14 January 2015
More than 870 children were placed on family violence intervention orders in Victoria last year, Childrens Court statistics reveal, with 183 also found guilty of breaching an order and continuing their domestic abuse.
The number of family violence orders made against children has almost doubled in the past five years, as the rate of adolescents lashing out at their parents and siblings continues to surge.
Police statistics reported on Saturday revealed that more than 6000 family violence reports were made last year by parents against children aged under 24 – including against 38 children under 10.
Reports of violence committed by children against their parents have increased almost 50 per cent in three years.
An expert said those placed on court orders are likely to be the worst of the worst child family violence offenders, and may have experienced significant trauma that influenced their behaviour.
Nine children were found guilty of the serious offence of persistently contravening an order in 2013-14. There were 216 children charged with alleged breaches, compared to 104 five years ago.
Jo Howard, the executive manager of child, youth and family services at Kildonan, has co-authored a report called The Last Resort, which outlined the experiences of 11 offenders aged 14-18 and 15 parents who were victims of violence.
Nine of the parents reported that their children had experienced domestic abuse before starting their own violent behaviour.
"A lot of these children who find themselves before the courts have experienced some sort of trauma or very difficult life event," she said.
The children in the report, published in late 2013, had all been in contact with either police or the court system.
Mandy, the mother of one offender, said her son started becoming violent at 14, including putting his knee in her throat while pinning her to the ground, but she did not call police until the abuse escalated.
"[He] was in my face, he had kicked kitchen chairs in, he had thrown stools around, he had threatened to kill me.
"I was on the phone to the police saying can you please come straight away … I thought I was going to die there and then."
Another mother, Carol, said her daughter had punched in a window when she was four-years-old, and had progressed to vicious assaults by the time she was a teen.
"She scratched and she bit, she punched me.
"I fell down on the floor. I had my hair tied up and she grabbed it … and dragged me along the floor."
The state government funded three pilot programs in Frankston, Ballarat and Geelong last year to tackle adolescent violence in the home, with a focus on early intervention.
Children and their families can be referred to the programs by police, and each program is expected to help 48 families a year. The pilot programs are funded until 2018.
Some other community service providers also fund specialist adolescent violence workers.
The Last Resort found that the mental health of some teenagers could have an impact on their offending. A Children's Court spokeswoman said youth family violence offenders had been referred on 16 occasions to the court's clinic last year.
The clinic conducts mental health assessments of children and families, including assessing the impact of drug use. The clinic can provide limited treatment and make treatment recommendations.
Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning, head of the Victoria Police sexual and family violence division, said adolescent family violence offenders did not appear to be more influenced by drugs or alcohol than adult offenders.
Children's Court figures also show there were 376 personal safety intervention orders made against children last year. The orders protect those who are not family members.
* For 24/7 help anywhere in Australia on a family violence issue, call the 1800Respect counselling, information and support helpline on 1800 737 732, or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. In an emergency, call 000.