National child protection data

Data in this report were largely drawn from the Child Protection National Minimum Data Set (CP NMDS), implemented for reporting from 2012–13. Children in scope for this data set are those aged less than 18 years and for some states and territories this also includes unborn children. Further details about the CP NMDS are available in Appendix A.

National child protection data are based on cases reported to departments responsible for child protection so may understate the true prevalence of child abuse and neglect. Notifications made to other organisations, such as the police or non-government welfare agencies, are included only if these notifications were also referred to departments responsible for child protection.

For child-based counts in this report, children were counted only once in the relevant table, regardless of the number of contacts the child had with the component of child protection being reported. For example, if a child was the subject of more than one substantiation during the reporting period, they are counted only once in tables reporting the number of children in substantiations. As it is possible for children to receive child protection services in multiple jurisdictions, some children may be double-counted where data from multiple jurisdictions are reported.

Throughout the report, table and figure titles refer to ‘children’ where counts of unique children are used. Where events are the counted unit the specific component of the child protection system is referred to in table and figure titles (for example, notifications or orders issued). See Technical notes for more information on counting methodology.

Rates presented in this report are per 1,000 population of children. That is, population rates are calculated by dividing the number of children for a specific measure or group (for example, children in out-of-home care) by the corresponding population. See Technical notes for more information.

Metadata for the CP NMDS are available on METeOR, the AIHW’s online metadata repository. A data quality statement for the CP NMDS is also available.

Box 1.2 summarises data limitations specific to this report.

Box 1.2: Data limitations in this report

Trends in Child Protection Australia reports are for 5-year periods unless specified otherwise. Changes in state and territory legislation, policy/practice, and information management systems, can reduce the ability to accurately compare data over longer periods.

Increases over time in the number or rate of children receiving child protection services or support might relate to changes in the underlying rate of child abuse and neglect, increases in notifications and access to services, or a combination of factors.

A nationally consistent definition for out-of-home care was implemented for all jurisdictions in 2018–19 (see Child protection Australia 2018–19 for more details) and the out-of-home care time series analyses in this report have been back cast with the national definition to 2016–17. Data presented in this report should not be directly compared with data published in Child protection Australia reports prior to 2018–19.

Data produced from the CP NMDS based on nationally agreed specifications might not match state and territory figures published elsewhere, and might not be comparable with data for previous years.

There are also differences in jurisdictional policy and practice which can influence other reported data. See Appendixes A to C for further information. The differences can affect comparability of data across jurisdictions for some measures, as noted in figure and table footnotes.

Jurisdiction-specific data issues

New South Wales implemented a new client management system in 2017–18 and in 2020–21 data continue to be unavailable for households exiting foster care and households exiting relative/kinship care (see Carers).

Impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Measures put in place as part of government responses to COVID-19 during 2020 and 2021 (including travel bans/restrictions, lockdowns limiting non-urgent face-to-face work and remote learning for students and quarantine requirements) may have affected child protection processes during 2019–20 and 2020–21. The long-term impact of COVID-19 on child protection processes is still unknown. No specific impacts on the annual data are highlighted in this report, however effects may become apparent in future years.

Some potential impacts of COVID-19 on children in child protection in Australia are explored in the AIHW report, Child protection in the time of COVID-19. The report presents monthly child protection data from March 2020 to September 2020 with comparisons to 2019. It contains selected information on risk factors for child abuse, including income and housing stress, parental mental health, substance use, and domestic violence.

For information on the impact of COVID-19 on population data, see Box 9.1 in the Technical notes.


For a full list of references, go to References.