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About 50,000 allegations of child abuse in NSW and 54,000 in Victoria were not investigated in 2012-2013.The number of child abuse reports increased by 15 per cent over the past two years, but more than half of all reports were never investigated by authorities, according to new figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Almost 273,000 reports were made about children at risk nationally in 2012-13, up from a low of 237,000 in 2010-11.
Child welfare experts attributed the increase to greater pressures on families and a heightened awareness of abuse.
The 272,980 abuse notifications involved 184,216 children, the majority living in NSW and Victoria.
Following initial assessment, only 45 per cent of reports were investigated nationally, leading to 53,666 proven cases of abuse involving 40,571 children, which marks a 29 per cent increase on 2010-11.
About 50,000 allegations of abuse in NSW were not investigated and 54,000 reports received no scrutiny in Victoria.
But the figures show a slight rise in the number of investigations nationally, from 116,528 to 122,496.
The investigations led to 26,860 proven instances of abuse in NSW, up from 23,175 in 2012. In Victoria, there were 10,489 substantiated cases of abuse, up from 9075 in 2012.
Institute spokeswoman Dr Pamela Kinnear said the rise in substantiated cases was due to improved targeting of children at risk.
‘‘Child protection agencies across the country have been increasingly focused on providing child protection services to those who really are likely to need intervention,’’ she said.
Louise Voigt, chief executive of child abuse prevention charity Barnados, said the community was more alert to vulnerable children.
‘‘There has been increased debate in the community about child protection,’’ she said. ‘‘The royal commission [into child sexual abuse] is just one of the many issues which brings this forth.’’
Children most at risk come from less affluent backgrounds with the institute’s Child protection Australia: 2012–13 report showing that 42 per cent of abuse victims were from the areas of lowest socioeconomic status.
Ms Voigt said that increasing homelessness was contributing to neglect and abuse.
‘‘While the old social problems remain – poverty, alcohol, drugs, violence – they are happening against a backdrop of serious housing issues, particularly in big cities,’’ she said.
‘‘You have families sleeping on friends’ sofas, sleeping in cars. The sort of stress this puts on any family is horrendous. Until some of those stresses are reduced it’s unlikely we’ll see any sort of reduction in these figures.’’
With children under the age of four the most vulnerable, Greg Antcliff, director of professional practice at the Benevolent Society, called for improved early intervention for families at risk.
‘‘We are getting better at recognising and reporting when children may not be in the safest environments but it’s far better to intervene early rather than after a child has been harmed,’’ he said.
The institute figures showed that indigenous children were at the highest risk, being eight times as likely as non-indigenous children to be receiving child protection services.
Emotional abuse accounted for 38 per cent of substantiated cases, followed by neglect (28 per cent), physical abuse (20 per cent) and sexual abuse (13 per cent).
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