This report provides an overview of permanency planning and long-term care for children in out-of-home care, noting current concepts and describing available data and development work being undertaken to improve national reporting.

The importance of achieving permanency for children and young people in out-of-home care is widely recognised. However, standardised collection and reporting of permanency-related data is difficult to achieve due to the dynamic nature of the processes involved and jurisdictional differences in legislation, policy and practice.

Common permanency concepts

Despite jurisdictional differences, there are some common concepts related to planning for permanency, and taking action to achieve a long-term care arrangement. The actions related to permanency can be broadly grouped to include: reunification, third-party parental responsibility orders, long-term finalised guardianship/custody orders, and adoption (specifically known-carer adoption). Measurements related to permanency may include, broadly, orders achieving legal permanency and the stability of care achieved.

Permanency data in child protection and adoptions collections

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) national child protection data collection includes data on finalised guardianship/custody orders and third-party parental responsibility orders. At 30 June 2015, there were 31,129 children on finalised guardianship/custody orders and 9,070 children on finalised third-party parental responsibility orders. Data relating to known child adoption by carer are available in the AIHW national adoptions collection, with limited disaggregation. There were 94 adoptions by carers finalised in 2014–15.

Further analyses of the Child Protection National Minimum Data Set also provide some insights regarding residential stability. Key findings were:

  • the majority (70%) of children who had been continuously in care for 2 or more years were on finalised guardianship/custody orders
  • three-fifths (61%) of children who had been continuously in care for 2 or more years only had one care arrangement in the most recent two-year collection period
  • most (87%) children who had been in care for 2 or more years had also spent at least 2 years in one main care arrangement.

Data development

The AIHW is currently undertaking work to progress national reporting on permanency and long-term care through the development of a reunification/permanency indicator, and expanded reporting on known-carer adoptions. Efforts are also underway to further develop the reporting of available data; for example, the inclusion of additional data relating to third-party parental responsibility orders in the annual Adoptions Australia report, and the disaggregation of short- and long-term orders data, with new adoption data and analyses, in the annual Child protection Australia report.