Young people in out-of-home care
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Young people in out-of-home care, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 01 October 2023.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Young people in out-of-home care. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/young-people
Young people in out-of-home care. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/young-people
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Young people in out-of-home care [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2023 Oct. 1]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/young-people
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Young people in out-of-home care, viewed 1 October 2023, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/young-people
Get citations as an Endnote file: Endnote
On this page:
- Key findings
- How many young people receive child protection services?
- How many young people live in out-of-home care?
- Has the number of young people living in out-of-home care changed over time?
- Is there variation by population group?
- How do living arrangements differ for young people in out‑of-home care?
- Where do I find more information?
- Technical notes
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
Source: AIHW Child Protection data collection 2019–20.
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.
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
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 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).
- Young people with ‘not stated’ and ‘Does not apply to me’ are excluded from each domain.
- The bars in this figure are not mutually exclusive.
- 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.
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.
For information on Indigenous young people and out-of-home care, see:
- The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle Indicators 2018–19: measuring progress
- Section 8.8, Child protection and out-of-home care in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing 2018
- Measure 2.12, Child protection in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) 2020.
For information on children and out-of-home care, see:
- Children in non-parental care in Australia’s children
- National Standards Indicators for Out-of-home Care, under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children
- The views of children and young people in out-of-home care: overview of indicator results from second national survey, 2018.
For more detailed information on young people and child protection services, see:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Personal safety, Australia, 2016: characteristics and outcomes of childhood abuse. ABS cat. no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 25 June 2019.
AIFS (Australian Institute of Family Studies) 2014. Effects of child abuse and neglect for children and adolescents. Melbourne: AIFS. Viewed 22 May 2019.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2018. Child protection Australia: 2016–17. Child welfare series no. 68. Cat. no. CWS 63. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 30 April 2021.
AIHW 2019. The views of children and young people in out-of-home care: overview of indicator results from the second national survey 2018. Cat. no. CWS 68. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 30 April 2021.
AIHW 2020a. Child protection Australia 2018–19. Child welfare series no. 72. Cat. no. CWS 74. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 30 April 2021.
AIHW 2020b. People with disability in Australia. Cat. no. DIS 72. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 April 2021.
AIHW 2020c. Young people under youth justice supervision and in child protection 2018–19. Data linkage series no. 26. Cat. no. CSI 28. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 30 April 2021.
AIHW 2021. Child protection Australia 2019–20. Cat. no. CWS 78. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 18 May 2021.
FaHCSIA 2011. Transitioning from out-of-home care to independence: a nationally consistent approach to planning. Canberra: FaHCSIA.
- The child protection system
- Notification: Contact made to an authorised department by people or other bodies alleging child abuse or neglect, child maltreatment, or harm to a child.
- Investigation: The process whereby the relevant department obtains more detailed information about a child who is the subject of a notification received between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020. Departmental staff assess the harm, or degree of harm, to the child, and their protective needs. An investigation includes sighting or interviewing the child where it is practical to do so.
- Substantiation of notification: Child protection notification made to relevant authorities during the current year (for example, 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2019) that was investigated (with the investigation finalised by 31 August), and where it was concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe that the child had been, was being, or was likely to be, abused, neglected, or otherwise harmed. Substantiation does not necessarily require sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution, and does not imply that treatment or case management was provided. Substantiations may also include cases where there is no suitable caregiver, such as children who have been abandoned, or whose parents are deceased.
- Care and protection order: A legal order or arrangement that gives child protection departments some responsibility for a child’s welfare.
- Finalised third-party parental responsibility order: An order transferring all duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority to which parents are entitled by law to a nominated person(s) whom the court considers appropriate. The nominated person may be an individual, such as a relative, or an officer of the state or territory department responsible for child protection. Third-party parental responsibility may be ordered in the event that a parent is unable to care for a child, with parental responsibility then transferred to a relative, or other nominated person. Finalised third-party parental responsibility orders can be a long-term order or a short-term order.
- Types of out-of-home care placements
- home-based care (accommodation in the home of a nominated and approved carer such as a relative/kin or foster carer)
- residential care (accommodation in a residential building with paid staff).
- independent living (accommodation as a private boarder or part of a lead tenant household with the department retaining oversight of their welfare)
- family group homes (accommodation in a home provided by a department of community-sector agency with live-in, carers who are subsidised or reimbursed for providing care)
- other (accommodation such as disability services, boarding schools, hospitals or hotel/motels) (For more information, see AIHW 2020a).
- Remoteness areas relate to the out-of-home care living arrangement, and not the remoteness area at notification.
- Disability status
- As disability is a multidimensional and complex concept, differences may exist across jurisdictions in how disability is defined, including which health conditions are classified as a disability. There are also differences in how information about disability is captured in jurisdictional processes and client information systems.
- In 2019–20, the Australian Capital Territory implemented a new system which does not currently capture ‘Not Stated’ for disability. Australian Capital Territory counts for ’Not Stated’ are included in the ‘No Disability’ category. The Australian Capital Territory is looking to re-introduce reporting of ‘Not Stated’ disability status in the future.
- Being admitted to out-of-home care
- Admissions includes all children admitted to out-of-home care for the first time, as well as those children returning to care who had exited care 60 days or more previously. Children admitted to out-of-home care more than once during the year were counted only at the first admission.
- Exiting out-of-home care
- The data for children exiting care include those who left care and had not returned in less than 60 days. Where a child exits care more than once during the year, the last discharge is counted
- Children who were discharged from care on their 18th birthday are included in the 15–17 age category.
- Type of care
- Where a child is placed with a relative who is also fully registered to provide foster care for other children, the child is counted in the ‘Foster care’ category for Victoria and the Northern Territory; the child is counted in the ‘Relatives/kin’ category in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Relatives/kin in some jurisdictions undergo assessment, registration and review processes similar to those for foster carers under the national definition and are considered as (relative) foster carers in local practice, policy and reporting.
- For Tasmania, data quality issues arising from inconsistent recording of placement types means numbers of children reported as being in residential, non-residential and other types of placements, should be interpreted with caution.
- In the Northern Territory, ‘Other home-based care’ includes children placed with family day care providers.
Return to Australia's youth: