A history of child maltreatment is known to elevate the risk of self-harm in adolescence. However, this link has not been investigated for Aboriginal children who experience a greater burden of both.
Identify patterns of involvement with child protection services by Aboriginal children associated with a higher risk of self-harm in adolescence.
Participants and setting:
A cohort study was established using linked administrative records of Aboriginal children born in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia.
Survival analysis techniques were used to determine the risk of self-harm in adolescence associated with different levels and timing of child protection involvement throughout childhood.
The relative risk of self-harm was greatest for children with substantiated maltreatment in both early and middle childhood had nine times higher risk for self-harm (aHR: 9.11, 95% CI: 3.39-24.46,p < 0.001) and six times higher for children who experienced notifications in early childhood and substantiated maltreatment in middle childhood (aHR: 6.72, 95% CI:2.16-20.90, p < 0.001). Other patterns of child protection involvement observed in middle childhood alone also conferred a higher relative risk of self-harm in adolescence.
This study confirms a higher risk of self-harm in adolescence is associated with child maltreatment, especially in middle childhood. Addressing the intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal families is crucial to preventing child maltreatment and informing reforms to child protection responses that can better identify and address the culturally-specific unmet needs of Aboriginal families. This would go some way to fostering the healthy growth and development of Aboriginal children and reduce self-harm risk.