Professor Patrick O’Leary is an internationally recognised researcher with significant expertise in child protection, child protection in social development and humanitarian contexts, social work, gender-based violence, long-term impact of child sexual abuse (especially in men) and socially excluded young people. Over the last ten years he has conducted a number of complex research projects in Australia, USA, UK, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Albania, Sudan, Nepal and Lebanon for international clients including Terre des hommes, Islamic Relief Worldwide, and UNICEF. Professor O’Leary’s work has influenced international domestic violence and child protection policy and practice. Currently Professor O’Leary is commissioned as an Expert Academic Advisor to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with a particular focus on male victims and the long-term effects. He is a Senior Innocenti Research Fellow for UNICEF Office of Research, since September 2016. Over the last 12 years he has been successful in obtaining more then three million dollars in competitive research and consultancy funding.
Controversies in child protection paint a gloomy yet inaccurate picture of the long-term effectiveness of public investment in child protection. Civil society over decades has advocated for greater public investment child protection. Countries such as Australia and the United States have responded with legislative and policy reform requiring increased public spending in child protection and associated social/welfare systems. Growing awareness of the ravages of child abuse and neglect has seen increases in report rates. Cumulatively this has adversely impacted system responses. Research and practical experience has highlighted a complex aetiological issue. Increased public scrutiny on tragic and controversial cases of child abuse and neglect has seen greater questioning of the effectiveness and investment in child protection systems and the associated professionals. ‘System’ failures can obscure the long-term trends of decreased incidences of physical and sexual violence against children. Of course it would be foolish to suggest the ‘system’ is perfect or gets all the resourcing it needs. Yet for downward trends in prevalence and with reporting rates remaining relatively high, suggests cultural change in the way that child abuse and neglect occurs and viewed. Is this a cause for celebration or simply a reinforcement that more must be done? In this presentation the author advocates that years of public investment in child protection has paid dividends for a safer childhood today, and how this is strong platform for further investment in innovative and evidence-based child protection systems and social protection programming.