In Australia child protection is a state and territory government responsibility, and child safety and wellbeing issues are increasingly being recognised by governments as a core policy area. Consequently all jurisdictions have increased their focus in the area of child protection and on providing support and services to families, including early intervention where necessary.

Who reports child abuse and neglect?

Incidents or suspected cases of child abuse and neglect are usually reported to government departments in the first instance by health or welfare professionals, teachers or the police, who in some jurisdictions are mandated to report such matters, or by other people in the community. In some States, anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect is occurring must, by law, report it to the appropriate authority.

Key stages in the child protection process

Although there are differences between states and territories that affect the comparability of child protection data, the main stages of the process are broadly similar across jurisdictions. Reports of suspected abuse or neglect can lead to the matter being dealt with as a family support issue (whereupon services or information will be provided) or as a child protection notification. (In Tasmania, however, all reports to the department are recorded as a notification). Departments then determine if a notification  requires an investigation or is better dealt with by other means such as referral to other organisations or family support services. (In Queensland, however, all notifications must be investigated). If an investigation is carried out, the outcome can be a substantiation, meaning that the investigating authority concludes that the child has been, is being, or is likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed. Substantiations can (but do not always) lead to a child being placed on a care and protection order or in out-of-home care. In some jurisdictions, children can also be placed on a care and protection order or in out-of-home care for other reasons.

Report structure

This 2006–07 report is based on the following four national child protection data collections:

  • child protection notifications, investigations and substantiations
  • children on care and protection orders
  • children in out-of-home care
  • intensive family support services.

These data are collected each year by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) from the relevant departments in each state and territory. (The data available on intensive family support services are limited and are therefore not mentioned in this summary, although details may be found in chapter 5).