Call to Action – the National Centre

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Setting a course for focus, action and change – reflections from the National Centre CEO Dr Leanne Beagley

Setting a course for focus, action and change to disrupt and abolish the factors that enable child sexual abuse is central to the work of the newly established National Centre for Action on Child Sexual Abuse (the National Centre).

Reflecting on how this change is led, sometimes the most helpful ideas to take us forward are not new. Even if they are not perfect or attract criticism, they establish themselves as wisdom and continue providing us with a way forward through current and challenging times. This is the case with the work of Kingdon and Stano (1984) who describe what creates change at the broad system, policy and political levels. In their model, there are three factors needed and when those factors come together, change is activated. These factors are problems, policies and politics.

Problems – these are the emerging indicators, program evaluations and feedback

Policies – this is where solutions to problems are generated by policy experts

Politics – this is where large scale interventions are ignited through high-profile actors such as politicians and advocates whose political influences — through, say, elections and the national ‘conversation’ — give momentum to action.

According to Kingdon and Stano, change emerges when the streams are linked: solutions are linked to problems; plans are linked to political momentum; political influence is linked to policy problems.

Looking to those who have successfully commenced the generational change required to address child sexual abuse, Sharwar et al (2022) say that “the United Kingdom (UK) has… been ranked first among 60 countries for its response to the threat of sexual violence against children”. Utilising the Kingdon model, they reflect on what has delivered that outcome in the UK and what other countries could learn about action for real change. In summary, they pointed to “high-profile scandals and the re-framing of [victim] survivors as deserving of support raised public awareness of the problem. Second, champions concerned with CSA [child sexual abuse] developed evidence-based and politically feasible solutions. Third, the Prime Minister’s concern and other political developments opened a policy window.” (p.1). This UK experience highlights the model in action and it may well have applicability in Australia.

Applying this model to disrupt and stop child sexual abuse in Australia

Problems

The landmark Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) (2023) has outlined the stark reality of child maltreatment in Australia. The ACMS found that child sexual abuse in Australia is widespread and that its impacts are often enduring and intolerable. The study reported that child sexual abuse across the Australian population (16 years and above) is prevalent with 28.5% of Australians experiencing some type of sexual abuse.

This alarming picture requires meaningful, sustained and coordinated responses if we are to improve the lives of victims and survivors and stop child sexual abuse before it starts.

This study sits on the foundation of accumulating historical lived experience narratives heard through the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission). And before. And since. The community narrative has begun to shift from victims and survivors somehow being to blame for what happened to them to an emerging understanding that they must be heard, believed and supported. Our understanding of what constitutes child sexual abuse is becoming clearer and our action for prevention therefore should be more targeted.

As a result of the ACMS, we are left with no doubt what the problems are, how they impact across the life span and within families and communities. It is clear what we need to do to better support victims and survivors and to protect children from the crime of child sexual abuse.

We cannot look away.

Policies

The Royal Commission itself and subsequently, the National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse 2021-2030, led by the National Office for Child Safety, have brought together the advice and expertise of policy makers to develop a set of evidence-informed and politically achievable solutions across a range of domains with the buy-in of all government jurisdictions. The emergence and establishment of the National Centre itself is one of these policy solutions.

It is critical that changes at the policy level translate into tangible and sustained actions which fundamentally shift the community, funding and service system paradigm and narrative.

There are clearly genuine efforts to coordinate responses and build momentum in action for change. But is it enough? Are things changing as a result and are actions responding to the urgency?

Politics

The authors of the ACMS have called for expanded public health approaches to respond, concluding that such approaches have reduced the prevalence of physical and sexual abuse.

The National Centre agrees. However, we note that with the complexities presented for individuals living with the impact of child sexual abuse and the large change scale and service reconfiguration required, alignment between problems, policies and politics is rapidly needed to lead to change in these spaces.

It is not only about using a public health approach. It is about trauma-informed health and mental health care and support for those with addictions.

Wider than health, it is about, for example:

  • early parenting and family support in social services
  • police and justice portfolios responding more reliably, compassionately and safely to children and adults who disclose child sexual abuse, including the interface with other countries and their people
  • education and early childhood sectors
  • state governments seeking to manage child protection and youth justice demand
  • communications portfolios where cyber protection must be reliably built
  • shared and agreed definitions of consent across the country.

Action and change require buy-in across portfolios and jurisdictions, as well as coordinated political leadership. As noted above, the report from the UK concluded that the involvement of the Prime Minister to prioritise this work was critically important.

At the heart of changes needed is community dialogue to build momentum, understanding and reduce stigma. The National Centre is committed to fostering a shared language to advance understanding about child sexual abuse (including grooming) and its effects across the lifespan of victims and survivors.

We will also support efforts to build on the critically important ACMS and measure the prevalence and impact of child sexual abuse, including the number and needs of victims and survivors over time. We will measure community understanding and attitudes about child sexual abuse and we will collaborate to act.

References

1 Kingdon, J. W., & Stano, E. (1984). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies (Vol. 45, pp. 165-169). Boston: Little, Brown.

2 Shawar, Y. R., Truong, P. P., & Shiffman, J. (2022). The emergence of political priority for addressing child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom. Child Abuse & Neglect128, 105601

3 Mathews B, Pacella R, Scott JG, et al. The prevalence of child maltreatment in Australia: findings from a national survey. Medical Journal of Australia. Medical Journal of Australia. Med J Aust 2023; 218 (6 Suppl): S13-S18.

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Understanding child sexual abuse

Preventing repeat child exploitation material offending: An international evaluation of the CEM-COPE Program
Conceptualising and Estimating the Costs of Child Sexual Exploitation (Phase One of Australian Study into Economic Costs of Child Sexual Exploitation)
An environmental scan of Child Sexual Abuse related workforce training offerings in Australia
Enhancing the capability of Australia’s Primary Health Workforce to respond to child sexual abuse
CHANGE – curtailing harm and navigating growth: evidence for change pathways of young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour
Amplifying the voices of victim-survivors: Advancing the harmful sexual behaviour evidence base – the Ava project
Reshaping the Conversation: Development of a shared language and preferred definitions guide endorsed by victims and survivors of child sexual abuse
Building a knowledge frame for responding to the needs of children and young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour
Children and Young People’s Safety Project
Child safe practices using contextual safeguarding strategies
The more I talk, the stronger I get: unlocking our past to free our future
Delivering trauma-informed support for child sexual abuse victims in Victoria: mapping the knowledge gaps and training needs of the specialist sectors
Online child sexual victimisation and associated mental health outcomes
Differentiating adverse childhood experience profiles of male youths who exhibit harmful sexual behaviours

Response to child sexual abuse

Preventing repeat child exploitation material offending: An international evaluation of the CEM-COPE Program
Evaluation of the Multi-Agency Investigation & Support Team
Conceptualising and Estimating the Costs of Child Sexual Exploitation (Phase One of Australian Study into Economic Costs of Child Sexual Exploitation)
Effect of multi-agency deliberation on perceptions of risk in responses to child abuse and neglect
The Australian child sexual abuse attitudes, knowledge and response study
CHANGE – curtailing harm and navigating growth: evidence for change pathways of young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour
Improving legal, policy and practice responses to the intersection of domestic violence perpetration and child sexual abuse offending
Into the war zone: disclosure and disbelief in the Family Court
Understanding the experiences of child sexual abuse disclosure in Australia in the wake of the Royal Commission
Building trauma-responsive sexual health and relationship education
Learning from victims and survivors about what helps disclosure and responses to child sexual abuse
Amplifying the voices of victim-survivors: Advancing the harmful sexual behaviour evidence base – the Ava project
The dignity by design project: survivor-led system redesign
Evaluating a harmful sexual behaviour education program in a residential care setting
Community as experts: investigating the context, needs and help-seeking pathways for child sexual abuse survivors and their supporters in the NSW Bega Valley
Developing and implementing a framework for abuse prevention through culture change and organisational development
Reshaping the Conversation: Development of a shared language and preferred definitions guide endorsed by victims and survivors of child sexual abuse
Building a knowledge frame for responding to the needs of children and young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour
Australian Child Maltreatment Study
Children and Young People’s Safety Project
Child safe practices using contextual safeguarding strategies
Enhancing the capacity of rural and regional respectful relationship educators
Strengthening relationships and connections for young people in therapeutic residential care
The safeguarding capability of adults in Catholic Church ministries: a global perspective
Creating safer futures: raising public awareness of child sexual abuse among young adults through digital storytelling
Survivor perspectives on institutional use of child sexual abuse material
The more I talk, the stronger I get: unlocking our past to free our future
Delivering trauma-informed support for child sexual abuse victims in Victoria: mapping the knowledge gaps and training needs of the specialist sectors
Online child sexual victimisation and associated mental health outcomes
Differentiating adverse childhood experience profiles of male youths who exhibit harmful sexual behaviours

Needs of victims and survivors

Evaluation of the Multi-Agency Investigation & Support Team
The Australian child sexual abuse attitudes, knowledge and response study
An environmental scan of Child Sexual Abuse related workforce training offerings in Australia
Enhancing the capability of Australia’s Primary Health Workforce to respond to child sexual abuse
Improving legal, policy and practice responses to the intersection of domestic violence perpetration and child sexual abuse offending
Into the war zone: disclosure and disbelief in the Family Court
Understanding the experiences of child sexual abuse disclosure in Australia in the wake of the Royal Commission
Building trauma-responsive sexual health and relationship education
Learning from victims and survivors about what helps disclosure and responses to child sexual abuse
Amplifying the voices of victim-survivors: Advancing the harmful sexual behaviour evidence base – the Ava project
The dignity by design project: survivor-led system redesign
Supporting continuous quality improvement in safeguarding at Hockey Australia and other national sporting organisations
Evaluating a harmful sexual behaviour education program in a residential care setting
Community as experts: investigating the context, needs and help-seeking pathways for child sexual abuse survivors and their supporters in the NSW Bega Valley
Enhancing the capacity of rural and regional respectful relationship educators
Creating safer futures: raising public awareness of child sexual abuse among young adults through digital storytelling
Survivor perspectives on institutional use of child sexual abuse material
The more I talk, the stronger I get: unlocking our past to free our future

Prevention of child sexual abuse

Preventing repeat child exploitation material offending: An international evaluation of the CEM-COPE Program
Conceptualising and Estimating the Costs of Child Sexual Exploitation (Phase One of Australian Study into Economic Costs of Child Sexual Exploitation)
The Australian child sexual abuse attitudes, knowledge and response study
An environmental scan of Child Sexual Abuse related workforce training offerings in Australia
CHANGE – curtailing harm and navigating growth: evidence for change pathways of young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour
Evaluating a harmful sexual behaviour education program in a residential care setting
Developing and implementing a framework for abuse prevention through culture change and organisational development
Building a knowledge frame for responding to the needs of children and young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour
Australian Child Maltreatment Study
Strengthening relationships and connections for young people in therapeutic residential care
Differentiating adverse childhood experience profiles of male youths who exhibit harmful sexual behaviours

Identification of child sexual abuse

The Australian child sexual abuse attitudes, knowledge and response study
An environmental scan of Child Sexual Abuse related workforce training offerings in Australia
Enhancing the capability of Australia’s Primary Health Workforce to respond to child sexual abuse
Supporting continuous quality improvement in safeguarding at Hockey Australia and other national sporting organisations
Evaluating a harmful sexual behaviour education program in a residential care setting
Developing and implementing a framework for abuse prevention through culture change and organisational development
Children and Young People’s Safety Project
The safeguarding capability of adults in Catholic Church ministries: a global perspective

Disclosure of child sexual abuse

The Australian child sexual abuse attitudes, knowledge and response study
An environmental scan of Child Sexual Abuse related workforce training offerings in Australia
Enhancing the capability of Australia’s Primary Health Workforce to respond to child sexual abuse
Improving legal, policy and practice responses to the intersection of domestic violence perpetration and child sexual abuse offending
Into the war zone: disclosure and disbelief in the Family Court
Understanding the experiences of child sexual abuse disclosure in Australia in the wake of the Royal Commission
Learning from victims and survivors about what helps disclosure and responses to child sexual abuse
Supporting continuous quality improvement in safeguarding at Hockey Australia and other national sporting organisations
Community as experts: investigating the context, needs and help-seeking pathways for child sexual abuse survivors and their supporters in the NSW Bega Valley