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Violence against women and their children affects everybody. It impacts on the health, wellbeing and safety of a significant proportion of Australians throughout all states and territories and places an enormous burden on the nation’s economy across family and community services, health and hospitals, income-support and criminal justice systems.

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ANROWS was established by the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments of Australia to produce, disseminate and assist in applying evidence for policy and practice addressing violence against women and their children.

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RP.20.05

Investigating the mental health of children exposed to domestic and family violence through the use of linked police and health records

Project length
18 months


In Australia, mental health disorders are a leading cause of disease burden in children. Children’s exposure to domestic and family violence (DFV) is noted as one of the most common and severe adverse events during childhood.

Previous research has acknowledged that exposure to DFV in childhood can increase the risk of mental health disorders, such as aggression, hyperactivity, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and phobias. Mental health issues may also emerge long after initial exposure to DFV.


Research aim/s

The overarching aim of this project is to identify the mental health service use and diagnoses of children exposed to DFV in Western Australia from 1987 to 2017.

Methods

This retrospective cohort study will use police and health records to identify children exposed to DFV in Western Australia. The mental health outcomes for children exposed to DFV will be compared with a non-exposed group of children at a ratio of 1:3. Administrative records from government and non-government departments will be merged to investigate differences in the mental health service use and diagnoses of children exposed to DFV. The study will also ascertain differences in mental health service use and diagnosis types based on sociodemographic characteristics, including Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children who are exposed to DFV, as well as children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds and children with disability.


Significance

This project aims to generate a detailed understanding of, and new insights into, the impact DFV exposure has on children’s mental health. Findings will inform policy and best practice in mental health services provision, DFV responses to children and mental health prevention efforts, and enable more targeted interventions to benefit children exposed to DFV, their families and their communities, as well as cross-jurisdictional mental health services and government agencies. The findings of this research will respond to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s call for data on the long-term outcomes for children exposed to DFV.


Researchers

Project lead

Dr Carol Orr, Research Fellow, School of Population and Global Health, The University of Western Australia

Research team

Professor Colleen Fisher, Head of School, School of Population and Global Health, The University of Western Australia

Professor David Preen, Chair in Public Health, School of Population and Global Health, The University of Western Australia

Professor Helen Milroy, Chair in Child Mental Health, Medical School, Division of Psychiatry, The University of Western Australia

Associate Professor Melissa O’Donnell, Australian Centre for Child Protection, The University of South Australia

Associate Professor Rebecca Glauert, Head of Developmental Pathways and Social Policy, Telethon Kids Institute, The University of Western Australia

Dr Shae Garwood, Manager, Research, Advocacy & Prevention Innovation & Strategy, Anglicare, Western Australia

Budget

$152,731

This project is funded by Australian Commonwealth, state and territory governments under ANROWS’s 2020–2022 Core Grant round.

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