Matter of Public Importance
Mr GUY ZANGARI
(Fairfield) [6.14 p.m.]: I speak today on a matter of public importance to acknowledge Forget-me-knot Day, which was held last Saturday 19 November 2011. Forget-me-knot Day is organised by the charity group Adults Surviving Child Abuse. As the name suggests, the organisation seeks to raise awareness of the long-term effect of child abuse on adults whose childhood has been marred by various types of violations, such as physical, sexual and emotional abuse. This also extends to the impact of the neglect of children by people who are charged with their care and wellbeing. Such aberrations on children represent the most wicked of human vices. Whilst it is practical to address the immediate issues relating to child abuse and neglect, such as the removal of a child from the source of abuse or providing a child with the level of care of which he or she has been deprived, it is often the ongoing consequences stemming from the abuse and neglect that spiral throughout a victim's life.
Such consequences include the effect of child abuse and neglect on a child's ability to interact with others, to hold meaningful employment and to become a contributing member of society. These are the consequences that Forget-me-knot Day seeks to highlight. These long-term effects are hard to quantify and, as a result, for many victims become a silent turmoil that affects many facets of their lives. As a community we often fall into the habit of believing that an immediate, short-term response will resolve the impact of devastations such as natural disasters or the wrongs committed on innocent members of the community, such as child abuse. We have a tendency to believe that the most immediate response is all that is needed to make right the wrongs that have been inflicted. It is this sort of mentality that highlights the importance of Forget-me-knot Day.
The long-term effect of child abuse has been highlighted in the 2010 paper of the National Child Protection Clearinghouse. The paper concluded that for some adults the effect of child abuse and neglect was chronic and debilitating. The paper highlighted the strong relationship between child physical and sexual abuse and substance abuse problems in adult women. The paper identified the correlation between child abuse and neglect and the incidence of violence and criminal behaviours in adults. The National Child Protection Clearinghouse paper identified that adults who had a history of physical abuse or were witness to domestic violence as a child may be more likely to be violent and involved in criminal activity. This is because the adult learnt as a child that such behaviour is an appropriate method or response to stress or conflict resolution.
The paper also recognised the link between child abuse and neglect and homelessness. Adults who in their childhood experienced a combination of lack of care and either physical or sexual abuse were 26 times more likely to become homeless compared to those who had no experiences of abuse. These figures are only indicative of the known long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. We can never know the true extent of the impact of child abuse and neglect on victims.
Adults Surviving Child Abuse, the organisation responsible for organising Forget-me-knot Day, provides an insight into the isolation that victims of child abuse and neglect experience as adults. It highlights the high incidence of depression that inflicts child abuse victims. It points to various research projects that have found that childhood experiences of abuse contribute to the likelihood of anxiety disorders, addictions, personality disorders and eating disorders, just to name a few. It identifies studies that show that survivors of child abuse tend to have low self-esteem. However, perhaps the most terrible indictment of abuse and neglect in children is the correlation it has to suicidal tendencies in adults who have been victimised in their youth. One of the most important lessons that the community can learn from Forget-me-knot Day is the fact that the effect of child abuse and neglect is not limited to the individual who has suffered the abuse and neglect. Such aberration has the very real tendency to reproduce itself into future generations.
Evidence suggests that adults who are abused or neglected as children are also more likely to abuse and neglect their own children. According to the National Child Protection Clearinghouse 2010 paper, parents who had experiences of physical abuse in their childhood were significantly more likely to engage in abusive behaviours towards their own children or children in their care. The paper points to research that estimated that up to one-third of children who are subjected to child abuse and neglect go on to repeat patterns of abusive parenting towards their own children. Without doubt this provides an unequivocal argument as to why Forget-me-knot Day should be accorded all the attention and publicity this Government can offer.
When we speak of child abuse and neglect we speak of estimations. We analyse the issue in a qualitative manner because we do not and cannot put a precise figure on the number of children who have been affected and the extent of their affliction. Furthermore, it is next to impossible to quantify the continuing and ongoing effect of child abuse and neglect on the community. The importance of Forget-me-knot Day is not only the awareness that it creates in the community but also the awareness it creates in the victims themselves. It tells victims that it is okay to speak to someone about their problems and, more importantly, that there is help available, and that as a community we care. The silence that follows physical, emotional and sexual abuse on children results in life problems for victims. By raising awareness today we let victims know that there is an answer to the torment they are going through and, more importantly, that we as a community care about putting a stop to such evil being inflicted on the most innocent members of the community.
Mr JOHN SIDOTI
(Drummoyne) [6.21 p.m.]: Whilst the impact on children who have been abused or are being abused should not be lessened, Forget-me-knot Day is an opportunity to provide a national day in support of adult survivors of all forms of child abuse and neglect throughout Australia. Why is the day called Forget-me-knot Day? The first word in the title is "Forget". Many people forget that adults who were abused as children often need help to do those things that others take for granted. Some people do not realise that childhood abuse in all its forms profoundly affects the developing brain, arresting emotional development and our ability to make healthy choices as adults. Sadly, for many survivors it is not just a matter of getting over it.
The second word is "me". Many survivors suffer from low self-esteem. Adults Surviving Child Abuse works to empower survivors by encouraging nurturing and self-care while establishing a healthy support network. The third word is "knot". When children are abused they become confused. Even for adults, life can be chaotic and tangled. Adults Surviving Child Abuse wants all Australians to work together to untangle the knot of child abuse and to support survivors. Child abuse includes emotional, sexual and physical abuse and neglect, as well as the witnessing of domestic violence. Children often experience more than one type of abuse concurrently. All forms of child abuse impact negatively on the mental and physical health of victims and no act should be minimised.
While not all children who have suffered abuse or neglect go on to develop these problems, child maltreatment often comes at great cost to individuals and society. Without the right help, the negative effect of all forms of childhood abuse can affect the victim for many years—into adulthood and old age. According to the 2005 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 10 per cent of women and 9.4 per cent of men experienced physical abuse before the age of 15; and 12 per cent of women reported that they had been sexually abused before the age of 15, compared with 4.5 per cent of men. We know, however, that these are just the reported rates, and that stigma, embarrassment and other factors prevent many people, especially men, from talking about and revealing the abuse they received as children.
National and international research has demonstrated a number of adverse impacts of child abuse and neglect, many of which are associated with significant financial costs for individuals and the communities in which they live. These include future drug and alcohol use, depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, violence, self-harm, mental illness, poor health, homelessness, juvenile offending, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, criminality, intergenerational transmission and incarceration. It goes without saying that the stigma attached to talking about these issues does nothing to assist those in our community who in their adult lives have been affected by childhood abuse that continues to impact on their life, their family and those around them. Forget-me-knot Day on Saturday 19 November was a day on which to raise the profile of those suffering, to bring their plight into the open so that we can discuss the impacts on them and ways in which we can provide better support to them.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD
(Macquarie Fields) [6.25 p.m.]: Nearly 20 years ago Adrian Ford, one of the great social workers of this city, gave a speech at a conference I attended at Goulburn. His initial words were that few of us can understand the pain with which some of our families live every day. Those simple words summarise why child abuse is so damaging and why the Forget-me-knot movement is so important. Those words have stayed with me forever and should stay with every professional person and every member of Parliament. Such families may not have any visible sign of the suffering that they continue to endure, but their pain far too often is unrecognised or not given adequate attention. The consequences of that pain may manifest in many ways and can often be devastating. As previous speakers have said, one of the greatest tragedies of child abuse is that it is far too frequently intergenerational.
That is why I am pleased to support Forget-me-knot Day, which was held on Saturday 19 November, and to support Adults Surviving Child Abuse. On Forget-me-knot Day communities around the country hold events in which survivors and members of the community come together to unite in support of adults surviving child abuse. Adults Surviving Child Abuse works tirelessly to raise awareness of the long-term impacts of child abuse; to garner support and funding from individuals, the corporate sector and government for adults surviving child abuse; to tackle the myth that it is easy to get over child abuse; and, most importantly, to reduce the shame and stigma of the long-term impact of child abuse. No child ever chooses to be abused. As previous speakers have said, child abuse is common. According to Anne Smith from the Victorian Paediatric Forensic Medical Service, in 2009-10 substantiated child abuse occurred in 6.1 per 1,000 children in Australia and statutory child protection agencies in Australia received 187,314 notifications concerning child abuse and neglect, of which 31,295 were substantiated.
These figures are but the tip of the iceberg. The figures given by the member for Drummoyne are more accurate because the sad fact is that the vast majority of child abuse goes unrecognised and that only later is the truth able to come out, if ever. There is also a grey zone between direct physical violence leading to injury to a child and other less clear situations that may involve carelessness, poor decision-making and neglect. There may also be failure to provide adequate supervision, failure to provide a safe environment and failure to discourage engagement in dangerous activities. All those behaviours can and often do have devastating long-term effects on the child. Recent research has found that the brain is hardwired by the age of three, and that abuse even in children as young as three has lifelong effects.
I have previously spoken about a meeting I attended in November 2007 with Professor Deborah Phillips, a professor of psychology from Georgetown in America. She found that from birth to age three the brain lays down a stress response system. Exposure to long-term toxic stress such as abuse, neglect or domestic violence has permanent effects on the growing brain that will have lifelong effects on the ability of that person to parent, on his or her lifespan and on his or her ability to form meaningful relationships. That is why Forget-me-knot Day is so important. People forget that adults who were abused as children need help to do things that others do easily. Many of the survivors suffer from low self-esteem. This means that at times they enter into inappropriate relationships and repeat the cycle. The final word in Forget-me-knot is "knot". As previous speakers said, this signifies the confusion that children face after being abused. Shame and stigma are major problems for adults and frequently are the cause of their risk-taking behaviour. I commend Forget-me-knot Day to the House.
Mr GUY ZANGARI
(Fairfield) [6.30 p.m.], in reply: I acknowledge the thoughtful contributions of the members for Macquarie Fields and Drummoyne. The member for Macquarie Fields told us of the words spoken by Adrian Ford at a conference he had attended. Adrian said that few of us can understand the pain of children that have suffered as a result of being abused. As the member for Macquarie Fields said, the pain is often unrecognised in such children and the pain manifests in many ways throughout their adult lives. Forget-me-knot Day includes events where survivors come together to support fellow victims of child abuse. It is important that we continue to support those adults and get the message out in the community. The member for Macquarie Fields also touched on the need to reduce the shame and stigma that children who have been abused may feel. Even as adults they may feel that they are guilty and that the abuse was their fault. That is not true, as we clearly know.
The member for Macquarie Fields also spoke of the notifications of abuse and mentioned that not all abuse is recorded. There are statistics, but it has been highlighted this evening that there are many cases that we do not know about. There are statistics, but what about the unknown larger number of children and adults who have been abused? The member for Macquarie Fields also said that a child's brain is hardwired by the time he or she reaches three years of age. Children recognise these behaviours and earlier abuse may continue to affect them later on in life. It is important that we treat children—the most precious gifts that we have—with the utmost respect. The member for Drummoyne spoke about consequences for the victims of child abuse. He and the member for Macquarie Fields touched on the fact that survivors have low self-esteem. I also spoke about that. I was a teacher in the Fairfield area for 17 years. In that time, unfortunately, in my role as pastoral care coordinator I spoke to many senior students who had been abused earlier in their lives. These students who were becoming young adults definitely had low self-esteem.
Children become confused when they are abused. As the member for Macquarie Fields and I have said, they believe that the problem stemmed from them. They feel confused and guilty about that later on in life. As the member for Drummoyne said, child maltreatment comes at a cost to individuals and society. He related the interesting statistic that 10 per cent of women and 9.4 per cent of men are sexually abused before reaching the age of 15, which is an alarming statistic. He also referred to the issues faced by adult survivors of child abuse and the ways in which we can provide support. I am sure that everyone—members of Parliament and of the general public—will support Forget-me-knot Day. The member for Macquarie Fields, the member Drummoyne and I wholeheartedly congratulate the members of the Forget-me-knot committee for their tireless and compassionate support for such a worthy cause.