Key findings

  • At 30 June 2020, 16,100 young people aged 12–17 were living in out-of-home care, a rate of 8.8 per 1,000 young people.
  • At 30 June 2020, the rate of young people in out-of-home care was twice as high in Inner and outer regional areas as in Major cities (13 and 6.7 per 1,000, respectively).
  • At 30 June 2020, the majority of young people in out-of-home care were living in home-based care (83% or a rate of 7.3 per 1,000).

While the vast majority of young people aged 12–17 live with 1 or both parents, some parents are unable to care adequately for their children.

Some children are placed in out-of-home care because they are the subject of a substantiation of abuse or neglect and need a more protective environment (that is, an investigation concluded there was reasonable cause to believe the child has been, was being, or is likely to be harmed—see also Technical notes).

Child abuse and neglect can have a wide range of substantial adverse impacts on a child’s development and later outcomes, including but not limited to:

  • reduced social skills
  • poor school performance
  • impaired language ability
  • higher likelihood of criminal offending
  • negative physical health outcomes
  • mental health issues, such as eating disorders, substance abuse, depression and suicide (ABS 2019; AIFS 2014).

Children and young people who have been abused or neglected are at greater risk of engaging in criminal activity and of entering the youth justice system. Based on data for 7 jurisdictions (New South Wales was excluded), of the 7,904 young people who had been under youth justice supervision during 2018–19, more than half (54% or 4,243) had also received a child protection service in the 5 years from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2019 (AIHW 2020c).

Young people may also be placed in out-of-home care when:

  • parents are incapable of providing adequate care
  • alternative accommodation is needed during times of conflict
  • parents/carers need respite (AIHW 2020a).

Out-of-home care is considered an intervention of last resort. The current priority is to keep children safely at home with their families wherever possible (AIHW 2020a).

The goal of providing out-of-home care is to provide a stable, safe environment for the child. Efforts are focused on maintaining the stability of their placement and/or reuniting the child with their family if appropriate (AIHW 2020a).

A nationally consistent definition for out-of-home care was implemented in 2018–19 (see Box 1).

Box 1: Data sources and definitions

Data sources

Data in this section were drawn from 1) the Child Protection National Minimum Data Set (CP NMDS) and 2) the 2018 second national survey on the views of children in out-of-home care.

1) The CP NMDS has been implemented for reporting from 2012–13. The collection includes children aged under 18 and, for some states and territories, unborn children. The CP NMDS consists of several unit record (child-level) files from all states and territories—except New South Wales (for which aggregate counts are supplied).

Unless otherwise stated, out-of-home care data presented here are for all young people in out-of-home care on a snapshot day (30 June), including those who have been in out-of-home care as at 30 June for multiple years. This approach provides a consistent method for reporting change over time nationally using available data. Other analysis approaches can be used to provide insight on the journey of young people through the child protection system, including the number of clients entering the out-of-home care system for the first time each year.

2) For the 2018 second national survey on the views of children in out-of-home care, states and territories collected data from children as part of their local case management processes between 1 January and 30 June 2018.

Young people in scope for the survey were those aged 8–17 living in out-of-home care whose care arrangements had been ordered by the relevant Children’s Court and for whom parental responsibility had been transferred to the relevant minister or chief executive, and who had been on a relevant court order for 3 months or more. Out-of-home care arrangements included foster care, relative/kinship care, family group homes, residential care and independent living.

Young people answered the questions themselves; however, departmental staff or other support people provided assistance where requested or needed.

Definitions

Out-of-home care is overnight care for children aged under 18 who are unable to live with their families due to child safety concerns. This includes placements approved by the department responsible for child protection for which there is ongoing case management and financial payment (including where a financial payment has been offered but declined by the carer). Out-of-home care also includes legal (court‑ordered) and voluntary placements, as well as placements made to provide respite for parents and/or carers.

Out-of-home care excludes:

  • placements for children on third-party parental responsibility orders (where legal responsibility for a young person is given to a nominated individual approved by the courts)
  • placements for children on immigration orders
  • supported placements for children aged 18 or over
  • pre-adoptive placements and placements for children whose adoptive parents receive ongoing funding due to the support needs of the child
  • placements into which a child enters and exits on the same day
  • placements solely funded by disability services, psychiatric services, specialist homelessness services, juvenile justice facilities, or overnight child-care services
  • cases in which a child self-places without approval by the department (AIHW 2020a).

This nationally consistent definition was implemented in 2018–19 (see Child protection Australia 2018–19 for more information on the revised scope for out-of-home care reporting).

Data based on this definition may not match those used for state and territory figures published elsewhere and should not be compared with data published in editions of Child protection Australia before 2018–19, or with the data in the section Children in non-parental care in Australia’s children.

How many young people receive child protection services?

In 2019–20, 50,800 young people aged 12–17 received child protection services, a rate of 28 per 1,000. These services can include:

  • investigations (which may or may not lead to substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect)
  • care and protection orders, and/or
  • out-of-home care placements.

Of young people aged 12–17 receiving child protection services, just over a third (35% or 18,000) were involved in out-of-home care. See Technical notes for definitions of some child protection service types and Child protection Australia 2019–20 for more information on child protection services.

How many young people live in out-of-home care?

As at 30 June 2020, among young people aged 12–17:

  • around 16,100 were living in out-of-home care, a rate of 8.8 per 1,000 young people (Figure 1)
  • slightly more males (8,100) than females (7,900) were in out-of-home care, though the rate for males per 1,000 was slightly higher than for females (8.7 and 8.9, respectively)
  • more 12–14 year olds than 15–17 year olds were in out-of-home care (8,800 and 7,300, respectively) and their rate was higher (9.3 compared with 8.3 per 1,000).

During 2019–20, nationally:

  • 3,200 young people entered out-of-home care—a rate of 1.7 per 1,000 young people. The rate of admission was a little higher for females than for males (2.0 compared with 1.5) and it was higher for those aged 12–14 than for those aged 15–17 (1.9 and 1.6, respectively)
  • 5,400 young people exited out-of-home care—a rate of 3.0 per 1,000. The rate of discharge was a little lower for males than females (2.8 and3.2, respectively), but higher for those aged 15–17 than for those aged 12–14 (4.2 and 1.9, respectively). 

Box 2: Young people on third-party parental responsibility orders

When a national definition of out-of-home care was implemented in 2018–19, children on third party parental responsibility orders were excluded from out-of-home care as the minister or executive no longer has guardianship of children on these orders (see Technical notes for more details). Children on third party parental responsibility orders are considered to have achieved a more permanent arrangement (AIHW 2021).

As at 30 June 2020:

  • there were 4,900 (2.7 per 1,000) young people on third-party parental responsibility orders
  • the rate was slightly lower for males than for females (2.6 and 2.8 per 1,000)
  • the rate was the same for 12–14 year olds and 15–17 year olds (2.7 per 1,000 for both).

Has the number of young people living in out-of-home care changed over time?

Between 30 June 2017 and 30 June 2020, and based on the nationally consistent definition implemented in 2018–19, among young people aged 12-17 in out-of-home care:

  • the number increased from 13,900 to 16,100, while the rate also increased slightly from 8.1 to 8.8 per 1,000 young people (Figure 1)
  • the rate increased for both males (from 8.0 to 8.7 per 1,000) and females (from 8.1 to 8.9)
  • the rate increased for both those aged 12–14 (from 9.1 to 9.3 per 1,000) and those aged 15–17 (from 7.1 to 8.3).

It should be noted that these data cover all young people in out-of-home care on a snapshot day (30 June), including those who are in out-of-home care as at 30 June for multiple years.

This increase follows a longer term trend between 2013 and 2017 of increasing numbers and rates of all children and young people in out-of-home care observed in state/territory data that used a number of different definitions and are not directly comparable (AIHW 2018).

Figure 1: Young people aged 12–17 in out-of-home care, as at 30 June 2017 to 30 June 2020

The column chart shows that between 30 June 2017 and 30 June 2020, the rate per 1,000 young people in out-of-home for those aged 12–14 rose slightly from 9.1 to 9.3. The rate for those aged 15–17 rose from 7.1 to 8.3. The overall rate for those aged 12–17 rose from 8.1 to 8.8.

Note: While the number of young people reported in out-of-home care is increasing over time, the numbers presented here cannot reflect that some young people are entering the system at younger ages and being put on orders earlier, and so staying in the system longer.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: AIHW Child Protection data collection 2019–20.

Is there variation by population group?

The rate of young people in out-of-home care increased with remoteness.

As at 30 June 2020, over half of young people aged 12–17 living in out-of-home care were in Major cities (54% or 8,300) compared with 42% (6,500) in Inner and outer regional areas and 3.5% (530) in Remote and very remote areas.

However, based on a comparison of rates per 1,000 young people, as at 30 June 2020, the rate was lowest in Major cities (6.7 per 1,000 young people), compared with that for:

  • Inner and outer regional areas where it was almost twice as high (13 per 1,000)
  • Remote and very remote areas where was more than twice as high (14.6 per 1,000).

For the jurisdictions with available data (disability status data were not available for South Australia), it was estimated that 20% of young people aged 12–17 living in out-of-home care had disability. This proportion is higher than that for young people with disability in the general population, at 9.3% (AIHW 2020b). However, the disability status of 37% of young people was unknown (see also Technical notes).

Work is currently underway to better identify children with disability in the Child Protection National Minimum Data Set.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are over-represented among those in out-of-home care. At 30 June 2020, about 8,600 Indigenous children aged 10–17 were in out of home care. For those aged 10–14 the rate was 63 per 1,000 Indigenous children—11 times the rate for non-Indigenous children. For those aged 15–17, it was 52 per 1000 Indigenous children—9.3 times the rate for non-Indigenous children. For more information, see AIHW 2021.

A target under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap is by 2031, to reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent.

How do living arrangements differ for young people in out‑of-home care?

A child can be placed in 5 main types of out-of-home care: home-based care, residential care, independent living, family group homes, and other. As at 30 June 2020, of young people aged 12–17 in out-of-home care:

  • the majority (83% or a rate of 7.3 per 1,000 young people) were living in home-based care. The proportion was higher among those aged 12–14 (88% or a rate of 8.1 per 1,000) than among those aged 15–17 (77% or a rate of 6.4) (Figure 2)
  • 14% (or a rate of 1.3 per 1,000) were living in residential care. The proportion was 1.7 times as high among those aged 15–17 (19% or a rate of 1.6 per 1,000) as among those aged 12–14 (11% or a rate of 1.0)
  • 1.1% (or a rate of 0.1 per 1,000) of young people were in independent living.

Figure 2: Type of care for young people aged 12–17 living in out-of-home care, as at 30 June 2020

The bar chart shows that as at 30 June 2020, the most common type of care for young people aged 12–14 and 15–17 was home-based care, followed by residential care.

Chart: AIHW.
Source: AIHW Child Protection data collection 2019–20.

Among young people living in home-based care:

  • relative/kinship care was the most common type of care (4.4 per 1,000 young people). It was also the most common type of care for both those aged 12–14 and those aged 15–17 (4.8 and 3.9, respectively)
  • 2.8 per 1,000 were in foster care (rates of 3.2 and 2.3, respectively, per 1,000 for those aged 12–14 and those aged 15–17).

Box 3: Transitioning from out-of-home care to independence

The 2018 second national survey of the views of young people aged 8–17 in out-of-home care asked those aged 15–17 about their perceptions of the adequacy of the assistance they were receiving to prepare them for adult life.

Young people were asked 9 questions. These included 8 life domains to be considered in transitioning planning under the Transitioning from out-of-home care to independence: a nationally consistent approach to planning (the National Approach).

Among young people aged 15–17:

  • nearly two-thirds (64%) reported they were getting as much help as they needed to make decisions about their future, while a further 26% reported they were getting some help but wanted more
  • the proportion who reported they were getting as much help as they needed varied across the 8 life domains of the National Approach, ranging from 56% (for staying in touch with culture and religion, for those aged 15-16 only) to 82% (for keeping healthy) (Figure 3) (see AIHW 2019 for more details).

Figure 3: Young people in care, aged 15-17, by self-reported adequacy of leaving care assistance, 2018

The bar chart shows that in 2018 the self-reported adequacy of leaving care assistance was highest across all 9 measures for 17 year olds compared with 15 and 16 year olds. For young people aged 15–17, the proportion who reported they were getting as much help as they needed varied across 8 life domains, ranged from 56%25 (for staying in touch with culture and religion, for those aged 15-16 only) to 82%25 (for keeping healthy).

Notes:

  1. The figure includes young people who reported they were getting ‘as much help as I need’ across the 8 life domains to be considered in transition planning as identified in Transitioning from out-of-home care to independence: a nationally consistent approach to planning (FaHCSIA 2011).
  2. Young people with ‘not stated’ and ‘Does not apply to me’ are excluded from each domain.
  3. The bars in this figure are not mutually exclusive.
  4. The value for ‘staying in touch with culture and religion’ for 17 year olds is not published due to concerns about the reliability of the data.

Chart: AIHW.
Source: AIHW 2019.

Have the views of young people in out-of-home care changed over time?

Between 2015 (the first national survey) and 2018, among those aged 15–17:

  • the proportion who reported they were getting as much help as they needed to make decisions about their future rose from 58% in 2015 to 64% in 2018
  • the range of those who reported they were getting as much help as they needed across the 8 life domains of the National Approach widened from 60–80% to 56–82%.

These finding are based on data from a relatively small number of respondents so should be interpreted with caution, as results may be subject to higher levels of sampling variability (AIHW 2019).

Income support for children transitioning from out-of-home care

Young people who have been in out-of-home care face greater vulnerability and a higher risk of experiencing poor outcomes in a range of areas important to their wellbeing. However, there is limited national data that provide insights on the transition from out-of-home care to independence. AIHW has been working with Australian federal, state and territory governments in building a national linked data asset that brings together Australian government (Centrelink) data with state and territory out-of-home care administrative data. This study has provided new insights on income support receipt for young people who have been in out-of-home care, which provides an indication of their broader life circumstances leading up to and after leaving care. It can indicate, for example, those who require support while pursuing higher education, who are looking for work or are unable to work due to disability or caring responsibilities, or are experiencing personal crises such as family violence or contact with the justice system. Such information can be used to inform better policy, practice and support services for young people as they transition from care to independence. For more information, see Income support receipt for young people transitioning from out-of-home care.

Where do I find more information?

For information on Indigenous young people and out-of-home care, see:

For information on children and out-of-home care, see:

For more detailed information on young people and child protection services, see:

 


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