Children receiving child protection services

Key findings

  • In 2020–21, about 178,800 children (1 in 32) received child protection services such as investigations of notified child abuse/neglect, care and protection orders, or out-of-home care placements.
  • 58% of these children (103,400) were the subject of an investigation only and 24% (42,000) were on a care and protection order and in out-of-home care.
  • 65% of children (116,600) receiving services were repeat clients.
  • About 58,000 (172 per 1,000) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children received child protection services in 2020–21.

Child protection authorities provide multiple services to vulnerable children, such as case management, referral to support services, investigations of notified child abuse/neglect, provision of care and protection orders and out-of-home care placements. A summary of child protection services reported in Child protection Australia is presented in Table 2.1.

A child may receive one or more of these services depending on their circumstances.

Table 2.1: Services for vulnerable children

Service When does a child receive this service? What’s involved?
Investigation Children become the subject of an investigation when a child protection department receives a notification of child maltreatment that meets a threshold for further action. Child protection workers look into an allegation of child maltreatment. This includes a range of information gathering activities such as interviews, record checks and home visits.
Care and protection order Orders are granted for children who have been found to be the victims of child abuse/neglect or are in need of protection. In most cases this occurs following a substantiation; however, orders can be made to remove children from unsafe environments immediately. An order conferring legal responsibility for a child is made through the courts. This has the effect of transferring parental responsibility for the child to the child protection department, or an authorised Aboriginal community controlled organisation, or a nominated carer, or initiating supervision of parents.
Out-of-home care Out-of-home care placements are provided to children who are unable to live at home. This may be for child protection reasons or to provide respite for parents. A child is placed in alternative accommodation as they are unable to live at home. The type of placement is dependent upon each child’s circumstances.
Intensive family support service Families can be referred to intensive family support services at any time. Child protection departments may utilise these services in less severe cases and to help facilitate reunification of families. Families are referred to these services for advice, education and support. The aim is to prevent separation of children from parents and to achieve reunification where possible.

In this report, children receiving child protection services are those children aged less than 18 years who in 2020–21 were:

  • the subject of an investigation of a notification
  • on a care and protection order
  • in out-of-home care.

Box 2.1 outlines data limitations for reporting on children receiving child protection services.

Children may be involved in more than one component of the child protection system. As such, ‘Children receiving child protection services’ is not a total count of the 3 areas; it is a count of unique children across the 3 areas (see Figure 2.2 for the overlap of services received).

Children who were only the subject of a notification that was not subsequently investigated have not been included. This is because, apart from an initial risk assessment, it is expected that the department responsible for child protection would have a limited level of involvement with these children and their families.

Children who received only intensive family support services have also not been included in this section as unit record-level data were not available for national reporting. See Intensive Family Support Services for information about children receiving intensive family support services.

Box 2.1: Data limitations for children receiving child protection services

There are differences in jurisdictional legislation, policy and practice regarding the administration of child protection services. Refer to Boxes 3.1, 4.1 and 5.2 for further information, as well as to table footnotes, the Technical notes, and Appendixes A to C before comparing data across jurisdictions.