The Role of Official Inquiries in Understanding and Preventing Childhood Maltreatment

Friday, July 18, 2014: 8:42 AM
Room: Booth 64
Oral Presentation
Katie WRIGHT , Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne, Australia
The 1970s saw both the emergence of child abuse as a recognised social problem and the rise of public inquires to investigate issues of major social concern, including childhood maltreatment, in a number of Western countries. In the United Kingdom there have been more than 80 inquiries into various aspects of childhood abuse and neglect over the last four decades. In Ireland, 14 reports published since the 1990s have examined abuse in schools and institutions. Similarly, in Australia, growing concern about the welfare of children in out-of-home care has prompted a number of official investigations, the most recent being the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is one of the largest public inquiries in Australia’s history and like the Irish Ryan Commission before it, is likely to be one of the most significant inquiries into historical instances of child abuse internationally. Through examination of a number of prominent inquiries, this paper first explores the role of official inquiries in social and educational policy reform, and in shaping public understandings of the problem of child abuse more broadly. It then considers the cathartic function of inquires for victims and for societies more broadly, through exploration of the notion that inquires reflect an open and transparent society in which ‘the voices of the powerless are heard’ and the powerful are held accountable. Finally, the paper analyses the fraught social justice issues at play in the investigation of past instances of abuse, and the promise of social and institutional change aimed at better protecting young people today.