Rate of children in out-of-home care remains stable

The rate of children living in out-of-home care has remained relatively steady for the past four years, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Child protection Australia 2019–20, shows as at 30 June 2020, there were around 46,000 children in out-of-home care across Australia.

The report presents information on the provision of state and territory child protection services—such as referral to family support services, investigations of notified child abuse/neglect, care and protection orders, or out-of-home care placements—and the characteristics of children who received these services.

‘Between 2017 and 2020, the number of children in out-of-home care rose by 7% from 43,100 to 46,000, however the rate remained stable at around 8 per 1,000 children,’ said AIHW spokesperson Mr. Dinesh Indraharan.

‘Some children are placed in out-of-home care because they have experienced abuse or neglect and need a more protective environment, or because they are unable to live with their families due to safety concerns.’

‘Most of the children in out-of-home care (94%) were on a care and protection order and 30,600 (67%) had been continuously in out-of-home care for 2 years or more.’

Almost one-third (32%) of children in out-of-home care were aged 10‒14, and a similar percentage were aged 5‒9 (30%). Just over half (52%) of all children in out-of-home care were boys.

One in 32 children aged 0–17 received child protection services in 2019–20. Mr. Indraharan noted that some groups of children were more likely to receive child protection services than others.

‘Children from very remote areas were 3 times as likely as those from major cities to be the subject of a substantiation—that is, when a notification has been investigated and there was reasonable cause to believe the child had been, was being, or was likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

Indigenous children continue to be overrepresented with 1 in 6 Indigenous children receiving child protection services.

Of those, about 1 in 18 (18,900) Indigenous children were in out-of-home care as at 30 June 2020, 11 times the rate for non-Indigenous children.

‘In positive news, over 80% of Indigenous children who exited out-of-home care into more stable and permanent arrangements, did not return to care within 12 months,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

Overall, the number of children receiving child protection services increased by about 4% from 168,300 in 2016–17 to 174,700 in 2019–20, but the rate over this period remained stable at around 31 per 1,000 children.

Although today’s report does not highlight specific impacts of COVID-19 on children in child protection in Australia, some potential impacts are explored in the AIHW report, Child protection in the time of COVID-19. The report presents monthly child protection data from March 2020 to September 2020 with comparisons to 2019.

30 years of child protection reporting

The release of Child protection Australia 2019–20 marks 30 years since the AIHW first published national reports on child protection data.

‘The AIHW Child Protection data collection continues to provide valuable insights on child safety and child protection services. The AIHW works with state and territory child protection departments and the Commonwealth to manage and improve the AIHW Child Protection data collection so that it can inform policymakers, service providers and the public,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

Help and support

Child protection 

If you believe a child is in immediate danger or in a life-threatening situation, call 000.

For non-emergency situations that still require a timely response, contact your local police station or call 131 444.

If you wish to report a child protection matter, directly contact the agency responsible for child protection in your state or territory: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/health-welfare-services/child-protection/links-other-information

Media enquiries: 02 6244 1148, [email protected]

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