17. Child abuse & neglect

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Different policies and practices in jurisdictions influence the collection of administrative data. Differences in policy, practice, legislation and data systems must be taken into consideration when interpreting all child protection data. See Child protection Australia 2016–17 for further information.

Why is reporting child abuse and neglect rates important?

While most children in Australia grow up in safe family environments, some are subject to maltreatment in the form of abuse and/or neglect.

Abuse and neglect can cause significant long-term harm. Adverse effects of child abuse and neglect have been found to be significant and diverse in nature and may include: reduced social skills; poor school performance; impaired language ability; a higher likelihood of criminal offending; and mental health issues such as eating disorders, substance abuse and depression (Chartier et al. 2007; Gupta 2008).

In response to the complex nature of child abuse and neglect, the then Community and Disability Services Ministers’ Advisory Committee (CDSMAC) developed the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020. The National Framework focuses on improving child safety and wellbeing through prevention, early intervention and best practice strategies, with an overarching goal of a substantial and sustained reduction in child abuse and neglect over time (COAG 2009).

Do child abuse rates vary across population groups?

In the 2016–17 AIHW Child Protection Data Collection, the national rate of children aged 0–12 who were the subject of a child protection substantiation was 10.0 per 1,000 children, with a slight difference between boys and girls (9.9 per 1,000 and 9.8 per 1,000, respectively). Infants (children aged under 1) were most likely to be the subject of a substantiation (16.4 per 1,000 children) compared with children aged 1–4 (9.4 per 1,000 children) and children aged 5–12 (8.8 per 1,000 children). The high substantiation rate for infants is partly due to an increased focus on early interventions for infants, a group recognised as requiring extra care and protection due to their vulnerability (AIHW 2016).

Indigenous children were around 7.1 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be the subject of substantiated abuse or neglect (52.4 per 1,000 compared with 7.4 per 1,000). The reasons for the over-representation of Indigenous children in child protection substantiations are complex: the legacy of past policies of forced removal; intergenerational effects of previous separations from family and culture; lower socioeconomic status; and perceptions arising from cultural differences in child-rearing practices are all underlying causes for their over-representation in the child welfare system (HREOC 1997).

Has there been a change over time?

While the national substantiation rate decreased from 7.5 per 1,000 children in 2007–08 to 7.0 per 1,000 in 2010–11, the rate has increased to 10.0 per 1,000 in 2016–17. For Indigenous children, the rate was relatively constant at around 34 per 1,000 children over the period 2007–08 to 2010–11. Since this time, the rate has increased steadily to 52.4 per 1,000 children in 2016–17. Although a real change in the incidence of abuse and neglect may contribute to the observed fluctuation, increased community awareness and changes to policy, practice and legislation in jurisdictions are also contributing factors (AIHW 2016).

For data on the rate of children aged 0–17 years who are in out-of-home care see the AIHW’s website on the National framework for protecting Australia’s children (Indicator 0.2).


Different policies and practices in jurisdictions influence the collection of administrative data. Limited specificity in the technical specifications and different interpretation and application in data collection and reporting impact on national comparability. See Child protection Australia 2016–17 for further information.

Substantiations of notifications occur when an investigation has concluded and there is reasonable cause to believe that the child had been, was being, or was likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed (AIHW 2017).

The AIHW collects and reports national data on child protection notifications, investigations, substantiations and other components of the child protection system. While the child protection systems and processes are broadly similar in each jurisdiction, child protection legislation, policies and practices vary. Therefore, caution needs to be taken when comparing child protection data across jurisdictions, or over time. See Child Family Community Australia resource sheet for a table of mandatory reporting requirements across Australia.

For data disaggregated by Indigenous status, ‘Other children’ includes non-Indigenous children and children for whom Indigenous status was unknown. In 2014–15, Indigenous status was unknown for 2.5% of children.

All rates for child abuse and neglect have been calculated using revised population estimates based on the 2011 Census. This includes updates to rates previously reported in this data portal.

From 2012–13, the Child Protection data collection reports unit record level data, which replaces the aggregate data previously used for national reporting. NSW and Queensland data for 2012–13 and 2013–14, and NSW data for 2014–15 were provided at aggregate level. Unit record level data were not available for NSW in 2015–16; aggregate data have been reported. 


  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017. Child protection Australia: 2015-16. Child Welfare series no. 66. Cat. no. CWS 60. Canberra: AIHW.
  • Chartier MJ, Walker JR & Naimark B 2007. Childhood abuse, adult health, and health care utilization: results from a representative community sample. American Journal of Epidemiology 165(9):1031–8.
  • COAG 2009. Protecting children in everyone’s business: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020. Canberra: COAG.
  • Gupta A 2008. Responses to child neglect. Community Care 1727:24–5.
  • HREOC (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) 1997. Bringing them home. Report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. Sydney: HREOC.