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Want to prevent child maltreatment? Rethinking our language is part of the solution…

  • Helen Fogarty
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Want to prevent child maltreatment? Rethinking our language is part of the solution…

  • Initial research into how we can better ‘frame’ prevention to create social change in Australia

As the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, NAPCAN is interested in ‘issues framing’ as a tool for shifting attitudes towards prevention and increasing investment in long-term policies that improve outcomes for all Australians. 

We know that prevention – particularly in its universal form – helps to ensure that the needs of all members of society are equitably met,  improves population well-being, and saves money.

However, something is blocking Australia from making prevention a priority, particularly when it comes to child abuse and neglect. This is made clear in the Australian Child Maltreatment Study, which shows that approximately 6 out of 10 of us have experienced maltreatment as a child and that this harm can lead to serious long-lasting impacts on physical and mental health.

NAPCAN’s initial research with FrameWorks Institute US suggests that the way we all think and communicate about prevention is both part of the problem and part of the solution.

In particular, the Reframing Prevention Strategic Brief (download below) clearly outlines two fascinating sets of barriers to promoting prevention: 

  • psychological biases: As human beings, we rely on heuristics and psychological biases to process information and make decisions; for evolutionary reasons, these tend to favour immediate gains over the longer term.  
  • cultural beliefs: Some of Australia’s dominant cultural beliefs and assumptions about individuals, families, government and society are limiting preventative action, particularly by overstating the significance of individual actions over social contexts. 

The information about these barriers makes for compelling reading for anyone interested in psychology and communication. 

It highlights important points for all of us to consider in our work and represents the first step in creating the enhanced understanding of prevention that is needed to build support amongst the public and policymakers alike. 

The next step is to test these findings with the Australian public and develop the communication recommendations, tools and resources, to help us frame prevention in a way that breaks through the barriers.

A key contribution of this research is that it will be helpful across multiple sectors, including child protection, mental and physical health, family and domestic violence, education, housing, environment and justice.

NAPCAN invites others with an interest in prevention – across all sectors – to contact us to discuss how you can support the following stages of this work. 

Together, we can make a difference for every child in Australia, today and into the future.

To find out more: