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The Luke Batty Effect: The 11 y/o boy's tragic death has had a most unexpected consequence.

Luke Batty, who was tragically killed by his father earlier this year.

 

Trigger warning: This post deals with domestic violence and child abuse, and may be triggering for some readers.

We all remember hearing the tragic news in February this year: 11-year-old Luke Batty was killed at the hands of his father, in front of horrified onlookers after a cricket training session in Tyabb, Victoria.

But what many of us haven’t heard about is the strange trend that’s emerged in the wake of the shocking news: the sharp increase in reported child abuse cases in Victoria since the killing.

The rise in reported child abuse has risen from 73,000 reports of child abuse in the state last year to a predicted 81,000 last year, according to Victoria’s Department of Human Services.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge has also acknowledged more people were reporting child abuse in Victoria, the ABC reports.

But what’s not clear is what the rise in child abuse reports means — and what support services are needed to adequately address the extra reports.

Why the rise in reported child abuse?

University of Melbourne social work professor and former Alfred Felton Chair of child and family welfare Cathy Humphreys told Mamamia the increase in reports of child abuse following Luke Batty’s death is not altogether surprising.

“(A)fter a very prominent child death — and a tragic child death — there’s unusually an increase in referral’s to child protection because people’s fears about children that they know are raised,” she said.

She said the increase in reports doesn’t necessarily mean there is more child abuse actually happening than before, but that the Luke Batty’s death may have led to threats of domestic violence being taken more seriously.

“We can assume, possibly, that because there’s been a rise in referrals to child protection after the Batty case, maybe some of them are about domestic violence and probably, when men are threatening to kill children or women, those threats are starting to be taken very seriously,” Professor Humphreys said.

“Often women and children are experiencing quite a lot of threats to kill, and a lot of women think ‘I’m not going to be intimidated by threats.’ But there’s probably now many, many more women concerned about whether threats (will) translate into reality,” she said. 

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The rise in reported child abuse has risen from 73,000 reports of child abuse in the state last year to a predicted 81,000 last year, according to Victoria’s Department of Human Services.

Is ice a factor?

The ABC reports that the drug crystal methamphetamine — or “ice” — is the common denominator in many cases of child abuse, with an estimated one-third of all child abuse reports now involving the drug.

“(I)t is clear that ice is affecting a greater proportion of families who have come to the attention of child protection,” A department spokesman confirmed to the ABC.

Professor Humphreys agrees the drug is a major problem, telling Mamamia that “all the workers in the sector, everyone is talking about the problem associated with ice.”

But because there is no specific data on the number of ice-related cases being referred to Child Protection Services, Professor Humphreys said, it is unclear how significant a factor the drug was in the increase in child abuse reporting.

Extra resources needed

Irrespective of the reasons for it, it’s clear the increase in child abuse reporting will place extra pressure on child protection services.

A whistleblower has called for extra government support for the child protection sector, telling the ABC caseloads for child protection staff had become “unmanageable” since Luke’s death. As the ABC reported yesterday:

“Whilst it’s a good thing that the community and other services are reporting more to us, we just don’t have the capacity to respond to the demand and we’re not coping,” (the whistleblower) said.

The child protection professional has spoken out in the hope the Government will acknowledge the need for greater resources.

The whistleblower said complaints to the department were falling on deaf ears.

“What’s in the back of my mind is potentially we could have a child death,” she said.

Ms Woolridge defending the government’s response to the issue, saying the Victorian government was responding to the problem by “working with those local teams where there are a significant increase in reports.”

She added that the state government was also targeting ice; working on an educational program to target “particular cohorts of people to prevent them from using that in the first place.”

“But if they do, we are then significantly expanding our treatment systems, whether that be in a residential bed-based service, or a counselling service,” she told the ABC.

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“In the areas of family law, we’ve got to take much more seriously the threats to kill, because a lot of those (threats) are post-separation,” Professor Humpheys told Mamamia.

But Professor Humphreys told Mamamia a more multi-faceted approach might be needed to combat the problem, and added that it was “a knee-jerk reaction to just say ‘we need more resources into child protection’.”

“If a lot of these (new cases being reported) are about domestic violence, and we don’t know… then you might be better putting resourcing better the services for women who are leaving and trying to escape from domestic violence or who need support with managing domestic violence,” she said.

She said the legal system in particular had to take family violence more seriously.

“In the areas of family law, we’ve got to take much more seriously the threats to kill, because a lot of those (threats) are post-separation,” she said.

“So that (response) wouldn’t be at the child protection statutory end; that would be around asking questions like, ‘do these women need more support? Do we need to have more effective court intervention and police intervention?’,” she said.

A focus on preventative services

One concern emphasised by the whistleblower was that child support workers were so overloaded that they had no time for early-prevention work.

We are constantly responding to a crisis and cannot work on our own allocated cases and do the preventative and supportive work that the families require,” the whistleblower told the ABC.

Ms Wooldridge said the government did have some preventative programs in place.

“The most recent budget last month also invested in what’s called child first, that’s where we work with families before they enter the statutory system,” she told the ABC. “We’ve also instituted new programs where we identify young mums who are at risk of abuse or neglect of their children and work with them earlier so that does not occur.”

But Professor Humphreys said more needed to be done in that area.

“I do think we need to continue to push to have preventative services,” she said.

“Because we’re actually not going to be able to treat our way out of these problems.”

If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Bravehearts (an organisation providing support to victims of child abuse) here. If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, you can get advice from the Child Abuse Protection Hotline by calling 1800 688 009, or visiting their website. You can also call the 24-hour Child Abuse Report Line (131 478).

What do you think? What resources does Australia need to cope with the increase in child abuse reporting?

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