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Child protection in Australia

In Australia, statutory child protection is the responsibility of state and territory governments. Each state and territory department responsible for child protection provides assistance to vulnerable children who are suspected of being abused, neglected or harmed, or whose parents are unable to provide adequate care or protection.

Each state and territory has different legislation, policies and practices surrounding statutory child protection, but the broad processes are similar.

Contacts made to authorised departments by persons or other bodies making allegations of child abuse or neglect, child maltreatment or harm to a child are called 'notifications'. Notifications are assessed to determine whether an investigation is required, if referral to support services is more appropriate, or if no further protective action is necessary.

The aim of an investigation is to obtain more detailed information about a child who is the subject of a notification and to determine whether the notification is 'substantiated' or 'not substantiated'. A substantiation indicates there is sufficient reason to believe that a child has been, is being, or is likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed.

The relevant department will then attempt to ensure the safety of the child through an appropriate level of continued involvement, including the provision of support services to the child and family. This can also include placing the child on a care and protection order and/or into out-of-home care.

For more information on the processes of child protection across Australia refer to the latest Child protection Australia report.

Child protection quick facts 2011-12


Over 170,000 children were the subject of a notification of suspected abuse or neglect (just over 3%, or approximately 1 in 29 children).

Inforgraphic showing 1 in 29 notifications


Of all notifications, 46% were further investigated while the remaining 54% were dealt with by other means, such as being referred to a support service.


In 2011-12 there were around 37,700 children in substantiated abuse or neglect cases. This was around 1 in 135 children aged 0-17 years.

In 2011-12, children aged under 1 year were most likely to be the subject of a substantiation (13.2 per 1,000 children) and those aged 15-17 were least likely (3.2 per 1,000 children).

Emotional abuse was most the common substantiated abuse type, followed by neglect and physical abuse. Sexual abuse was more common among girls; other types of abuse were slightly more common among boys.

Vertical bar chart showing for boys and girls; per cent on the y axis and physical, sexual, emotional, neglect on the x axis.

Care and protection orders

Across Australia, almost 41,000 children were on a care and protection order at 30 June 2012.

Over 9,400 children were discharged from a care and protection order in 2011-12.

Of these children, 42% had been continuously on an order for less than 12 months; 20%  of had spent between 2 and 4 years on an order, and almost 10% had spent over eight years.

Vertical bar chart showing per cent on the y axis and age from less than 3 months to greater than 8 years on the x axis.

Out-of-home care

Nationally, just over 39,600 children were in out-of-home care at 30 June 2012.

Of these children, 44% were in foster care, 47% were living with relatives/kin and 5% were in residential care.

Vertical bar chart showing per cent on the y axis and foster care; relatives/kin; other home; family group; residential care; independent living; other/unknown on the x axis.

Indigenous children

Indigenous children are over-represented across the child protection system compared with non-Indigenous children. In 2011-12, Indigenous children were:

  • Almost 8 times as likely to be the subject of substantiated abuse or neglect
  • Almost 10 times as likely to be on a care and protection order
  • Just over 10 times as likely to be in out-of-home care.

Collecting national data on child protection

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare collaborates with states and territories to manage the national child protection data collection. This collection is drawn from the state and territory administrative data sets. It is reviewed annually to improve data quality and comparability.

The national collection provides comprehensive statistical information on state and territory child protection and support services, and some of the characteristics of the children within these systems. States and territories provide annual data for seven national child protection sub-collections:

  • Notifications, investigations and substantiations
  • Care and protection orders
  • Out-of-home care
  • Foster carers
  • Relative/kinship carers
  • Intensive family support services
  • National out-of-home care standards.

Further details including collection specific information and statistics are available in the latest Child protection Australia report.

How do I report a child protection matter?

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

If you wish to report a child protection matter, contact the department responsible for child protection in your state or territory directly:

New South Wales

Department of Family & Community Services

Tel. 132 111


Department of Human Services

Tel. 131 278 (after hours emergency)


Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services

Tel. (07) 3235 9999 or 1800 177 135 (after hours and weekends)

Western Australia

Department for Child Protection

Tel. 1800 622 258
a/h: (08) 9223 1111 or 1800 199 008

South Australia

Department for Education and Child Development

Tel. 131 478


Department of Health and Human Services

Tel. 1300 737 639

Australian Capital Territory

Community Services Directorate 

Tel. 1300 556 729

Northern Territory 

Office of Children and Families

Tel. 1800 700 250