Number of children in care continues to increase, but incidents of abuse and neglect have fallen

Over the last decade, the number of children in out-of-home care in Australia rose by almost 115%, from around 14,500 children in 1998 to 31,166 children in 2008, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

'In the last year alone there has been a 10% increase,' said report co-author John Sant.

There were 28,379 children in out-of-home care in 2007.

'The rise can be partly explained by the fact that more children are admitted to care than are discharged each year. Factors such as low family income, parental substance abuse, mental health issues and family violence, tend to lengthen the time these children remain in care,' he said.

The report, Child Protection Australia 2007-08, showed that as at 30 June 2008, 48% of children in care were in foster care, 45% were in relative or kinship care, and just 5% were in residential care.

The report also showed that substantiated notifications of child abuse in Australia have fallen for the first time since 1999.

Nationally, substantiated notifications fell by 8% between 2006-07 and 2007-08. There were 55,100 substantiated notifications of child abuse and neglect in 2007-08 compared with 60,200 the previous year. The number of substantiated notifications fell in all jurisdictions except South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

'The decline in substantiations in some jurisdictions could be a result of the availability of programs such as early intervention family support services, offered as an alternative response for less serious incidents,' Mr Sant said.

On the face of it, the decline in substantiations is welcome news, but we will need to wait for future years' data to see if the trend continues,' he said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be over-represented in the child protection system, with Indigenous children aged 0-16 years being more than six times as likely to be the subject of substantiations as other children (35.2 compared with 5.5 per 1,000 children).

'Overall, the rate of Indigenous children in out-of-home care was almost nine times the rate of other children,' Mr Sant said.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Further information: Mr John Sant, tel. 02 6244 1093; mob. 0402 431 416

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.