This working paper describes the development and implementation of the unit record level Child Protection National Minimum Data Set (CP NMDS), which was used for the first time for national reporting in Child protection Australia 2012-13. It accompanies the release of that report, and provides a sample of new analyses to demonstrate the types of analyses that are now possible. The paper also outlines proposed improvements for future data collections. Key points include:

  • The development and implementation of the CP NMDS was undertaken over a 5-year period by the AIHW, in collaboration with the Australian Government and all states and territories. The CP NMDS includes all items that jurisdictions have agreed to provide to the AIHW for national child protection reporting.
  • The collection of national child protection unit record data will enhance the evidence base, as required by the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020, (National Framework) providing a more comprehensive and accurate picture of children within the statutory child protection system in Australia than has ever been previously available. Capacity has been built into the CP NMDS to allow reporting against several new National Framework indicators and measures for the National Standards for Out-of-Home Care (following data development and quality assessment). Key new analyses from the CP NMDS include unique counts of children receiving child protection services in each jurisdiction (135,139 nationally, or 26.1 per 1,000 children); the number of substantiations per child (1 in 5 had more than 1 substantiation in 2012-13); co-occurring types of abuse and neglect; socioeconomic status; and average day measures.
  • The implementation of the CP NMDS marks a major step towards improving the comparability of child protection data across jurisdictions, and positions Australia alongside only a handful of other countries with access to this type of national resource to support the monitoring of child protection services, programs and policies. The collaborative development process has been highly valuable for uncovering issues both with the unit record collection itself (for example, issues to resolve in the data collection process, as well as standard definitions for time measures required to develop care episodes) and broader data quality issues within and across jurisdictions. The consultation process between the AIHW and jurisdictions has also enriched the national understanding of the state and territory systems and differences, and provided the opportunity for practices to be shared across jurisdictions.
  • While the process of developing and preparing unit record files was resource intensive for many jurisdictions, it is anticipated that future extractions will become more streamlined and the additional effort required by jurisdictions to report in the new format will be substantially reduced. There will be a strong focus on centralising and streamlining data collection activities to facilitate this outcome.
  • The AIHW will continue to work with jurisdictions to resolve data quality and comparability issues and to work towards more complete data provision and reporting for 2013-14, with a view to developing a rich, longitudinal data source that can support the analysis of outcomes for children within the system. New analyses and national data linkage work will be undertaken, whilst maintaining privacy, with the aim of enhancing the evidence base for child protection. The capacity to undertake these types of new analyses is expected to increase as data quality and completeness improve.