14 -15 November 2019, Deakin Downtown, Melbourne, Australia
This was our fourth conference, and the first held in Australia, since we established the series in 2013. Following three very successful conferences held in the beautiful historic town of Prato in Tuscany, Italy, we decided we should bring the knowledge base we had accumulated through these conferences and the many international collaborations we had formed to Australia so we could use the conference to develop a stronger Australian knowledge and evidence base.
The fourth conference was the most successful to date with over 70 delegates who attended, from South Africa, Hong Kong, England, Scotland, Austria, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The Australian delegates came from WA, QLD, VIC, NSW, ACT and Tasmania. There were a number of professionals present who came from law, psychology, pediatrics, psychiatry, social work, police and criminology and were based in universities, government departments, courts, and advocacy and service organisations.
There were twenty-four further papers presented and, reflecting on these papers and comparing them to the papers presented at the previous conferences, it was clear that there was more research on filicide underway in Australia than previously, that the research conducted and underway was more sophisticated, with larger studies and with a more complex interpretation of findings, and that new issues were being uncovered and explored. Some of the themes from the papers that that emerged are presented below.
Themes from Presentations
One theme was the discovery that filicide is not a rare or random act, but rather a regular occurrence with one child being killed almost every fortnight in Australia. There is no release of the numbers killed each year in Australia or, indeed, in many other countries. The absence of a national data base on filicide deaths, and the obstacle this presents to acknowledging and overcoming the deaths, was referred to several papers.
Another theme was the impact of the media on the community’s understanding of filicide. Some papers dealt with the gender bias in media reports, the sensationalism in the reports, incorrect information in the reports and the process over time that the reports followed. Also discussed was the way the media can be captured by stakeholders in individual deaths and the way that certain deaths become mythologised to represent aspects of filicide to the community.
As referred to previously, much of the research presented had more rigorous study designs, more had larger populations, more had clear identification of variables; the small-scale studies were equally rigorous. The research recognised the complexity of filicide deaths and the need for nuanced interpretations.
Some of the research papers covered international patterns and some national or more local patterns with conclusions that focusing on all levels, on international, national and local patterns, is needed to gain the full picture.
Some new areas were identified and investigated. These included, filicide deaths in military settlements which had been raised in the very first conference but not pursued further, the re-categorisation of child suicide as filicide in the circumstances of domestic violence or when the child is a ward of the state, the over incidence of disability among filicide victims, raised previously in the second conference, poor self-control and intentionality among perpetrators, the historical context of filicide over the last 150 years, the choices the prosecution makes in using or not using the charge of infanticide, views of the community in sentencing perpetrators, the use of experts in giving assessments on mental health to courts, Munchausen by Proxy, risk assessment, intervention and prevention programs and a proposed re-working of the notion of revenge filicides as coercive control filicides. A challenging paper came from Hong Kong by delegates who were from Ghana and echoed a paper given at the first conference about the use of filicide in rural Ghana to overcome disability and other perceived evils in children and adults.
The states and territories have Family Violence, Child Death and Deaths of Children Known to Child Protection Committees andAngela Lynch and Dr Catherine Sansun presented papers on the two committees in their states in a session chaired by Phoebe Marshall from the Victorian Coroner’s Office. Liana Buchanan had spoken on reviews of children known to state the Victorian state child protection service. Subsequent to the conference the Queensland government announced an intention to review the committee there responsible for child death reviews. States and territories do not have the same types of child death reviews; some cover the deaths of children known to child protection and some cover all deaths of children; some single out filicide deaths and some do not. The patchwork of these committees and the absence of much annual reporting from them obstructs recognition of the gravity of the issue of filicide deaths and obstructs the development of a rigorous evidence base to build pathways to intervention and prevention.
The conference attracted considerable press attention, with appearances of organisers and speakers on SBS, Channel 10, ABC evening Radio news and the Virginia Trioli show on ABC Radio 774.
The conference sponsors wish to give their thanks and appreciation of all the contributions of those who attended the conference. We are very grateful for the feedback from those present who made many very positive comments.
Professor Claudia Klier
Professor Claudia Klier is an adult and child psychiatrist working at the Medical University of Vienna where she is head of the Paediatric Psychosomatic Clinic at the Children’s Hospital, General Hospital. She has worked internationally, at several USA universities and in Melbourne. She leads research on perinatal psychiatry and filicide, especially on the prevention of neonaticide. Much of her research comprises inter-country comparisons.
Dr Russell Wate
Dr Russell Wate is a retired police officer, formerly Detective Chief Superintendent for the Cambridge Constabulary, UK, and the UK policing lead investigator for child deaths. He has been a major policy contributor to several UK national policy reviews into the handling of the investigation of child deaths and into the development of child protection policy and services. He has been awarded the Police Medal for this work. His research focus is on the managing of investigations into child deaths. He brings a rare combination of on the job experience together with research expertise on child deaths and their investigation.
Professor Cathy Humphreys
Cathy Humphreys is Professor of Social Work at University of Melbourne, a position she was appointed to in 2006 following 12 years as an academic in the UK at the University of Warwick. She is also co-chair (with Prof Kelsey Hegarty) of the Melbourne research Alliance to End Violence Against Women and Their Children (MAEVe) and one of the lead investigators on the Safer Families Centre for Research Excellence led Kelsey Hegarty. Professor Humphreys is a well published author of both books and more than 100 journal articles. Cathy worked as a social work practitioner in the mental health, domestic violence, and children, youth and families sector for 16 years before becoming a social work academic.
Dr Adam Tomison
Dr Tomison is currently appointed as the Director General of the Western Australian Department of Justice. Prior to this position he was the Director and Chief Executive of the Australian Institute of Criminology from 2009 to 2015 and had previously held various senior executive positions within the Northern Territory Department of Health and Families, including time as the Director of the NT’s statutory child protection and family support services.
Dr Adam Tomison is internationally recognised as an expert in the prevention of child maltreatment and family violence, and the development of child protection and family support systems. For over two decades he has worked with a range of government and non-government organisations and advocacy groups in Australia and overseas. He first became well known for his work at the Australian Institute of Family Studies where he developed the National Child Protection Clearinghouse, an internationally-recognised centre for excellence, and the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault.
Professor Jane Fisher
Jane Fisher, an academic Clinical and Health Psychologist, is Finkel Professor of Global Public Health and Professor of Women’s Health in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University. She is Immediate Past President of the International Marcé Society for Perinatal Mental Health. Jane has longstanding interests in gender-based risks for women’s reproductive health and mental health and of how these can be addressed in psychologically-informed clinical practices and health promotion strategies.
Megan Mitchell is Australia’s first National Children’s Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, appointed in 2013. In her role as Commissioner, Megan focuses solely on the rights and interests of children, and the laws, policies and programs that impact on them.
Each year, Megan presents a statutory report to federal Parliament on the state of children’s rights in Australia. In her work to date, Megan has focused on the prevalence of suicide and intentional self-harm in children and young people, the impact of family and domestic violence on children and young people, the oversight of children and young people in correctional detention, and the experiences and trajectories of young parents and their children.