Rising numbers of child protection cases

Child Protection Australia 2002-03 shows that the number of child protection notifications in Australia increased by over 60,000 from 2001-02 to 2002-03, from approximately 138,000 to 198,000 cases. Numbers rose in five of the eight states and territories.

Significant increases in child protection matters notified to community services departments over the past year should be interpreted with care however, and may not necessarily reflect real increases in the incidence of child abuse, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The number of substantiations (cases where there was reasonable cause to believe that harm had occurred or would occur) also rose, from approximately 30,000 cases in 2001-02 to 40,000 in 2002-03.

Report co-author, Ms Kelly said that in general terms the definition of what constitutes child abuse and neglect had changed and broadened in Australia over the last few years, and was likely to have impacted on the numbers reported.

'Overall increases in notification and substantiations could be attributed to increased community and media awareness, increased funding of child protection and community support services in general and an increase in child protection workers.'

Another important point, Ms Kelly said, was the differing child protection legislation, policies and practices among the States and Territories, which meant that data were not strictly comparable between them.

'For example, in some States reports may not proceed to become official notifications if they are assessed as a child and family concern rather than one of child harm and maltreatment, whereas in other states virtually all such reports are regarded as notifications.'

The significant increase in 2002-03 figures for NSW, (where notifications rose by 54,000 and substantiations by 8,000) can be attributed to changes to the counting rules. Therefore the data are not comparable and do not indicate the size of the actual increase in child abuse cases for NSW.

Child Protection Australia 2002-03 also shows a 44% increase between 1997 and 2003 in the number of children in out-of-home care, and a continuing upward trend Australia-wide in the numbers of children on care and protection orders from 15,700 in 1997 to 22,000 in 2003.

22 January 2004

Further information: Ms Susan Kelly, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1182, or 0407 915 851 (mobile)

For media copies of the reports: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032