The number of Australian children in out-of-home care has increased by 51% since 2002, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Child Protection Australia 2006-07, showed that nationally, there were 18,880 children in out-of-home care in 2002, increasing to 28,441 children in 2007.
Similarly, the number of children on care and protection orders increased significantly, rising by 43% from 20,557 to 29,406 over the same period.
The majority of children in care were either in foster care (50%) or living with relatives (44%), with only 4% of children in residential care in 2007.
Of all child protection notifications received in 2006-07, 58,563 were substantiated cases - cases where there was reasonable cause to believe that harm had occurred or would occur. This was an increase from the previous year, when there were 55,921 substantiated cases.
Cynthia Kim, Head of the AIHW's Children, Youth and Families Unit, said, 'possible reasons for these increases include a rise in the number of children requiring protection, a greater community awareness of child abuse and neglect issues and changes in child protection policies and practices'.
'The cumulative effect of children remaining on care and protection orders or in out-of-home care for longer periods may also be a contributing factor.'
'Studies also indicate that children enter care for increasingly complex family situations associated with a range of factors including low income, parental substance abuse, mental health issues and family violence', she said.
Emotional abuse was the most common reason for substantiation in half of the jurisdictions. In the other jurisdictions, neglect or physical abuse was the most common reason.
Although the quality of data on Indigenous status varies between states and territories, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were clearly over-represented in the child protection system. These children were more than five times as likely as other children to be the subject of a substantiation, and over seven times as likely to be on a care and protection order.