The number of Australian children in out-of-home care has risen steadily over the past decade according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Child Protection Australia 2004-05 shows that nationally, the number of children in out-of-home care rose each year from 1996 to 2005, and that the rate of Indigenous children in out-of-home care was over six times the rate of other children.
Report author, Meredith Bryant from the AIHW's Children, Youth and Families Unit, said the number of all children in care has increased 70% since 1996 when there were 13,979 children in out-of-home care, to 23,695 children in care in 2005. Similarly, the number of children on orders has increased significantly, rising 60% from 15,718 in 1997 to 25,065 in 2005.
'The increase is due, in part, to a greater awareness of child abuse and neglect, but also to the cumulative effect of children who enter the system at a young age and remain on care and protection orders for longer periods,' she said.
Children are entering care for increasingly complex factors associated with parental substance abuse, mental health and family violence.
The majority of children in care were either in foster care (54%) or living with relatives (40%) with only 4% of children in residential care as at 30 June 2005.
Over the last six years the number of child protection notifications in Australia more than doubled from 107,134 in 1999-00 to 252,831 in 2004-05.
From 2003-04 to 2004-05 the number of notifications increased in all jurisdictions.
Ms Bryant said some of this increase in notifications reflects changes in child protection policies and practices in the jurisdictions.
'However, it is also an indication of increased public awareness of child protection concerns and more willingness to report problems,' she said.
Although the quality of the data on Indigenous status varies between states and territories, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were clearly over-represented in the child protection system.