The number of children in out-of-home care in Australia continues to rise - by more than 3,000 children over the last three years, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Child Protection Australia 2003-04 shows that the number of children either placed with relatives, or in foster or residential care has increased from 18,241 in 2001 to 21,795 in June 2004. Since 1996, the number of children in care has increased by 56%.
Report co-author, Susan Kelly from the AIHW's Children, Youth and Families Unit, said that the increases occurred across Australia.
'About 94% of all these children are living with relatives, foster carers or in some other home-based arrangement - rather than in facilities such as family group homes or residential care.'
The report also shows that the number of notifications of suspected child abuse and neglect or harm increased from 198,355 in 2002-03 to 219,384 in 2003-04 - and has more than doubled since 1999-2000. Substantiated child protection cases (those where there was reasonable cause to believe that harm had occurred or would occur) also rose in all jurisdictions that provided data.
Ms Kelly said some of this increase in notifications and substantiations reflected changes in child protection policies and practices in the jurisdictions.
'However, it is also an indication of a higher level of awareness of child protection concerns in the wider community and more willingness to report problems to child protection departments.
'Increased funding of child protection and community support services in general, and an increase in the number of child protection workers could also be contributing factors.'
The AIHW report also shows rises in the number of children on care and protection orders in all of the states and territories that provided data.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were over-represented in the child protection system. Indigenous children were the subject of a child protection substantiation at up to 10 times the rate for other children. For children on care and protection orders the Indigenous rate was 11 times the rate for other children; and for children in out-of-home care up to 12 times the rate.