Research reveals new insights on children’s views of safety

7 September 2016

A survey of over 1,000 children and young people reveals that over 40 percent would feel uncomfortable talking to an adult at school if they were in a situation where an adult or other young person made them feel uncomfortable.

Children and young people were most likely to report that they would tell a friend or parent if they found themselves in an unsafe situation with just over a quarter reporting that they would tell a teacher.  

Further, one in 10 children and young people surveyed believed adults at their school would not know what to do if they sought help from them about an unsafe situation. More than a quarter of males and almost one-fifth of females said they would deal with the situation alone. 

These findings are just some of many published in a new research report examining children’s views of safety commissioned by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released today.

Our safety counts: Children and young people’s perceptions of safety and institutional responses to their safety concerns is the second report from the Children’s Views of Safety project, commissioned by the Royal Commission and prepared by the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University.

The research surveyed 1,142 children aged 10 to 18 recruited from schools, youth organisations and on line through electronic marketing.

Royal Commission Acting CEO Marianne Christmann said understanding how children perceive safety and institutions’ response to safety concerns is vital to develop strategies to support children and young people, and to protect them from harm.

“The report provides new insights into ways children prefer to seek help, and in particular the important role that friends and families play in preventing, identifying and responding to child sexual abuse - including grooming behaviours,” she said.

The report also identifies barriers to children and young people seeking help.

It notes the most significant barrier to seeking support at school was feeling uncomfortable talking to adults about sensitive issues. The report states that children and young people were also concerned that things would get worse if they told an adult about their situation.

“We know that children and young people are frequently denied information or the opportunity to have a say about their safety for fear that talking about safety will distress them,” Ms Christmann said.

“But this desire to protect children may in fact make them more vulnerable.”

This research highlights the importance of including children in discussions about safety which will be the theme of an upcoming research symposium in October.

The research will help inform the Royal Commission’s recommendations which will be finalised in a report and handed to government in December next year.

Some key findings

  • Most children and young people reported that they felt safe at school, in sporting teams, at holiday camps and at church.

  • Adults paying attention when children and young people raise concerns or worries, and caring about children and young people, were associated with increases in perceptions of safety.

  • Around 10 percent of young people over 14 were sceptical about whether adults know children well enough, or talk to children about the things that they are worried about.

  • 10 percent reported that they wouldn’t tell anyone if they encountered an adult who made them uncomfortable, and 20 percent reported they wouldn’t tell anyone if they encountered an unsafe peer.

  • Participants’ unwillingness to tell someone about their concerns increased with age, with more than a quarter of those aged over 16 reporting that it was unlikely they would talk to someone if they encountered an unsafe adult or peer.

  • Almost 50 percent felt that adults at their school would only know that a child was unsafe if the child told them. Young women also reported that they were often unprepared for dealing with unsafe situations, and had not learned about what they should do in class.

  • Two-thirds of participants said that they would turn to a peer if they encountered an unsafe situation, while 55 percent said they would turn to their mother and 35 percent to their father.

  • More than half of participants believed that their school was doing enough to prevent children and young people from being unsafe, while a third thought they could be doing more.

Read the full report.

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