Research reveals warning signs for filicide

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Queensland children who are exposed to violence, alcohol and drugs at home are at a higher risk of losing their lives at the hands of a parent or carer, according to research released by the Queensland Family and Child Commission (QFCC).

QFCC Principal Commissioner Luke Twyford said researchers from the University of Queensland analysed QFCC child death data to determine key risk factors that led to a parent or carer killing their child, an act known as filicide.

“The death of any child is a tragedy, but when it happens at the hands of a parent or carer, it is particularly shocking and leaves us wondering how warning signs were missed,” Mr Twyford said.

“The QFCC’s child death data reveals 109 children were killed by a parent or carer between 2004 and 2020, with three-quarters of victims younger than five.

“In addition to our data, the Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board found almost a quarter of domestic homicide victims in Queensland were children killed by a parent or carer.”

Mr Twyford said researchers looked at the risk factors associated with 90 separate filicide events relating to the deaths of the 109 children recorded in the QFCC’s data.

“Exposure to domestic and family violence and alcohol and substance misuse were identified as key risk factors, appearing in almost half of all filicide events analysed,” Mr Twyford said.

“Parents’ separation was also identified as a key risk factor, particularly when a filicide event was perpetrated by a father motivated by anger towards their former partner.

“The research highlighted an increasing risk to a child when a parent makes a threat to kill, regardless of whether any other risk factors are present, indicating that every threat must always be taken seriously and investigated.

Mr Twyford encouraged the sector to deepen its understanding of filicide and its warning signs.

“While the presence of these factors does not mean a filicide event is inevitable, this research reinforces that risk factors can’t be ignored when considering the safety of a child,” Mr Twyford said.

“I encourage all professionals working with children and families to strengthen their understanding of filicide to help them identify factors within a family environment that can increase the risk of its occurrence.

“More research is needed to help us better understand why parents and carers choose to take a child’s life and to find the opportunities that will help us save a child from death.”

The research paper, A study of indicators of red flags for fatal child assault and neglect in Queensland, and the QFCC’s summary paper, Taking lives: A Queensland study on parents who kill their children, is available to view at www.qfcc.qld.gov.au 

ENDS

For media information contact:

Kirstine O’Donnell | Queensland Family and Child Commission Phone: 0404 971 164 Email: kirstine.odonnell@qfcc.qld.gov.au