Two-thirds of Australians experience one or more forms of abuse or neglect as children. Daryl Higgins, a co-author of a new ground-breaking study into child maltreatment, joins us to discuss the findings, and what needs to be done to stop the cycle of abuse.

WARNING: This episode and the below show notes discuss child abuse, sexual assault and suicide.

Listen here:

The Australian Child Maltreatment Study was published in The Medical Journal of Australia. It is the first national survey in the world to examine in detail the experiences of all forms of child maltreatment and the associated health and social consequences.

Maltreatment types that were studied were physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, exposure to domestic violence and neglect. Researchers uncovered that exposure to these types of abuse increased all health risk behaviours. These range from binge drinking, cannabis dependence, smoking, obesity, self-harm and suicide attempts.

The authors state there needs to be more of a focus on multi-type maltreatment, as it is more common for children to be exposed to more than one type of abuse. In order to start making progress, Higgins says we must redefine the health care system as a trauma response service.

Professor Higgins notes in the research that girls are more likely to experience multi-type maltreatment and their associated health consequences. However, he is clear that boys experience all forms of maltreatment and support needs to be in place for all genders.

Horrifically, on top of gender disparities, there are factors that more than double the risk of multi-type maltreatment. This includes socioeconomic factors, divorce, mental illness and/or alcohol or drug dependence in the family.

It is also vital we do not just concentrate on children, but on the parents too. “Parents themselves will come to this task of parenting having likely experienced their own child maltreatment.”

If this podcast has raised some issues for you, or someone you know needs support, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For children and young people, there is also Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. 

Daryl Higgins is a Professor and director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University. Before joining ACU, Daryl was Deputy Director (Research) at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Sharon Bessell is a Professor of Public Policy and Director of both the Children’s Policy Centre and the Poverty and Inequality Research Centre at ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.

Arnagretta Hunter is the Human Futures Fellow at ANU College of Health and Medicine, a cardiologist, physician, and a Senior Clinical Lecturer at ANU Medical School.


Show notes | The following was mentioned during this episode

The Australian Child Maltreatment Study: National prevalence and associated health outcomes of child abuse and neglect – Medical Journal of Australia (2023)

Bob Hawke’s speech on ending child poverty (1987)

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017)

Global Health: Holding industries accountable – Sharon Friel on Policy Forum Pod (2023)

Women in leadership with Natasha Stott Despoja – Policy Forum Pod (2021)

Preventing violence against women and girls with disabilities – Patty Kinnersly on Policy Forum Pod (2022)


Policy Forum Pod is available on AcastApple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherSubscribe on Android or wherever you get your podcasts. We’d love to hear your feedback for this podcast series! Send in your questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes to You can also Tweet us @APPSPolicyForum.

Back to Podcasts

Press Ctrl+C to copy