Child protection substantiations

Why are child protection substantiation rates important?

While most young people in Australia grow up in safe family environments, some experience maltreatment in the form of abuse and/or neglect. This can cause significant harm during childhood and adolescence, with the effects often continuing into adulthood (Lamont 2010a; Price-Robertson 2012). The adverse effects include poor physical health, attachment issues, reduced social skills, learning and developmental difficulties, mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and a higher likelihood of criminal offending; (Gupta 2008; Lamont 2010b; Zolotor et al. 1999). A range of factors may place childen at higher risk of abuse and neglect. Young people are particularly vulnerable to harm in families experiencing multiple disadvantages, such as housing instability, poverty, low education, social isolation, neighbourhood disadvantage, parental substance misuse and mental health problems (Bromfield et al. 2010).

In response to the complex nature of child abuse and neglect, the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020 was developed. 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).

What are child protection substantiations?

A substantiation of a child protection notification, refers to the conclusion, after investigation, that there is reasonable cause to believe that the child had been, was being, or was likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed. An appropriate level of continued involvement by the state or territory child protection and support services would then be made. This generally includes the provision of support services to the child and family. In situations where further intervention is required, the child may be placed on a care and protection order or in out-of-home care (see reports ’Care and protection orders’ and ‘Out-of-home care’ for more information).

Do rates vary across population groups?

In 2013–14, in the AIHW Child Protection Data Collection, the national rate of young people aged 12–17 who were the subject of a child protection substantiation was 5.4 per 1,000 young people, with the rate lower among boys than girls (4.2 and 6.6 per 1,000 respectively). Young people aged 12–14 were more likely to be the subject of a substantiation (7.2 per 1,000 young people) compared with young people aged 15–17 (3.5 per 1,000 young people).

Indigenous young people were around 5 times as likely as Other Australian young people to be the subject of substantiated abuse or neglect (23 per 1,000 Indigenous young people compared with 4.4 per 1,000 Other Australians). The reasons for the over-representation of Indigenous young people 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?

The national rate of young people in substantiations remained stable between 2009–2010 and 2010–11 at 4.5 per 1,000 young people. The rate then rose to 5.0 per 100,000 in 2011–12 and 5.5 per 100,000 in 2012–2013, and remained stable at 5.4 per 1,000 in 2013–14. For Indigenous young people, the rate has increased from 19 per 1,000 in 2009–10 to 23 per 1,000 in 2013–14. 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 2015).

What are the most common types of abuse?

In 2013–14, emotional abuse was the most common form of abuse across all ages and across both genders. For both 12–14 year olds and 15–17 year olds, emotional abuse and sexual abuse were the most common forms. Emotional abuse was slightly higher in the younger age group compared with the older group (36% and 34% respectively) while sexual abuse was lower in the younger group compared with the older age group (24% and 28% respectively).

Overall a higher proportion of young males than females experienced emotional abuse (40% compared with 32%). A higher proportion of young males also experienced neglect compared with young females (23% and 16% respectively). Young females were twice as likely to experience sexual abuse as males (32% compared with 14%).