ACU (Australian Catholic University)

ACU Alum

Issue 2, Winter 2012

ACU Research

The new face of homelessness

Last year in Australia 84,000 children tried to get help from a homeless service - equivalent to one in 60 children - but more than half of them were turned away, a snapshot report on child homelessness has revealed.

Seen and heard: putting children on the homelessness agenda was released by children’s groups, including the Institute for Child Protection Studies (ICPS) at ACU.

Drawing on research, including information from frontline staff across 107 specialist homelessness services, the report found that these children were being let down by a lack of clear national targets and patchy support services.

Professor Morag McArthur, Director of ICPS, said that two years after the release of the Federal Government’s White Paper on tackling homelessness, The Road Home, not enough action had been taken.

“There is little consistency in the services and support provided to children who become homeless when their families do – what they end up getting is pure chance,” she said. 

The report found that family groups are the most likely to be turned from government-funded accommodation services, including 82 per cent of couples with children and 67 per cent of individuals with children. Of the children who accompanied their parent or guardian to a homelessness service last year, almost 72 per cent were under the age of 10.

The report calls for prevention, early intervention and better support through a range of measures including an increased supply of affordable housing, simpler services that are easier to identify and prioritised housing support for families.

For the full report, please visit www.acu.edu.au/412861

Research finds school anti-bullying policies inadequate

A joint study by researchers at ACU and the University of Otago Medical School (UOMS) in New Zealand has found that many school anti-bullying policies are inadequate – leaving both children and teachers at risk.

Researchers examined anti-bullying programs in 93 Victorian schools and 253 schools in New Zealand, and found that current policies do not usually include bullying on the grounds of homophobia, religion or disability. Only around one-third of schools had cyber-safety policies.

Lead Victorian researcher Professor Sheryl Hemphill, from ACU’s School of Psychology, said most policies were lacking in detail on how to prevent and follow up incidents of bullying. There was also little attention given to whether the bullying extended beyond school grounds or occurred after school hours – such as through social media.

Differences were also found between the two regions, with researchers noting there are stronger expectations and greater resources to facilitate the development of anti-bullying policies in Victorian schools. Victorian policies were more comprehensive than in New Zealand schools - in the ways bullying was defined and the procedures detailed for reporting and responding to incidents.

Schools in New Zealand are not specifically required to have an anti-bullying policy, and instead use their own governance structure to formulate policy. This could mean that schools take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying such as expulsion or suspension, or use more restorative practices such as mediation or counselling to keep pupils in school.

Professor Hemphill said there was a need for improved policies and procedures in Victorian schools.

“Effective programs raise awareness and empower school communities to deal appropriately with bullying,” she said. “There is now doubt some schools are doing excellent work in this area but there is a real need for improved overall guidance and regular monitoring and review of policies.”

“Schools need to acknowledge the impact of a diverse society and rapidly changing technology and respond appropriately. Having modern and comprehensive policies in place will give schools a better chance of reducing bullying.”

Signalling Distress

It’s dark and getting late, and your child hasn’t come home. Abduction is a parent’s worst nightmare, and for Bruce and Denise Morcombe it’s a grim reality. 

In December 2003, their 13-year-old son Daniel vanished from a bus stop on the Sunshine Coast. Eight years later, the Morcombes are still struggling with their loss and fighting to save other children from Daniel’s fate.

In collaboration with Dr Rachel Grieve, psychology lecturer at ACU, the Morcombes are investigating the viability of a child-in-danger distress signal, which involves crossing arms above the head then opening and closing the hands in a blinking motion. 

Dr Grieve became involved in the project after hearing the Morcombes discuss the signal on radio.

“I was driving to work and I heard Bruce and Denise explaining the child-in-danger signal, and straight away I wanted to be involved,” she said. 

“I contacted the Morcombe Foundation and volunteered my research experience. Essentially, I’m starting by researching parents and teacher’s willingness to adopt the new signal, and if all goes well I’ll be assessing methodology and recommending best practice to teach children the signal.

“It’s important to have systematic, scientific research to prove the viability of the project in order to obtain funding and support from government and other organisations.

“Obviously in the case of children at risk of abduction we want them to run away and shout. But for children unable to run away, this signal could be a lifesaving way of drawing attention.

“We’re hoping for it to become universally recognised so children can apply it to any situation. For example, if their friend has become ill, or if they have hurt themselves in the playground, they can perform this signal to draw attention.”

Home is where the heart is

ACU research student Edward Crendal jumped at the chance to study for 10 months in the country of his birth – but it wasn’t all about the wine and cheese. 

Fluent in French, and tackling a cutting-edge area of research into cardiovascular health, the 26-year-old was the ideal candidate to undertake a unique cotutelle between ACU and University of Avignon (UAPV) in France – a program which leads to a jointly-awarded PhD degree from the two institutions.

“I was born in Paris and my family moved to Australia when I was two, but we always spoke French at home,” Edward said. “I’m still very strongly connected to my French background and culture – and when I relocated to Melbourne to complete a PhD at ACU, I discovered the University also had an affiliation with France.”

After completing a Bachelor of Exercise Science with honours at ACU’s North Sydney Campus, Edward became particularly interested in cardiovascular research.

Alarmed by the fact that 38 per cent of all deaths in Australia and 49 per cent of all deaths in Europe were directly linked to cardiovascular disease, he developed an interest in prevention and early detection.

His PhD on The independent influences of metabolic syndrome and ageing on the heart investigates the impact of two separate factors, metabolic syndrome and ageing, on the structure and function of the heart. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risks including obesity, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

The research is unique, using speckle tracking echocardiography – a highly sensitive imaging approach which allows for the detection of subtle changes in the heart. Findings indicate this technique can be used for early detection of cardiac abnormalities and it may be a more effective diagnostic tool than traditional methods.

Edward said many of the risk factors involved in cardiovascular disease are modifiable and early detection can lay the foundation for timely intervention. 

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