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The number of children in out-of-home care in Australia has risen by almost 3000 over the last four years, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Child Protection Australia 1999-00 shows that the number of children either placed with relatives, or in foster or residential care has increased by 21%-from 13,979 in 1996 to 16,923 in June 2000.
Co-author of the report, Ms Helen Johnstone, said that this increase was consistent across all States and Territories.
'There's a wide range of complex reasons for this increase, which could include unemployment and increased pressures placed on families,' Ms Johnstone said.
'About 90% of all these children are living with relatives, or foster carers or in some other home-based arrangement-rather than in facilities such as family group homes or residential care.'
The report also shows a decline in the overall number of child protection substantiations in the last six years, from a peak of 30,466 in 1994-95 to 24,732 in 1999-00. 'Much of this decline is attributable to the changes that States and Territories have made to the way that they deal with child protection matters, Ms Johnstone said.
The rates of children, aged 0 to 16 years, who were the subject of a child protection substantiation ranged from 0.7 per 1,000 children in Tasmania to 6.3 per 1,000 in Victoria. This variation reflects different child protection policies and practices across the States and Territories.
Overall, Indigenous children were over-represented in the child protection system.
In Western Australia and South Australia, Indigenous children were more than seven times more likely than other Australian children to be the subject of a child protection substantiation.
'And in New South Wales, Indigenous children were more than 9 times more likely than other children to be in out-of-home care,' Ms Johnstone said.
'Many reasons have been put forward for this over-representation, including unemployment and poverty.'