Summary

Each year, around 3% of all children aged 0–17 are assisted by Australia’s child protection systems. Some children are unable to live safely at home as they may be at risk of being abused or neglected, or their parents may be unable to provide adequate care. Children and their families may receive support services to keep children with their families, or be subject to investigations of reports of child abuse/neglect, protection orders, and/or placement in out-of-home care, such as with a relative or foster carer.

This report presents statistics on state and territory child protection and family support services, and selected characteristics of children receiving these services. This includes statistics for 2018–19, and trends over the 5-year period from 2014–15 to 2018–19.

1 in 33 children aged 0–17 received child protection services in 2018–19

170,200 children received child protection services in 2018–19. More than half (58%) of these children were the subject of an investigation only, and were not subsequently placed on a care and protection order or in out-of-home care. A small proportion (7%) of children were involved in all 3 components of the system. 68% of children receiving child protection services were repeat clients—that is, the children had previously been involved with the child protection system.

Emotional abuse was the most common type of abuse or neglect

Emotional abuse (54%) was the most common type of abuse or neglect substantiated through investigations in 2018–19. This was followed by neglect (21%), physical abuse (15%), and sexual abuse (10%). A higher proportion of girls (13%) were subject to sexual abuse than boys (6%), while boys had slightly higher percentages of substantiations for neglect and physical abuse.

Children from remote areas had the highest rates of substantiation

Children from Very remote areas had the highest rates of substantiation (20 per 1,000 children) and were 3 times as likely as children from Major cities (7 per 1,000 children) to be the subject of a substantiation in 2018–19.

About 44,900 children were in out-of-home care

At 30 June 2019, of the approximately 44,900 children in out-of-home care, 92% were in home-based care. Most of the children in out-of-home care (95%) were on care and protection orders and 67% had been continuously in out-of-home care for 2 years or more.

Trends over time for children in out of home care

Trends for children in out-of-home care have been affected by var ying definitions over time. A nationally consistent definition for out-of-home care was agreed in 2019, and all jurisdictions now report out-of-home care data according to this national definition. Out-of-home care data in this report should not be compared with data published in previous versions of Child protection Australia.

Between 30 June 2015 and 30 June 2017, the number of children in out-of-home care rose 10% (from 43,400 to 47,900) before falling 5% to 45,800 in 2018 and then 2% to 44,900 in 2019. The rate of children in out-of-home care followed the same pattern.

The fall between 30 June 2017 and 2019 corresponds with jurisdictions aligning with the national definition of out-of-home care at different times with respect to the exclusion of children on third‑party parental responsibility orders. Children on these orders are now consistently regarded as not being in out-of-home care.

If the numbers of children in out-of-home care and children on third party orders are both considered, the number and rates of children not living with parents for child protection reasons has continued to rise since 2015.

About 30,300 children had been in out–of–home care for 2 years or more

At 30 June 2019, of the approximately 30,300 children in long-term (2 years or more) out–of–home care, 81% were on long-term guardianship orders and in either relative/kinship care (10,800) or foster care (11,900). Of the children in long–term out–of–home care, 2 in 5 (42%) were Indigenous.

13% of children in out-of-home care exited to a permanency outcome in 2018–19

Over 3,700 children were reunified with family during 2018–19, with a further 680 children leaving out-of-home care to third-party parental responsibility orders.

1 in 6 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children received child protection services

  • In 2018–19, 51,500 Indigenous children received child protection services, a rate of 156 per 1,000 Indigenous children—an increase from 134 per 1,000 in 2014–15.
  • 12,600 Indigenous children were the subject of a substantiation in 2018–19. The most common type of substantiated abuse was emotional abuse (47%) followed by neglect (31%).
  • At 30 June 2019, 21,900 Indigenous children were on care and protection orders. Of these children, 70% (15,300) were on guardianship or custody orders.
  • 1 in 18 Indigenous children (around 18,000) were in out-of-home care at 30 June 2019, two-thirds (64%) of whom were living with relatives, kin or other Indigenous caregivers.
  • Indigenous children continue to be over-represented among children receiving child protection services, including for substantiated child abuse and neglect, children on care and protection orders and children in out-of-home care.
  • Based on data from 6 jurisdictions, 84% of Indigenous children who exited out-of-home care to a permanency outcome in 2017–18 did not return to care within 12 months.