Measuring permanency outcomes in the child protection system
Community Services Ministers from the Australian and state and territory governments agreed in 2018 to adopt the Guiding Principles for Best Practise in achieving permanency, and to a shared National Permanency Outcomes Statement. These aim to achieve timely and more consistent permanency decisions for children and young people, while ensuring that their best interests are protected (AIHW 2016).
Ministers committed to reducing state guardianship for children who could not be safely reunified with their families within a reasonable time, to ensure they have the right to grow up in a family that is permanent, stable and safe.
The Permanency Outcomes Statement proposed a national approach to child protection and out-of-home care, in which children and young people experience:
- safe and stable care
- timely decision making on permanency that takes into account the views of the child
- lifelong relationships and a sense of belonging, identity and connection to culture and community (AIHW 2016).
Development of data reporting and an evaluation framework measuring outcomes were agreed as part of ministerial commitments promoting permanency for children in out-of-home care. The Permanency Outcomes Performance Framework (POPF) was developed in 2018 under the Fourth Action Plan 2018–20 of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children to measure jurisdictional performance on achieving permanency outcomes (Seselja 2017; CSM 2018; DSS 2018).
The framework provides objective measurements of performance, based on the following 4 domains:
Domain 1: Permanent, safe and stable care
Vulnerable children who are at risk of entering, or who have experienced out-of-home care have permanent, safe and stable care.
Families are supported to allow children to remain at home following the substantiation of a child concern report, whenever it is safe to do so.
Children in out-of-home care are reunified with their parents, families, or former guardian whenever it is safe to do so.
Children in out-of-home care who are unable to live with their parents, families or former guardian achieve a permanent care arrangement.
Children in a permanent care arrangement feel safe and secure.
Children in out-of-home care have as few placements as possible.
Domain 2: Timely and informed decision making
Vulnerable children who have experienced out-of-home care have timely decision making on permanency that takes into account the views of the child.
Children are included in decision making about their permanency arrangements.
Children receive timely decisions about their permanency arrangements.
Domain 3: Achieve better life outcomes and realise their full potential
Vulnerable children who have experienced out-of-home care achieve better life outcomes and realise their full potential.
Children have strong physical, social and mental health.
Children attend, participate and achieve in quality education or employment.
Children leave care equipped for the future.
Domain 4: Lifelong relationships, belonging, identity and connection
Vulnerable children who have experienced out-of-home care have lifelong relationships and a sense of belonging, identity and connection to their culture and their community.
Children have a connection with their family.
Children have their cultural needs identified and responded to.
Children are living within their cultural community.
Children feel a sense of identity and belonging to family, culture and community.
This report presents data on 14 indicators for Domains 1 and 2 under the POPF. The POPF is a national data and evaluation framework designed to provide objective measurement of permanency outcomes for children in out-of-home care. Aspects of permanency covered by the indicators include:
- Preservation (where families are supported to keep children at home safely)
- Reunification (where children are returned home safely after time in out-of-home care)
- Where reunification is not possible, what permanency outcome is achieved (third-party parental responsibility order or adoption)
- Stability of permanency outcomes (whether it is still in place after 12 months)
Indicators on timely and informed decision-making related to permanency arrangements are also presented. These focus on achievement of orders and permanency outcomes within 2 years of admission to out-of-home care.
Other indicators relate to children for whom it’s deemed in their best interests to remain in long term out-of-home care. These indicators focus on children who have been in care for more than 2 years, covering:
- legal stability (which legal orders children are placed on and how long it takes to achieve their order)
- placement stability (time in placement and number of placements)
A list of all POPF indicators, including data for the most recent reporting period, is provided in Table 1 on the Summary page.
Previous reporting of permanency indicators
The POPF indicators have previously been reported in:
- Child protection Australia 2018–19 – included state and territory data for all POPF indicators. Data tables included at least 3 disaggregating variables, which resulted in a high prevalence of small numbers (less than 5) being reported (AIHW 2020).
- Child protection Australia 2019–20 – contained data for all POPF indicators, but at the national-level only, to reduce the prevalence of small numbers (AIHW 2021).
- Child protection Australia 2020–21 – includes data for 3 POPF indicators (AIHW 2022).
This report marks the first time that POPF indicators are reported in a stand-alone product. The main differences between the content of this report and previous reporting of POPF indicators are that:
- POPF indicators have been refined, where required, to measure specific outcome areas or targets
- the number of disaggregating variables in data tables have been reduced, to lower the prevalence of small numbers
- time-series data for indicators are reported for the first time.
Note that, in this report, suppression has been applied to some small numbers for Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, by request.
Data for indicator 1.7c, which records the proportion of children who were in their main care arrangement for 2 or more years – a measure of placement stability – is not included in this report as the indicator is undergoing further development by AIHW and stakeholders. This indicator will be include in future reporting once development is complete.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2016) Permanency planning in child protection, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 9 August 2022.
AIHW (2020) Child protection Australia 2018–19, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 15 June 2022.
AIHW (2021) Child protection Australia 2019–20, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 15 June 2022.
AIHW (2022) Child protection Australia 2020–21, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 15 June 2022.
CSM (Community Services Ministers) (1 June 2018) Community Services Ministers' Meeting Communiqué [media release], Australian Government, accessed 3 August 2022.
DSS (Department of Social Services) (2018) Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020 — Fourth Action Plan 2018–2020, DSS, Australian Government, accessed 12 August 2022.
Seselja, the Hon. Z (25 August 2017) Community Services Ministers’ Meeting Communiqué [media release], Australian Government, accessed 28 April 2022.