The number of children receiving child protection services continues to grow, with Indigenous children notably overrepresented, a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows.
The report, Child protection Australia 2016–17, shows that around 168,000 children received child protection services in 2016–17—or 1 in every 32 children.
Children who received these services were those who were the subject of an investigation (following a notification to a child protection agency); on a care and protection order; and/or in out-of-home care (such as foster care). A notification is considered ‘substantiated’ when, after an investigation, it is concluded that there is sufficient reason to believe the child has been, is being, or is likely to be abused, neglected, or otherwise harmed.
The report shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 7 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be receiving child protection services.
‘In the 5 years to 2016–17, the rate of children receiving child protection services has increased for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children,’ said AIHW spokesperson Louise York.
In 2012–13, about 127 per 1,000 Indigenous children were receiving child protection services, growing to around 164 in 2016–17. For non-Indigenous children, the rate rose from about 19 to 22 per 1,000 over the same period. Indigenous rates of contact with the child protection system are higher than non-Indigenous rates and growing at a faster rate, with rates increasing by 29% over the 5-year period for Indigenous children compared with 21% for non-Indigenous children.
‘A range of factors could be contributing to this rise. Increased public awareness and reporting, legislative changes and inquiries into the child protection processes all play a part, as well as potential rises in the rate of child abuse and neglect,’ Ms York said.
The report also shows that the majority of children in the child protection system are repeat clients. In 2016–17, almost three-quarters (74%) of children receiving child protection services had received services previously.
‘This was particularly true of those children on a care and protection order or in out-of-home care, of whom 95% were repeat clients,’ Ms York said.
Overall, the report shows that emotional abuse was the most common main type of substantiated abuse (48%), followed by neglect (24%). This was followed by physical abuse (16%) and sexual abuse (12%). However, there is often overlap between types of abuse.
‘For example, in about 45% of cases where physical abuse was the main form of abuse recorded, emotional abuse was also found to be present,’ Ms York said.
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