ACMS investigators Prof Ben Mathews, Prof Daryl Higgins, and Prof James Scott presented some of the preliminary findings of the ACMS youth sample at the Australian Institute of Family Studies national conference today.

The symposium covered a number of early findings from the Australian Child Maltreatment youth sample comprising of 3500 young people (aged 16-24 years) from across Australia. This is a nationally representative sample so conclusions are likely to be representative of the Australian youth population.

One paper presented data on the prevalence of non-suicidal self-injury in young people and how this is related to experiences of maltreatment. Two papers reported the associations between specific types of maltreatment, namely exposure to domestic violence and neglect, and clinically diagnosable mental health disorders (Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder). Unsurprisingly there were strong associations between experiences of maltreatment and subsequent mental health, and with experiences of non-suicidal self-injury.

The final paper reported the prevalence of corporal punishment in young people. Approximately 61% of young people experienced corporal punishment (defined as being physically hit for discipline more than 3 times during childhood). Youth who experienced corporal punishment were more likely to experience clinical major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, although this was partly related to other experiences of child maltreatment.

Of particular note, we found changing trends in the perceptions of the need for corporal punishment to properly raise children. Only 14.8% of young people viewed physical discipline as necessary compared with 37.9% of people aged 65 and older. This indicates there may be a cultural shift occurring. See Professor Higgins’s interview with Channel 9 for more details.

The AIFS conference marks the first public release of preliminary ACMS data focused only on the youth sample. Other publications with key outcomes about the overall prevalence of child abuse and neglect in Australia as well as associated physical and mental health outcomes are underway and will be submitted for peer review in a leading journal in August. These are expected to published in early 2023.