The likelihood of being admitted to out-of-home care (such as foster care or relative/kinship care) is greater for infants and Indigenous children, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Children admitted to out-of-home care 2014–15, is the AIHW’s first dedicated report on the topic, presenting national trends between 2011–12 and 2015–16, and also exploring the experiences of a group of children who entered care during 2014–15.
The report shows that the rate of children entering care remained stable overall between 2011–12 and 2015–16, at about 2 children per 1,000. But for infants (aged less than 1 year) and Indigenous children, rates increased.
‘In 2011–12, 7 in every 1,000 infants were admitted to care, but this rose to 8 in 2015–16,’ said AIHW spokesperson David Braddock.
‘Over the same period, the rate for Indigenous children was greater, and rose more steeply, from 13 to 15 per 1,000 children.’
In 2015–16, Indigenous children were 9 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be admitted to care.
The report also provides insights into outcomes for children in out-of-home care and their movements throughout the system, drawing on data from 7 states (NSW data was not able to be included at the time of publication).
‘Among children admitted to care during 2014–15, we were able to analyse two groups: those who were still in care at 30 June 2016—regardless of whether or not they had left care and returned during that time—and those who had been discharged,’ Mr Braddock said.
Of the almost 8,200 children admitted to care during 2014–15, slightly more than half (55%) were still in care at 30 June 2016. Of these children, more than a quarter (28%) were on long-term legal orders by 30 June 2016, up from 6% at the time of admission.
‘There is a current focus in Australia on reducing the number of children entering care, preserving family units wherever possible, and providing children with permanent care arrangements,’ Mr Braddock said.
‘The increased number of children with long-term legal arrangements is a likely reflection of attempts to achieve permanency’.
When looking at children who had been discharged from out-of-home care by 30 June 2016, the report found that most (82%) left care less than 12 months after being admitted.
‘Although it is not yet possible to determine whether discharged children were reunified with their family, nor whether these children later return to care, over half of the children discharged had not returned to care in the year following their discharge,’ Mr Braddock said.
In Australia, state and territory departments provide assistance to vulnerable children and young people who have been, or are at risk of being, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed, or whose parents are unable to provide adequate care. The AIHW reports on the child protection system (which includes out-of-home care arrangements) in its annual Child protection Australia series of reports.