Filicide, the murder of a child by their parent is perhaps one of the most distressing events for a community to face. Recently we have been confronted by news reports of a father who jumped to his and his infant’s death off a dam wall. Why do they do it? How could they do it? we ask, and behind these questions is the most disturbing of all What could have we all done to prevent it?
A report released by the Australian Institute of Criminology in March 2021 tells us that a child is murdered by a parent every fortnight, with males representing 52% of offenders and women 48%. The rate for males has decreased in recent years and women increased and together represents 10% of all homicides. A schema developed by American psychiatrist Philip Resnick in 1969 and still in use today identifies five categories of motivation: altruistic (death is in the child’s best interests), an acutely psychotic adult, unwanted child, accidental or spouse revenge. With such a diverse range it is hard to identify commonalities which may help answer the question What could we have done to prevent this?
Research has shown that filicide occurs when there is a coming together of a constellation of factors including mental illness, relationship breakdown, family violence and a substance misuse with potential threats to children through child abuse and domestic violence dramatically underestimated. Worryingly but perhaps most remediable is the unwillingness of those in the child’s community to acknowledge the potential for death. In many cases the perpetrator has told family, friends, and professionals of their intentions and even those who have heard appear impotent to know what to do.
So perhaps this is where we need to begin as professionals, family, and members of a child’s village. Just as we are beginning to take more seriously and act more protectively of those who disclose domestic violence so we must act for the most vulnerable in our community, children, who cannot speak for themselves and in some cases will die.