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Over the past five years, the number of Australian children in out-of-home care has increased by 40%, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The report, Child protection Australia 2005-06, contains data on children in out-of-home care, children on care and protection orders and children subject to child protection notifications, investigations and substantiations.
In 2001 there were 18,241 children in out-of-home care, increasing to 25,454 children in care in 2006. Similarly, the number of children on care and protection orders has increased significantly, rising by 37% from 19,917 in 2001 to 27,188 in 2006.
Ms Deidre Penhaligon, of the Institute's Children, Youth and Families Unit, said 'the increase is due, in part, to a greater community awareness of child abuse and neglect, but also to the cumulative effect of children entering the system at a young age and remaining on care and protection orders for longer periods.'
Jurisdictional studies also indicate that children enter care for increasingly complex family situations associated with a range of factors including low income, parental substance abuse, mental health issues and family violence.
According to the report, the majority of children in care were either in foster care (53%) or living with relatives (41%), with only 4% of children in residential care as at 30 June 2006.
The number of substantiated cases, where there was reasonable cause to believe that harm had occurred or would occur, rose from 46,154 cases in 2004-05 to 55,921 in 2005-06, largely due to increases in substantiations in New South Wales.
'Some of this increase reflects jurisdictional changes in child protection policies and practices but is also an indication of increased public and media awareness of child protection concerns and the willingness to report these to the authorities,' Ms Penhaligon said.
Emotional abuse was the most common reason for substantiation in most jurisdictions, followed by neglect and physical abuse.
Although the quality of the data on Indigenous status varies between states and territories, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were clearly over-represented in the child protection system. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were nearly five times as likely as other children to be the subject of a substantiated claim, over six times as likely to be on a care and protection order, and more than seven times as likely to be in out-of-home care compared to other children.
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