Missing Figures: The Role of Domestic and Family Violence in Youth Suicide - Current State of Knowledge Report

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Meyer, Silke
Atienzar-Prieto, Maria
Fitz-Gibbon, Kate
Moore, Shorna
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In Australia the national youth suicide statistics are alarming. Suicide accounts for 38 per cent of the deaths among young people aged 15-24 years old. Between 2018-2020 this made suicide the leading cause of death among young Australians (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022b). Within this, official statistics indicate that suicide is a serious problem among young Australians widely, with disproportionately high suicide rates among young First Nations people and young people with diverse gender and sexual identities. Evidence is now emerging that these, already alarmingly high rates, have further escalated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding the factors that contribute to an increased risk of youth suicide is complex. Current evidence suggests that various factors, and their combination, may contribute to a young person’s death by suicide. This evidence further suggests that contributing factors are often lumped together under the umbrella of adverse childhood experiences or childhood abuse, without examining the individual effects of different types of abuse and neglect. Further, childhood experiences are frequently examined together with the role of adverse outcomes in closer proximity to suicide (e.g. mental health problems, harmful substance use), often masking the initial and lasting impact of childhood trauma on the risk of youth suicide. In particular, examinations of the role of childhood experiences of (domestic and family violence) DFV as a lethality indicator remain scarce. Seeking to further current understandings of the role of DFV in youth suicide, this report presents the findings from a review of the current state of knowledge in Australia and internationally on the intersection between children and young people’s experiences of DFV, and their risk of youth suicide. This report examines current evidence on the association between growing up with experiences of violence in the home and youth suicide, child maltreatment and youth suicide, the role of the child protection system, and the impact of other adverse childhood events. It highlights the need for more research in Australia on the relationship between experiences of DFV during childhood and adolescence, and youth suicide. Building improved understandings is critical to ensuring that prevention, early intervention, response and recovery efforts are evidence-based. This must include building the evidence base through consistent screening for and data collection on DFV across service systems responding to children and families. Australia’s National Plan to end Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032 includes a critical acknowledgement of children as victim-survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence in their own right. Alongside the overarching goal to eliminate gender-based violence in one generation, the National Plan provides clear recognition of that children can experience a range of different forms of gender-based violence, including DFV, sexual harassment, technology facilitated abuse, and child sexual abuse. The Plan (2022: 44) states: “A child’s worldview is shaped by the violence they see, hear and experience each day. These experiences affect their perception and understanding of the world, which can have long-term and ongoing impacts.” This recognition is long overdue. For too long system responses and services have been designed and delivered with only the adult victim-survivor in mind, rendering responses to children and young people as solely the extension of their primary carer parent. Australian children and young people who have experienced DFV during childhood and/ or adolescence cannot continue to encounter a system that is ill-equipped to identify their risk, to respond to their disclosures, and to provide effective child- and young person-centred supports. While there are innovative and good pockets of practice emerging nationally, this current state of knowledge review provides a stark reminder of another dimension of the fatal consequences of DFV for children and young people. Children and young people affected by DFV required a service system that will meet their needs for protection, security and recovery regardless of whether they are accompanied by a help-seeking adult or navigating the service system on their own.

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Meyer, S; Atienzar-Prieto, M; Fitz-Gibbon, K; Moore, S, Missing Figures: The Role of Domestic and Family Violence in Youth Suicide - Current State of Knowledge Report, 2023