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Violence: directions for Australia

Part Three - The prevention and control of violence: conlusions and recommendations

Public sector agencies: education

Outside the home, schools are the most important setting for the socialisation of children. Children spend over 1,000 hours each year in the school environment. Indeed, we look to the school as complementing the family as the institution to instil pro-social values in our children.

It is often the school where chronic aggressive or otherwise anti-social behaviour first becomes publicly apparent. In addition, the Committee heard from Queensland child and family psychiatrist Dr William Bor, who states in his submission that there is a correlation between poor school performance and later delinquency and violence. Schools are thus uniquely situated to identify behaviourally disturbed children, as well as those children who may themselves have become the victims of abuse.

That some schools are more violent settings than others may reflect more on their location and on the socioeconomic status of their student body than on any characteristics of staff or curriculum. That those students who manifest problems of aggression are poor school performers is hardly coincidental. Compensatory or remedial programs for low academic achievers can have benefits beyond those of delinquency prevention; they can significantly enhance an individual student's future earning capacity and fife chances.

In addition, there is some evidence that the organisational characteristics of schools may have a beneficial effect on levels of violence (Kimbrough 1987; Greenwood 1987). These include the quality of leadership and support for teachers from principals; integrated curriculum development stressing academic skills; frequent monitoring of student progress; and overall emphasis on academic achievement.

The Committee considers that schools are well placed to promote non-violent values; to identify and assist behaviourally disturbed children and to identify and refer instances of child abuse. To some extent, of course, schools already perform these functions but the Committee would like to see additional resources devoted to these areas.

Non-violent curricula

It has been apparent to the Committee throughout the course of its inquiries that one of the best strategies in the long term for changing attitudes which embrace violence as a solution to problems lies in childhood education. This is not a novel idea - it has been recognised by several State education departments which have made efforts to introduce a variety of personal development courses designed to assist young people in coping responsibly with the "real" world.

Numerous submissions received by the Committee stressed the importance of teaching conflict resolution skills to young people. The Committee believes that educational authorities should emphasise non-violent means of conflict resolution. In an innovative move, the Victorian Government has established a Peace Education Research Centre within the Ministry of Education. The Centre acts as a major focus for the development of conflict resolution in schools and the resources of the Centre are widely used in schools. The Committee regards the establishment of the Centre as a commendable initiative to promote non-violent values.

The Committee was also impressed with a publication of the New South Wales Education Department - Ideas for Teaching about Non-violent Relationships (New South Wales Department of Education 1984). This booklet provides a resource for teachers involved in teaching the personal development unit offered in all State high schools in New South Wales. There may be similar resources available in other States and Territories, but where this is not the case, the Committee commends this publication as a model for other States and Territories to follow.

The Committee also believes that educational authorities should develop programs which help children to relate effectively to others, to be aware of their responsibilities in their relationships and to learn about non-violent, adaptive responses to conflict and stress. Dr Don Edgar of the Australian Institute of Family Studies has drawn our attention to the Human Relationships Education program presently being taught in all Queensland State schools. This is an integrated course covering all school years from preschool to Year 12 and is implemented in consultation with parents and the community, within certain policy guidelines. This course has impressed the Committee as a useful tool for encouraging non-violent values, although whether students exposed to such curricular materials become less violent, or whether they remain so in the long term are both important questions which can be answered in the course of development and testing.

Recommendation 31. Education authorities should include conflict resolution strategies as an integral part of school and other education curricula, and should evaluate their effectiveness.

Recommendation 32. Teacher training institutions should incorporate materials relating to non-violent conflict resolution, including an analysis of the gender basis of patterns of violence and violent behaviour, in their curricula.

Corporal punishment

The institution of corporal punishment in schools remains a matter of continued debate in Australia. Whilst some authorities regard the availability and selective use of physical punishment as essential to the maintenance of good order and discipline, others regard it as archaic and excessive. In public, as opposed to private schools, corporal punishment is allowable in the Northern Territory under specific conditions and was restored in New South Wales in November 1988. Corporal punishment in schools is banned in State schools in Victoria and Western Australia and is being phased out in South Australia. As a matter of policy, corporal punishment is not practised by school authorities in the Australian Capital Territory. Corporal punishment is allowed in independent schools in all States, although many do not use it.

The National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) advised the Committee that the effect of corporal punishment on students can remain with them into their adult life, when violence can be used against their own children as a "disciplinary" measure, or as a means of resolving conflict with other adults.

This view was shared by many other organisations and individuals who made submissions to the Committee. For example, Mrs Sally Castell - McGregor and Mrs Anne Scheppers argued in a detailed submission to the Committee that the available evidence indicates that ceasing corporal punishment does not result in an escalation of difficult behaviour in the classroom.

This view was supported by information provided to the Committee by the ACT Schools Authority. The Authority advised the Committee that revised procedures for the management of student behaviour have been successful.

Among other things these entail early recognition and intervention when a student displays behavioural problems, and contractual agreements between school, student, and parent. The ACT Schools Authority also described their program of peer support, where year 10 students are trained to provide support and assistance to year 7 students. In addition, the Authority's submission spoke of the approach to school discipline without violence,

which focuses on the development of mutual respect between students and teachers through the establishment of friendly relationships ... schools must have clear and reasonable rules and the consequences of rule breaking must be logically related to the misbehaviour. Students must know the rules and, within reason, agree with them, as a result of their participation in the process of establishing the rules (emphasis in the original submission).

The Committee embraces the principle that the state and its agencies should be moral exemplars, and that the use of violence as an instrument of school discipline is unacceptable.

Recommendation 33. Corporal punishment in all schools, public and private, should be prohibited by law.

Recommendation 34. Educational authorities should develop constructive, non-violent means of social control to replace corporal punishment.

Parenting education

The relationship between violence reduction and parenting was discussed in Chapter 16 of this Part which dealt with the health and welfare system.

Schools may also make a contribution to the prevention of violence through parenting education. As long ago as 1977, the Royal Commission on Human Relationships recommended the introduction of human relationships curricula in schools, to include materials on roles and relationships of family members in family life. One of the submissions received by the Committee which recommended that parenting be part of the core school curriculum was National Action Against War Toys, who pointed out the irony of spending millions training teachers while spending little or nothing on preparing young people for parenting. Karinya Young Women's Shelter in Launceston told the Hobart community forum that it favoured teaching parenting responsibilities in schools on the basis that it is easier to teach new parents skills before problems arise, than to use the welfare system as a "band-aid".

Recommendation 35. Programs should be introduced into school curricula for instruction in human relationships, including proper gender roles and parenting responsibilities and child development.

Recommendation 36. Education authorities should produce materials to assist parents in developing non-violent means of discipline.

The Committee opposes the use of physical punishment in disciplining children. Its conclusions and recommendations are discussed below in Chapter 23.

Parent effectiveness support

Schools can also assist in supporting parents. While the health system is an appropriate means of educating parents of younger children, as children grow older support for parents can also be given through the education system.

Children today are subject to a greater variety of influences than even a generation ago. Parents need support in encouraging their children to question and to express themselves. It is important that parent effectiveness programs are presented at the grassroots level, using for example the "Playgroup Interest Courses" run by playgroup associations in all States and Territories, kindergarten parent effectiveness programs and through interaction between parents and their child's primary school. The development of this concept of shared information and problems reduces the isolation felt by many parents.

The Committee is aware that parent education courses are offered by a number of bodies throughout Australia, for example in family centres such as those established by the West Australian Government. These are based in the State's primary schools, which sponsor playgroups by day and parent education at night. The Queensland Centre for the Prevention of Child Abuse sponsors parent education seminars. In its submission to the Committee, the Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services advised, as part of its effort to prevent home violence, that it had introduced parenting skills courses.

However, parenting courses are not as widely available as the Committee considers desirable and parents are often not aware of their existence. In addition to the examples mentioned above, parenting courses could be established more extensively through Councils of Adult Education community health centres, school parent organisations and TAFE colleges.

Recommendation 37. Parent effectiveness programs should be developed in conjunction with organisations dealing with young children and their parents to promote non-aggressive strategies for both parents and children.

Recognition of child abuse

Historically, one of the most pressing problems relating to child abuse was the failure to recognise its symptoms. Whilst considerable progress has been made in this area through training, there are still those victims who remain unidentified. At the same time, there are those children who may be misdiagnosed as having suffered from abuse, a situation which can result in acute embarrassment, if not tragedy, for the child and its parents. Improved training in the recognition of child abuse is essential.

Recommendation 38. Training in the recognition of child abuse should be an integral part of the teacher training curriculum. To this end, education authorities should utilise the expertise of those who provide services to abused children and their families.

Education in protective behaviours

Controversy exists concerning the appropriateness of some programs teaching young children behaviours to protect themselves from abuse. In Australia attention has mainly been given to the area of sexual abuse. Until quite recently this mainly took the form of warnings about "stranger danger", even though fewer than 20 per cent of reported incidents involve persons unknown to the child. There are many difficulties in alerting young children to dangers which may exist within their families. It is by no means certain that it is possible to do so in a manner that will not overly concern children about parental figures, and ultimately produce feelings of mistrust and suspicion. Some maintain that a fundamental question is whether young children should be expected to prevent abuse and whether "empowerment" is an appropriate concept for this age group.

The Committee is aware that "protective behaviours" programs are in force in a number of jurisdictions and a number of these were brought to the Committee's attention in submissions. In addition, the Second Report of the Victorian Inquiry into Strategies to deal with the Issue of Community Violence contains a detailed discussion of the issues surrounding protective behaviours programs. That Report stresses the importance of evaluating any new programs and recommends a pilot program integrating protective behaviours with existing curricula in the Ministry of Education (Victoria 1988).

The Committee is of the view that while it is important to train children to protect themselves, programs designed to sharpen the vigilance of parents, teachers and other responsible caretakers of children are also important. The Committee is reluctant to endorse any particular program in the absence of a controlled evaluation, but supports the general principle of equipping young children with skills to assist them in self-protection.

Recommendation 39. All school students should be provided with information about what constitutes abuse, the importance of telling someone when abuse occurs, and appropriate individuals in whom they might confide.

Self-protection for older children and young adults

Poor self-image can place one at risk of abuse, and exploitation, as well as a constellation of self-destructive behaviours. The Committee received a number of submissions which supported training in self-defence to overcome this problem.

For example, the Centre Against Sexual Assault in Melbourne argued that a primary factor in explaining the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who are violent are male is the "socially constructed state of being masculine" and that support for what is termed "the culture of male violence" is present in the content of schoolbased curricula. The Centre suggested the introduction of compulsory self-defence courses for young women and nurturing skills training for boys.

The Committee also received submissions from a number of self-defence trainers. They argued that the value of self-defence extends beyond the development of the ability to defend oneself from attack, but also helps to build self-esteem and confidence. Ms Bronilyn Smith, from the Organisation "Defence Dynamics" told the Hobart community forum about a program of self-protection training for women which utilises a range of strategies aimed at preventing potentially dangerous situations, but also offering instruction in how to defend oneself should the need arise.

The Committee considers that both young men and young women may benefit from properly constructed self-defence courses but is reluctant to suggest that such courses be compulsory. In particular, the Committee stresses that self-protection includes a range of behaviours and is not limited to self-defence.

A program for older students which has been highly commended to the Committee is "Standing Strong". The Victorian Government provided funds to the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria to publish 'Standing Strong' which is an educational resource for young people aged 13-18 years and designed to help them make sense of violent and sexually abusive relationships. 'Standing Strong' is designed to be used in the context of human relationships and personal development courses. It has a strong emphasis upon examining the way in which male and female socialisation is one of the keys to understanding family violence and child sexual assault. The Committee was impressed with the wide range of behaviours suggested in these materials.

Recommendation 40. School students should have access to courses in self-protection which discuss issues of male and female socialisation and which are able to be used in conjunction with other school curricula.

Children of preschool age

Despite the importance of formal education, it should be recognised that important stages of a child's cognitive and social development occur at an even earlier age than the commencement of formal schooling. Some children may develop a repertoire of aggression long before they set foot in a classroom. Because of cultural disadvantage or congenital disability, some children may commence their formal education without the intellectual skills and facilities which most of their classmates command. They risk being "left at the post" and experiencing failure for the duration of their schooling. Since one of the most consistent predictors of delinquency is poor school performance, intellectual enrichment programs can provide children from disadvantaged backgrounds with resources which will better equip them to commence their formal education.

A significant contribution to the prevention of violence can be achieved through preschool programs. These carry the added attraction of producing benefits well beyond the reduction of violence. One of the most celebrated of these programs is the Perry program established in the State of Michigan (USA) in 1962. The Perry program entails preschool attendance combined with weekly home visits by program staff. The program has been subject to rigorous evaluation, based on random assignment to preschool or control groups. Long term follow-ups have revealed that program participants have significantly lower juvenile and adult arrest rates, but also significantly higher rates of high school completion, tertiary education, employment and earnings (Berreuta-Clement et al. 1987; Schweinhart 1987). In addition to its demonstrated effectiveness, the Perry program has proven to be cost beneficial. Total benefits have been estimated at three times the program cost (Schweinhart 1987, p. 145).

Resource limitations may dictate that such programs be targeted at those communities whose children are at greatest risk of delinquency - invariably, communities of low socioeconomic status. It is important that preschool intervention programs be presented as benefits, rather than in a way which might be perceived as stigmatising by the recipients.

Recommendation 41. Recognising that preschool children are cared for and educated in a variety of settings, such as child care, kindergartens, and pre-primary programs, these agencies should emphasise areas such as enrichment programs, non-violent conflict resolution and the identification and management of behaviourally disturbed children.

Recommendation 42. Governments should develop preschool enrichment programs. Controlled evaluation should be undertaken and should embrace subsequent school performance as well as the effect of such programs on later delinquent behaviour.

Originally published:
Violence: directions for Australia / National Committee on Violence.
ISBN 0 642 14975 5
Canberra: Australian Institue of Criminology, 1990; pp 144-151

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