Jo Cavanagh OAM


Jo has worked for the community since 1976 and as CEO at Family Life since 1996 where she has led a program of change and organisational growth to expand effective services, support and connections which empower vulnerable families, children and young people. Her passion is the wellbeing of children.

Jo has held various leadership roles aligned to influencing policy and practice for promoting the wellbeing of children, families and communities. Jo was recognised for her contribution to the community in 2013 with an Order of Australia and received the Women of Influence Award for Social Enterprise/Not For Profits in 2014. In 2015 Jo accepted the position of Adjunct Associate Professor with the Faculty of Business and Law, Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University.


There is a growing body of international research to inform our understanding of the circumstances in which filicide, parents killing their children, has occurred.

The possibility that a parent will kill their child is not a thought any family member or professional wishes to entertain. Yet the reality that parenting is one of the most stressful, challenging, highly emotional roles any one undertakes is widely recognised. What is less well appreciated is that the adult experience of separation is a situation in which there can be increased risk to the to children, and that the interplay of compounding issues has seen adults commit cruel and lethal acts to those they say they love and are obligated to protect.

This presentation provides key findings from academic and practice based research to propose steps we can take to assist professionals, families members and the general public to recognise the potential for lethal risk to children in the context of family separation, with implications identified for policy and systems change.

The presentation draws on the international body of research from the 2015 International conference Towards Preventing Filicide, with a focus on the Australian research by Brown, Dyson & Fernandez Arias (2014) for translating knowledge into practice.

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