Like any other group of children/adolescents in Australia, child protection issues may be identified for children/adolescents of refugee-like background. Child maltreatment is broadly defined as any non-accidental behaviour by parents, caregivers, other adults or older adolescents that is outside the norms of conduct and entails a substantial risk of causing physical or emotional harm to a child or young person. Maltreatment may occur through acts of omission (such as neglect of care) or commission (such as inflicted harm). Subgroups of protective concerns include:
- Physical abuse – non-accidental use of physical force against a child that results in harm to the child.
- Emotional maltreatment – Inappropriate verbal or symbolic acts toward a child and/or a pattern of failure over time to provide a child with adequate non-physical nurture and emotional availability.
- Neglect – failure by a parent or caregiver to provide a child (where they are in a position to do so) with the conditions that are culturally accepted as being essential for their physical and emotional development and wellbeing.
- Sexual abuse – the use of a child for sexual gratification by an adult or significantly older child/adolescent
- Witnessing family violence – Child being present (hearing or seeing) while a parent or sibling is subjected to physical abuse, sexual abuse or psychological maltreatment, or is visually exposed to the damage caused to persons or property by a family member’s violent behaviour.
The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 emphasises that protecting children is everyone’s business’. Priorities include early recognition and action, support for carers, responding to sexual abuse, and joining up service delivery. Reporting requirements (mandated reporting (including categories of reporting) and failure to disclose offences) vary with jurisdiction, and it is important to be aware of responsibilities and requirements (and seek advice if needed). Forced underage marriage and procurement of female circumcision are both urgent child protection matters, with mandated reporting requirements. For asylum seeker families, current immigration policy and prolonged uncertainty can be substantial drivers for mental illness and parenting issues, and may also act as a disincentive for disclosure of family violence and/or child protection matters. These situations are complex, and require a high index of concern, and a supportive response with specialist input.