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Contemporary out-of-home care

This volume examines what we learned about institutional responses to child sexual abuse in contemporary out-of-home care. It examines the nature and adequacy of institutional responses and draws out common failings. It makes recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in out-of-home care and, where it does occur, to help ensure effective responses.

Summary

This volume examines what we learned during our inquiry about institutional responses to child sexual abuse in contemporary (post-1990) out-of-home care. It examines the factors that continue to contribute to child sexual abuse in particular out-of-home care settings, the risks to children associated with different forms of care and some of the barriers for children in identifying and disclosing sexual abuse. While our preceding volume – Volume 11, Historical residential institutions – examined the sexual abuse of children in residential institutions of the past, this volume describes the current out-of-home care system.

Given that tens of thousands of Australia’s children are in out-of-home care – and that many of these children are inherently vulnerable – it is critically important to reduce their exposure to further harm. Despite major reforms to out-of-home care in every state and territory in Australia, our work has identified persistent weaknesses and systemic failures that continue to place children at risk of sexual abuse. We learned that sexual abuse by carers, their family members, visitors, caseworkers and other children in care continues to occur in contemporary out-of-home care, and that sexual exploitation is a growing concern, especially for children in residential care. We also learned of systemic failings that weaken the safety of children in care, including frequent placement changes, poor information sharing, inadequacies in service providers’ responses to children’s prior abuse and trauma, and significant gaps in the training and support provided to staff and carers, especially kinship carers. Poor practice by individuals, including failing to listen and respond to children, exacerbates these weaknesses and increases the risks of sexual abuse.

In this volume we consider institutional responses to disclosures of abuse, responses to risks in particular settings and additional risks for particular cohorts of children. Our recommendations are intended to strengthen and enhance existing mechanisms, and to assist governments and out-of-home care service providers to better ensure the safety of Australia’s children.

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