Article Text

The Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS): protocol for a national survey of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect, associated mental disorders and physical health problems, and burden of disease
  1. Ben Mathews1,2,3,
  2. Rosana Pacella4,
  3. Michael Dunne3,
  4. James Scott5,
  5. David Finkelhor6,
  6. Franziska Meinck7,
  7. Daryl J Higgins8,
  8. Holly Erskine9,
  9. Hannah J Thomas10,
  10. Divna Haslam1,
  11. Nam Tran11,
  12. Ha Le1,
  13. Nikki Honey12,
  14. Karen Kellard12,
  15. David Lawrence13
  1. 1School of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  2. 2Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  4. 4Institute for Lifecourse Development, Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences, University of Greenwich, London, UK
  5. 5Child and Youth Mental Health, Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), Herston, Queensland, Australia
  6. 6Crimes against Children Research Center, Family Research Laboratory, Department of Sociology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, USA
  7. 7The University of Edinburgh School of Social and Political Science, Edinburgh, UK
  8. 8Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  9. 9School of Public Health, The University of Queensland, Saint Lucia, Queensland, Australia
  10. 10School of Public Health, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia
  11. 11Institute for Social Science Research, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  12. 12Social Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  13. 13Graduate School of Education, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Ben Mathews; b.mathews{at}


Introduction Child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and exposure to domestic violence) is widely understood to be associated with multiple mental health disorders, physical health problems and health risk behaviours throughout life. However, Australia lacks fundamental evidence about the prevalence and characteristics of child maltreatment, its associations with mental disorders and physical health, and the associated burden of disease. These evidence gaps impede the development of public health strategies to better prevent and respond to child maltreatment. The aims of this research are to generate the first comprehensive population-based national data on the prevalence of child maltreatment in Australia, identify associations with mental disorders and physical health conditions and other adverse consequences, estimate attributable burden of disease and indicate targeted areas for future optimal public health prevention strategies.

Methods and analysis The Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) is a nationwide, cross-sectional study of Australia’s population aged 16 years and over. A survey of approximately 10 000 Australians will capture retrospective self-reported data on the experience in childhood of all five types of maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and exposure to domestic violence). A customised, multimodule survey instrument has been designed to obtain information including: the prevalence and characteristics of these experiences; diagnostic screening of common mental health disorders; physical health; health risk behaviours and health service utilisation. The survey will be administered in March–November 2021 to a random sample of the nationwide population, recruited through mobile phone numbers. Participants will be surveyed using computer-assisted telephone interviews, conducted by trained interviewers from the Social Research Centre, an agency with extensive experience in studies of health and adversity. Rigorous protocols protect the safety of both participants and interviewers, and comply with all ethical and legal requirements. Analysis will include descriptive statistics reporting the prevalence of individual and multitype child maltreatment, multiple logistic and linear regression analyses to determine associations with mental disorders and physical health problems. We will calculate the population attributable fractions of these putative outcomes to enable an estimation of the disease burden attributable to child maltreatment.

Ethics and dissemination The study has been approved by the Queensland University of Technology Human Research Ethics Committee (#1900000477, 16 August 2019). Results will be published to the scientific community in peer-reviewed journals, scientific meetings and through targeted networks. Findings and recommendations will be shared with government policymakers and community and organisational stakeholders through diverse engagement activities, a dedicated Advisory Board and a systematic knowledge translation strategy. Results will be communicated to the public through an organised media strategy and the ACMS website.

  • epidemiology
  • mental health
  • child protection
  • community child health
  • public health

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  • Contributors BM, RP, MD, JS, DF, FM, DJH, HE and HJT conceptualised and designed the ACMS. BM, RP, MD, JS, DF, FM, DJH, HE and HJT obtained funding from the NHMRC, which supports the vast majority of the ACMS. BM, MD and DH obtained supplemental funding from the Department of Social Services and led the design of those discrete parts of the project. BM and DH obtained supplemental funding from the Criminology Research Council and led the design of those discrete parts of the project. BM, RP, MD, JS, DF, FM, DJH, HE, HJT and DH drafted the first version of the survey instrument employed in qualitative testing, made refinements to the instrument before the full pilot test and made refinements to the instrument after the pilot test. BM and DH conducted cognitive testing of the instrument with maltreatment survivors. BM, DH, KK and NH conceived the qualitative cognitive testing. KK conducted the qualitative interviews. KK, NH, BM and DH collated and analysed the qualitative data. NH oversaw administration of the pilot and acquisition of pilot data. NT and HL collated and analysed the pilot data. MD, FM, BM, JS, DF, RP, DJH, HE, HJT, DH, NT and HL interpreted the pilot data. BM, RP, MD, JS, DF, FM, DJH, HE, HJT, DH, DL, KK, NH, NT and HL drafted the manuscript. DL contributed to statistical planning and design. All authors reviewed and edited the manuscript for important intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding The Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS) is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project Grant for 5 years (2019–2023: APP1158750). The ACMS receives additional funding and contributions from the Australian Government Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; the Department of Social Services and the Australian Institute of Criminology. Further support is acknowledged from the QUT Faculty of Law. JS is supported by an NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship Grant (APP1105807). FM is supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement Number 852787) and the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (ES/S008101/1). HE is supported by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (APP1137969).

  • Competing interests FM reports grants from the European Research Council, UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, and the Economic and Social Research Council, during the conduct of the study; and personal fees from the German Ministry for Family, Youth and Senior Citizens, and University of Glasgow, outside the submitted work. All other authors declare no competing interests.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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