In 2019–20, 1 in every 32 Australian children aged 0–17 – or 174,700 children – received child protection services. This may include investigation of alleged abuse, and subsequent placement on a care and protection order or in out-of-home care. These services are provided by state and territory governments to protect children from abuse in family settings.

Some children receiving child protection services may be placed in the care of the state or territory. This occurs  when children are unable to safely remain at home because they have been, or are at risk of being, abused or otherwise harmed, or because their parents are unable to provide adequate care or protection. As placement in care requires significant intervention in a child’s life, it is used as a last resort.

Sometimes a child who is in care can be the subject of further abuse, for example, by their carer or another person in the household or care facility. Notifications of suspected abuse in care are investigated, and will be substantiated where it was concluded there was reasonable cause to believe that the child had been, was being, or was likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed. This includes cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse (including sexual exploitation), emotional abuse (including exposure to domestic violence), and neglect (including inadequate supervision and failing to provide appropriate food, clothing, shelter and medical care).

This report presents 2020–21 data from a new national data collection on safety in care. It contains information on substantiations of abuse where the child was living in out-of-home care or other relevant care arrangement, and complements the regular annual national reporting on child protection, for example, Child protection Australia.

The scope and source of the safety in care data in this report are different to those in the Report on Government Services, so direct comparisons cannot be made between the 2 reports.

This report is primarily a data report. As such, it can at times appear to depersonalise some of the pain and suffering behind the statistics. We would like to acknowledge the serious impact and huge burden that child abuse can have on those affected. It can inflict physical injury, psychological trauma and emotional suffering. These effects can last a lifetime and can affect future generations. It is our endeavour that, by bringing together the available data, we can strengthen the evidence to build a more coherent picture of abuse in care in Australia. This information will help to inform government policies and practice, and also assist in the planning and delivery of prevention and intervention programs.