some children are more vulnerable than others, such as those with disability, those in residential settings, and those who have previously been abused.

There has been no research with WA children aged 0 to five years and their perspectives on feeling safe in institutions.

Endnotes

  1. Child Family Community Australia and NAPCAN 2016, Stronger Communities, Safer Children: Findings from recent Australian research on the importance of community in keeping children safe, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  2. Eastman C et al 2014, Thriving in Adversity: A positive deviance study of safe communities for children (SPRC Report 30/2014), Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Australia.
  3. Child Family Community Australia and NAPCAN 2016, Stronger Communities, Safer Children: Findings from recent Australian research on the importance of community in keeping children safe, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Measure: Experiencing violence

Children aged 0 to five years have a very low risk of physical (or sexual) harm from individuals outside of the home,1 however being exposed to incidental violence or disorder in the community can cause mental ill-health and other issues in the future. 

Children who are exposed to violence in their community are at higher risk of negative long-term outcomes including substance abuse, anxiety-related disorders and exhibiting future violent behaviour.2,3 For very young children, repeated exposure to violence in their community can contribute to problems forming positive and trusting relationships and is strongly associated with children and young people experiencing conduct problems.4,5 For more information on mental health issues for children aged 0 to five years, refer to the Mental health indicator.

Community violence generally refers to violence in the community that is not perpetrated by a family member and is intended to cause harm.6

There is limited data on WA children aged 0 to 5 years who experience violence in their community as either victims or observers.

The ABS collects data on victims of crime in the Recorded Crimes – Victims publication from administrative systems maintained by police agencies within each state and territory. This collection includes data on assault and sexual assault for children and young people, however, does not always distinguish between crime in the community and family and domestic violence.

For more specific information on family and domestic violence refer to the Safe in the home indicator.

It should be noted that the following statistics are based on crimes recorded by WA Police and therefore are likely to underestimate the prevalence of assault of young children.

In WA in 2018, 461 children aged 0 to nine years were recorded as victims of assault and 351 children were recorded as victims of sexual assault.7

WA children and young people recorded as victims of assault and sexual assault by age, number and rate, WA, 2018

Assault

Sexual assault

Number

Number per 100,000

Number

Number per 100,000

0 to 9 years

461

133.6

351

101.7

10 to 14 years

1,262

777.7

609

375.3

15 to 19 years

2,690

1,747.2

762

494.9

Source: ABS, Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2018, Table 7 Victims, Age by selected offences and sex, States and territories, 2018

WA children and young people recorded as victims of assault and sexual assault by age, number and rate, WA, 2018

Source: ABS, Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2018, Table 7 Victims, Age by selected offences and sex, States and territories, 2018

There is no data publicly available on the location of these offences for these age groups. However, for the total population (including adults), 24.2 per cent of assaults and 15.1 per cent of sexual assaults were in a community location (e.g. footpath, public transport).8 Therefore, the majority of assaults reported for children and young people likely occurred in the home.

Furthermore, evidence shows that young children are most likely to be physically (or sexually) abused by parents and/or caregivers and other relatives.9  

Children from the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas are five times more likely to be hospitalised due to assault than other children.10

Hospitalised assault injury cases by socioeconomic status and age group, number and age-specific rate (per 100,000), Australia, 2015–16

1 - Lowest

2

3

4

5 - Highest

0 to 4 years

Number

91

48

22

12

16

Rate

27.7

15.7

7.0

3.8

5.4

5 to 14 years

Number

142

88

70

56

30

Rate

23.5

15.4

11.9

9.6

4.8

Source: AIHW, Hospitalised injury and socioeconomic influence in Australia 2015–16

Notes:

1. Only a small proportion of injuries result in admission to a hospital.

2. Rates are directly age-standardised (per 100,000) using populations by socioeconomic status groups, which do not include persons in areas for which the socioeconomic status could not be determined.

Hospitalised assault injury cases by socioeconomic status and age group, age-specific rate (number per 100,000), Australia, 2015–16

Source: AIHW, Hospitalised injury and socioeconomic influence in Australia 2015–16

Higher rates of injury in communities with low socioeconomic status are related to the social determinants of health which increase risk factors for people living with disadvantage. Children experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage are more likely to be living in communities where there are higher levels of unemployment, families experiencing poverty or financial stress, poor housing conditions and a lack of access to services.11

Children are also at risk of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, within institutions. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) found that a large number of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions. The Royal Commission highlighted that sexual abuse of children has occurred in almost every type of institution where children reside or attend for educational, recreational, sporting, religious or cultural activities.

It should be noted that sexual abuse is generally of older children, only 5.9 per cent of survivors reporting to the Royal Commissioner were 0 to four years of age at first incident of sexual abuse.12

There is no data on the prevalence of child abuse, including sexual abuse, in institutional settings in WA.13

Endnotes

  1. Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) 2014, CFCA Resource Sheet: Who abuses children?, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  2. Guerra NG and Dierkhising MA 2011, The Effects of Community Violence on Child Development, Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.
  3. Luthar S and Goldstein A 2015, Children’s Exposure to Community Violence: Implications for Understanding Risk and Resilience, Journal of Clinical Child Adolescent Psychology, Vol 33, No 3.
  4. Guerra NG and Dierkhising MA 2011, The Effects of Community Violence on Child Development, Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.
  5. Kersten L et al 2017, Community Violence Exposure and Conduct Problems in Children and Adolescents with Conduct Disorder and Healthy Controls, frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, Vol 11.
  6. Guerra NG and Dierkhising MA 2011, The Effects of Community Violence on Child Development, Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, 4510.0 - Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2018, Table 7 - Victims, Age by selected offences and sex, States and territories, 2018, ABS.
  8. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, 4510.0 - Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2018, Table 8 VICTIMS, Location where offence occurred by selected offences, States and territories, 2018, ABS.
  9. Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) 2014, CFCA Resource Sheet: Who abuses children?, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  10. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and Pointer SC 2019, Hospitalised injury and socioeconomic influence in Australia, 2015–16, Injury research and statistics series No 125, Cat No INJCAT 205, AIHW.
  11. American Psychological Association 2019, Fact sheet: violence and socioeconomic status, American Psychological Association.
  12. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Nature and Cause, Australian Government, p. 87.
  13. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Nature and cause: summary, Australian Government [website].
Children in care

At 30 June 2019, there were 1,341 WA children in care aged between 0 and four years, more than one-half of whom (56.8%) were Aboriginal.1

There is no data or information publicly available on whether WA children in care aged 0 to five years feel safe in the community that they live in.

Endnotes

  1. Department of Communities 2019, Annual Report: 2018-19, WA Government p. 26.
Children with disability

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Disability, Ageing and Carers data collection reports that approximately 5,100 WA children (3.0%) aged 0 to four years had reported disability in 2015.1,2

Children with disability are at greater risk of not feeling safe in their community and experiencing violence and abuse.3,4

There is no data on whether young children with disability in WA feel safe in their community.  

Research was commissioned by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) to develop an understanding what helps children and young people with disability and high support needs to feel and be safe in institutional settings. This was a small study with 22 children and young people aged between seven and 25 years.5  

This research found that children and young people with disability were vulnerable because institutional practices often isolated them from their local communities and long-term support relationships.6 The study also suggested that children and young people with disability can have a diminished social life as they find it difficult to assess the relative risk of harm and can fear people they do not know as ‘stranger danger’ is emphasised by parents and caregivers.7

The Royal Commission also concluded that children with disability who disclosed sexual abuse were often not believed or their distress was explained as a function of their disability. Furthermore, survivors with communication and cognitive impairments were reliant on supportive adults noticing and understanding changes in their behaviour after the abuse.8

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has been established to specifically address evidence that people with disability are being abused in institutional and other settings. This Royal Commission is currently receiving submissions and holding hearings.

There are no nationally consistent data sets available to determine the extent of violence, abuse and neglect of children with disability.9

Endnotes

  1. ABS uses the following definition of disability: ‘In the context of health experience, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICFDH) defines disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions… In this survey, a person has a disability if they report they have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities.’ Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015, Glossary.
  2. Estimate is to be to be used with caution as it has a relative standard error of between 25 and 50 per cent. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015: Western Australia, Table 1.1 Persons with disability, by age and sex, 2012 and 2015 estimate, and Table 1.3 Persons with disability, by age and sex, 2012 and 2015, proportion of persons.
  3. Wayland S and Hindmarsh G 2017, Understanding safeguarding practices for children with disability when engaging with organisations, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 3.
  4. Robinson S 2016, Feeling safe, being safe: what is important to children and young people with disability and high support needs about safety in institutional settings?, Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University, p. 9.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Preface and executive summary, Australian Government, p. 14.
  9. Community Affairs References Committee 2015, Violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings, including the gender and age related dimensions, and the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 37.
Policy implications

Young children who feel safe in the community they live in are more likely to have the confidence to explore and develop their independence, healthy relationships with other adults and feel able to speak up if they ever feel unsafe.

The right to play and enjoy community life in places and spaces that are safe and welcoming is something all children are entitled to under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).1

Safe places and spaces in the community also help children to develop their creativity and imagination and have the confidence to lead healthy, active lifestyles as they grow older.2 Feeling safe in the community increases the likelihood that children will be happy to engage in active play in their neighbourhood which encourages healthy behaviours into the future. This reduces their risk of obesity and other health issues during childhood and into adulthood.

For more information on play and physical health refer to the Physical health indicator for the 0 to five years age group. 

Infants and young children who are exposed to violence or abuse in their community either as victims or onlookers can experience multiple negative outcomes including problems forming relationships, anxiety-related disorders and behavioural issues.3,4,5

Local communities can play a significant role in supporting vulnerable children, particularly where services are not meeting their needs. Building respectful, trusting relationships with vulnerable children and young people has a powerful impact and can be the circuit breaker that disrupts their trajectory of vulnerability and creates a pathway for positive change.6

Creating safe neighbourhoods and communities for children aged 0 to five years requires a number of areas of focus:

  • Ensuring public spaces such as parks, footpaths and playgrounds are safe for young children and provide them with opportunities to explore, learn, engage in active play and interact with other children and adults in the neighbourhood.
  • Ensuring organisations that interact with young children, including playgroups, sports/activity groups, privately run play-centres, council facilities and early childhood education and care centres, employ child safe policies and practices.
  • Policies which are focused on reducing disadvantage and social exclusion more broadly, which can indirectly reduce crime and antisocial behaviour in socially and economically disadvantaged communities.7,8

Safe, accessible places are an important component of healthy communities and have an impact on community cohesion and how a community works together, shares values and overcomes adversity. Ensuring public spaces are safe and responsive to the local community’s needs is critical. This includes asking children what would make the public spaces in their community more safe and welcoming for them.

Communities where there are low incomes, high unemployment and limited access to services are more likely to have higher levels of crime and antisocial behaviour.9 Poverty does not cause criminal behaviour, however the experience of being poor creates material and social conditions (high levels of stress, mental health issues, lack of access to services etc.) that increase the likelihood of being a victim or perpetrator of criminal behaviour.10  

A law and order response which criminalises adults (who are often parents) and some children and young people does not lead to long term change for that community.11,12 Policies which support communities to address identified issues should be place-based and designed by the people, including children, in that community so they are tailored to local circumstances and the community’s needs.13,14  

Furthermore, policies which address poverty and disadvantage more broadly are essential to improve affected children’s experiences of feeling and being safe in their community.

Children are also vulnerable to abuse when organisations neglect their responsibilities to foster a child-safe environment. This can be through failing to listen to children or due to a lack of policies and procedures aimed at reducing the risk of harm and prioritising the reputation of the organisation over the wellbeing of children.

Organisations that interact with children, either as part of their normal operations or on an ad-hoc basis, need to engage in child safe work practices. The Commissioner for Children and Young People WA publishes the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations WA: Guidelines and other child safe resources to assist organisations to identify and manage risks that affect the safety and wellbeing of children.

Studies have repeatedly shown that when children have no confidence that adults or institutions will respond to their safety concerns, they are less likely to raise concerns or seek help.15 Child safe and friendly organisations establish mechanisms for listening to children about all types of concerns or complaints. A child-friendly complaint system must provide children with a variety of safe ways to share concerns; respond appropriately to any complaints, disclosures or suspicions of harm; and review all complaints from children and achieve systemic improvements.

For more information on developing a child-friendly complaints system refer to the Commissioner for Children and Young People’s Complaints resources page.

Data gaps

There is limited data on WA young children’s experiences of their communities including whether they feel safe and welcome. It is important to gather children’s perspectives of their communities and what makes them feel safe. Children’s perceptions of safety are important and influence their behaviours, attitudes and mental health.

There is no data on the prevalence of WA young children’s experiences of violence and abuse in their communities, however, it is likely to be low as they are generally accompanied by their parent/carer.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse highlighted a lack of comprehensive data on abuse of children and young people in institutions and recommended that the Australian Government conduct and publish a nationally representative prevalence study on a regular basis to establish the extent of child maltreatment in institutional and non-institutional contexts in Australia (Recommendation 2.1).16

Consultations and research with younger children are important and more work is required to develop research methodologies and instruments that appropriately capture the experiences of very young children.

Endnotes

  1. UNICEF 2019, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF [website].
  2. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2019, Discussion Paper: Living Environment - The effects of physical and social environments on the health and wellbeing of children and young people, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  3. Guerra NG and Dierkhising MA 2011, The Effects of Community Violence on Child Development, Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.
  4. Luthar S and Goldstein A 2015, Children’s Exposure to Community Violence: Implications for Understanding Risk and Resilience, Journal of Clinical Child Adolescent Psychology, Vol 33, No 3.
  5. Kersten L et al 2017, Community Violence Exposure and Conduct Problems in Children and Adolescents with Conduct Disorder and Healthy Controls, frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, Vol 11.
  6. Little M et al 2015, Bringing Everything I Am Into One Place, Dartington Social Research Unit and Lankelly Chase.
  7. Webster C and Kingston S 2014, Crime and Poverty, in Reducing Poverty in the UK: A collection of evidence review, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, p. 148.
  8. Schwartz M 2010, Building communities, not prisons: Justice reinvestment and Indigenous over-imprisonment, Australian Indigenous Law Review, Vol 14, No 1.
  9. American Psychological Association 2019, Fact sheet: violence and socioeconomic status, American Psychological Association.
  10. Webster C and Kingston S 2014, Crime and Poverty, in Reducing Poverty in the UK: A collection of evidence review, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, p. 149.
  11. Schwartz M 2010, Building communities, not prisons: Justice reinvestment and Indigenous over-imprisonment, Australian Indigenous Law Review, Vol 14, No 1.
  12. Walsh, Tamara 2018, Keeping vulnerable offenders out of the courts: lessons from the United Kingdom, Criminal Law Journal, Vol 42, No 3.
  13. Bellefontaine T and Wisener R 2011, The evaluation of place-based approaches: Questions for further research, Policy Horizons Canada, p 6.
  14. Schwartz M 2010, Building communities, not prisons: Justice reinvestment and Indigenous over-imprisonment, Australian Indigenous Law Review, Vol 14, No 1.
  15. Moore T et al 2016, Our safety counts: Children and young people’s perceptions of safety and institutional responses to their safety concerns, Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University, p. 7.
  16. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Preface and executive summary, Australian Government, p. 106.
Further resources

For more information on the importance of children feeling and being safe in their community refer to the following resources:

Endnotes

  1. Tucci J et al 2008, Children’s sense of safety: Children’s experiences of childhood in contemporary Australia, Australian Childhood Foundation, p. 11.
  2. Guerra NG and Dierkhising MA 2011, The Effects of Community Violence on Child Development, Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.