This report presents statistics on children on care and  protection orders (guardianship and non-guardianship) in Australia at 30 June 1996. Data on the number of children admitted to and discharged from  care and  protection orders during the 1995-96 financial year  are also presented.

Where  a child is assessed to be 'in need  of care and  protection' the community services department in each State and Territory has the power to apply to the court  (usually the Children's Court  or equivalent) to seek a care and protection order. Each jurisdiction has its own legislation regarding when  a child is 'in need of care and protection', but generally this includes where  a child has been abused or neglected, a child has been abandoned by their caregiver, there is an irretrievable breakdown between a parent and a child or a child is a threat  to themselves or others. It should be noted  that recourse to the courts  and  the placing of a child on an order  is used only as a last resort  where  other  forms of intervention or assistance have been unsuccessful or are inappropriate.

For the purposes of this data  collection, care and  protection orders have been divided into 'guardianship' and 'non-guardianship' care and protection orders. Guardianship orders involve  the transfer of legal guardianship of the child to an authorised department. Non­ guardianship care and protection orders include custody and supervisory orders and undertakings. The number and  types of non-guardianship orders vary considerably, and as a result care should be taken in comparing the numbers and rates of children on these orders across jurisdictions. It should be also be noted  that children on interim orders, orders not issued through a court, permanent care orders in Victoria, and South  Australian orders granting guardianship to a third  party are excluded from  the data.

The main points  of interest are:

  • At 30 June 1996, 13,241 children were  on care and  protection orders-66% on guardianship orders and the remaining 34% on non-guardianship orders.
  • During 1995-96, 1,557 children were  admitted to guardianship orders and 1,877 were discharged. During the same year 2,566 children were admitted to non-guardianship care and  protection orders and  2,241 children were discharged.
  • The rate per 1,000 population aged  0-17 years for children on care and  protection orders at 30 June 1996 was  2.8 (1.9 per 1,000 for guardianship orders and 1.0 per 1,000 for non-guardianship orders). These rates;varied considerably across  jurisdictions as a result of the differences in legislation, types  and numbers of orders, the policies and  practices of each jurisdiction and  the availability of alternatives (such as family  services  and voluntary placements).
  • Children on guardianship orders at 30 June 1996 were more likely to be older  than children on non-guardianship orders-24% of children on guardianship orders were aged 15 years or older compared with  only 13% of children on non-guardianship orders. Just over half of the children on both  types  of orders were male.
  • Indigenous children are overrepresented among  children on care and protection orders. At 30 June 1996, 15% of children on guardianship orders and 14% of children on non­guardianship orders were Indigenous children. This compares with only 3% of the population aged  0-17 years.  The rate  per 1,000 population aged  0-17 years  was  much higher for Indigenous children  than for non-Indigenous children.  For guardianship orders, the rates  were  9.2 per 1,000 for Indigenous children compared with 1.6 per 1,000 for non-Indigenous children. The respective rates for non-guardianship orders were 4.4 per 1,000  and  0.9 per  1,000.
  • The rates for Indigenous children on guardianship orders at 30 June 1996 were  highest in Queensland (17.6 per 1,000) and  lowest in the Northern Territory (2.0 per 1,000).
  • The majority of children on guardianship orders at 30 June 1996 were  living  in foster care, while children on non-guardianship orders were more likely to be living with parents or relatives. This is consistent with  the fact that non-guardianship orders are less interventionist.
  • The number of children on guardianship orders in Australia fell by 3% from 8,998 at 30
  • June 1995 to 8,744 at 30 June 1996. In comparison, 9,309 children were  on guardianship orders at 30 June 1991.