Prof Daryl Higgins, Douglas Russell (Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University); Dr Nadine McKillop, Dr Susan Rayment-McHugh (University of the Sunshine Coast, School of Law and Society, Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit)

Funding source

Westpac Banking Corporation, 2021 Safer Children, Safer Communities Research Grant $150,000


This project will develop new approaches to tackle the problem of child abuse and child sexual abuse. It will specifically aim to identify a range of contextual (environmental and situational) prevention strategies that can be rolled out in a randomised control trial across a range of organisations with diverse service delivery models.

Project details

Protecting children from abuse is a complex process. To do it effectively, we need to know what practices are working in order to strengthen how organisations safeguard children from abuse.

The Institute of Child Protection Studies and the Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit at the University of the Sunshine Coast will partner with national not-for-profit organisations to conduct research to understand and evaluate what works to prevent child abuse.

Methods will include an applied, mixed­method approach, using quantitative and qualitative impact measures. These will be implemented in large, diverse child welfare organisations to ensure immediate benefits to the participating organisations. We will support participating organisations in their implementation of the proposed strategies, ensuring intervention fidelity.

This project will assess the following elements of contextual prevention strategies:

  • how they work
  • how effective they are
  • under what circumstances they are most effective
  • under what circumstances they have the most impact.

Contextual prevention strategies

Contextual analysis helps us understand the factors that enable child sexual abuse to occur in organisations rather than just ‘weeding out’ potential offenders.

Examining the context enables us to better understand characteristics of the children an organisation serves, the physical environment and routine activities of the organisation, and its policies and overall culture. The strategies used to promote safety and address risks vary from context to context and can range from extended guardianship programs to the redesign of physical spaces to maximise supervision.

We will evaluate current contextual prevention strategies implemented by youth-serving social-welfare organisations using the Children’s Safety and Safeguarding Capabilities Survey.

Projected community impact

Findings from this project could be used to inform national policy and strengthen child-safe organisational practices. Ideally, the trialled contextual prevention strategies could be scaled-up nationally so that organisations can be safer for all. We will engage in the following activities which may play a role in informing policy:

  • online national practice forum: discuss and disseminate results, help participating organisations showcase strategies that have been shown to work, share learnings about any strategies shown to be less effective
  • communication: publications in peer-review journals, a fully documented report, short summaries and infographics
  • promotion of effective strategies via: National Office of Child Safety, peak bodies, existing networks of child welfare organisations such as the Child Family Community Australia information exchange hosted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies


Rayment-McHugh, S., McKillop, N., Adams, D., Higgins, D. J., Russell, D. H. (2024). Context matters: Conceptualising and operationalising the contextual prevention of child sexual abuse. Child Abuse Review.

Contact Douglas Russell for further information

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