Report paints picture of child abuse and neglect

The latest data on three areas of child protection services - child abuse and neglect; children on care and protection orders; and children in out of home care - are contained in Child Protection Australia 1997-98, to be released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

According to the report, the number of notifications of child abuse and neglect in 1997-98 was higher than in 1996-97 for Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

However, the report's author Helen Johnstone, said that the number of substantiated cases has continued to fall. After reaching a peak of 30,615 substantiations in 1994-95, this figure has dropped to 26,025 in 1997-98. Of these, 31% were physical abuse, 26% neglect, 24% emotional abuse, and 16% sexual abuse.

'The decline in substantiations is likely to be due to changes in policies and practices in some States and Territories,' she said. 'New South Wales, for example, shows a large decrease in the number of substantiations since 1995-96 which probably reflects new policies which have changed the way that notifications and investigations are handled.'

As at 30 June 1998, 16,449 children were on care and protection orders in Australia. This is an increase of 731 on the number of children on care and protection orders at 30 June 1997.

The majority of children (75%) were on guardianship or custody orders, with the remaining on supervisory, interim, temporary and other orders. There were 14,470 children in out of home care at 30 June 1998, of whom 87% were in home based care. The majority of children in out of home care were also on a care and protection order.

Overall, 3.5 children per 1,000 were on care and protection orders in Australia at 30 June 1998. The rate for Indigenous children was 15.5 per 1000-more than five times the rate for other children. Of children in out of home care, the rate for Indigenous children at 30 June 1998 was 14.2 per 1000 compared with 2.6 for other children.

Ms Johnstone said the differences between the rates of Indigenous and other children represented in the data could not be attributed to any single cause. 'As the literature shows, there are many and complex reasons for this over-representation. Poverty and unemployment, parental health problems, and lack of adequate support services for Indigenous families could be some of the reasons.'


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