Children on care and protection orders

Care and protection orders (CPOs) are legal orders or arrangements that place some responsibility for a child’s welfare with child protection authorities. In Australia, state and territory governments are responsible for child protection and these departments assist vulnerable children and young people to protect them from abuse, neglect or other harm or where their parents are unable to provide adequate care or protection (AIHW 2019a).

While not specifically about those on care and protection orders, children and young people, as well as those exiting institutions and care into homelessness are national priority cohorts for homelessness identified in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement which came into effect on 1 July 2018 (CFFR 2018) (see Policy section for more information).

Between 2013–14 and 2017–18, the rate of children on care and protection orders increased from 8.7 per 1,000 children to 10.1 per 1,000 children (AIHW 2019a). Of the 56,400 children on care and protection orders at 30 June 2018, most were living in out-of-home care, either with relative/kinship carers (38%) or in foster care (31%).  While many children are moved into out-of-home care, others remain living at home with family support provided by community-based agencies.

Pathways into homelessness for children on care and protection orders is complex. For example, children and young people who are exposed to persistent violence, abuse and neglect in their family homes but are not removed by child protection authorities may become homeless, as they are no longer prepared to live in these households (Noble-Carr & Trew 2018). Children with unsatisfactory foster care arrangements can either voluntarily move out of their foster home into homelessness or can be placed in residential care settings by child protection authorities.

Family and domestic violence is one of the main reasons that families at risk of homelessness seek assistance from SHS agencies. It is also one of the leading reasons for statutory intervention, indicating that child protection and SHS agencies often work with the same families and children (MICAH Projects 2016). Linked data has been used to describe the characteristics of children and young people who received both child protection (an investigated notification, care and protection order or out-of-home care) and specialist homelessness services (AIHW 2016). Compared with an equivalent cohort who only accessed specialist homelessness services, children who accessed both child protection and specialist homelessness services were more likely to have experienced family and domestic violence (54%, compared with 44%). For more information about children on care and protection orders, see Child protection Australia 2017–18.

Key findings

  • In 2018–19, almost 9,200 children and young people on a CPO received assistance from a specialist homelessness services (SHS) agency, and just over half (51%) were female.
  • Around 6 in 10 (59%) of these clients on a CPO were aged 0–9 and males were more likely to be in this age group (62% of male clients, compared with 55% of females).
  • Almost half (47%) had experienced family and domestic violence and 39% had reported a current mental health issue.
  • More than half (54%) of clients on a CPO had received assistance from a SHS agency at some point since the collection began in 2011–12.
  • The most common care type arrangements for clients on a CPO were ‘parents’ (63%) and ‘relative(s)/kin who are reimbursed’ (13%).
  • The proportion of children on a CPO who were homeless decreased from 49% to 34% following SHS support, with clients living in public or community housing increasing from 16% at the beginning of support to 27% at the end of support.
  • Less than 1 in 5 (16%) of those with a case management plan achieved all the set goals, lower than young people (aged 15–24) who presented to SHS agencies alone (20%) and the overall SHS population (25%).

Reporting children on care and protection orders in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)

A client is reported as being under a care and protection order (CPO) if they are aged under 18 and have provided any of the following information in any support period during the reporting period.

They reported that they were under a CPO and had the following care arrangements:

  • residential care
  • family group home
  • relatives/kin/friends who are reimbursed
  • foster care
  • other home-based care (reimbursed)
  • relatives/kin/friends who are not reimbursed
  • independent living
  • other living arrangements
  • parents, or

They have reported ‘transition from foster care/child safety residential placements’ as a reason for seeking assistance or the main reason for seeking assistance. For more information, see Technical notes.

Client characteristics

In 2018–19 (Table CPO.1):

  • SHS agencies assisted almost 9,200 children on a CPO, representing an increase of 500 clients from 2017–18.
  • Children on a CPO made up 3% of the overall SHS population and 11% of all SHS clients aged 0–18.
  • The rate of children on a CPO receiving assistance from SHS agencies was 3.7 per 10,000 population, increasing from 3.5 in 2017–18.
Table CPO.1: Children on care and protection orders: at a glance—2015–16 to 2018–19

 

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18 2018-19

Number of clients

9,305

9,100

8,669 9,172

Proportion of all clients

3

3

3 3

Rate (per 10,000 population)

3.9

3.8

3.5 3.7

Housing situation at the beginning of the first support period (proportion (per cent) of all clients)

Homeless

50

51

51 50

At risk of homelessness

50

49

49 50

Length of support (median number of days)

86

98

97 95

Average number of support periods per client

1.7

1.7

1.8 1.8

Proportion receiving accommodation

55

53

51 49

Median number of nights accommodated

68

69

66 62

Proportion of a client group with a case management plan

86

84

85 85

Achievement of all case management goals (per cent)

18

15

17 16

Notes

  1. Rates are crude rates based on the Australian estimated resident population (ERP) at 30 June of the reference year. Minor adjustments in rates may occur between publications reflecting revision of the estimated resident population by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  2. The denominator for the proportion receiving accommodation is all SHS clients on a care and protection order. Denominator values for proportions are provided in the relevant supplementary table.
  3. The denominator for the proportion achieving all case management goals is the number of client groups with a case management plan. Denominator values for proportions are provided in the relevant supplementary table.
  4. Due to changes in the reporting of children on a care and protection order in 2015–16, as detailed in the online technical information, data are not comparable with previous years.
  5. Data for 2015–16 to 2016–17 have been adjusted for non-response. Due to improvements in the rates of agency participation and SLK validity, data from 2017–18 are not weighted. The removal of weighting does not constitute a break in time series and weighted data from 2015–16 to 2016–17 are comparable with unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards. For further information, please refer to the Technical Notes.
  6. In 2017–18, age and age-related variables were derived using a more robust calculation method. Data for previous years have been updated with the improved calculation method for age. As such, data prior to 2017–18 contained in the SHS Annual Report may not match that contained in the SHS Annual Report Historical Tables.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015–16 to 2018–19.

Age and sex

In 2018–19, of clients on a CPO (Supplementary table CPO.1):

  • Half were female (51% or over 4,700 clients).
  • The majority were aged 0–9 (59% or more than 5,400 clients), followed by those aged 15–17 (21% or almost 2,000 clients).
  • Male clients on a CPO were more likely to be in the 0–9 age group (62%, compared with 55% females) while female clients were more likely to be in the 15–17 age group (25%, compared with 18% males).  

Indigenous status

One in 3 children on a CPO identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (36% or almost 3,200 clients), higher than the overall SHS population (25%).

State and territory and remoteness

  • The largest number of clients on a CPO accessed services in Victoria (41% or almost 3,800 clients), followed by New South Wales (30% or nearly 2,800 clients).
  • The highest rate of clients on a CPO was in the Northern Territory (17 clients per 10,000 population), followed by Victoria (6 clients per 10,000).
  • The majority of children on a CPO accessed services in Major cities (61% or over 5,600 clients), followed by Inner regional areas (21% or around 1,900 clients).

Living arrangements

  • The most commonly reported living arrangement among children on a CPO was a single parent with one or more children (55% or nearly 4,900 clients), followed by other family (17% or almost 1,500 clients).
  • A higher proportion of male clients on a CPO reported their living arrangement as single parent with one or more children (57%, compared with 52% females).

Care arrangement type

  • The most common care arrangement among clients on a CPO was parents (63% or 5,800 clients), followed by relative(s)/kin who are reimbursed (13% or almost 1,200 clients).
  • Most clients aged 0–9 had parents as their care arrangement (74% or almost 4,000 clients), followed by relative(s)/kin who are reimbursed (13% or 700 clients).
  • Among clients aged 15–17, similar proportions had parents (29% or almost 600 clients), independent living (24% or almost 500 clients) and other living arrangements (23% or nearly 500 clients) as care arrangements.
  • Clients who received SHS assistance in Remote/Very remote areas were more likely to have family group home as their care arrangement (16%, compared with Major cities 3%, Inner regional 3% and Outer regional 9% areas).

Selected vulnerabilities

Children on a CPO may face additional vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to becoming homeless, in particular family and domestic violence, a current mental health issue and problematic drug and/or alcohol use.

In 2018–19, of the 3,800 clients on a CPO who were aged 10 and over, 2 in 3 (66%) reported experiencing one or more of these vulnerabilities (Table CPO.2):

  • Almost half (47% or 1,800 clients) had experienced family and domestic violence.
  • One-quarter (24% or 900 clients) reported only experiencing family and domestic violence while an additional 16% (600 clients) reported both a current mental health issue and family and domestic violence.
  • Nearly 2 in 5 (39% or almost 1,500 clients) reported a current mental health issue.
  • Around 1 in 10 (12% or almost 500 clients) reported problematic drug and/or alcohol use.
  • 6% (more than 200 clients) reported experiencing all 3 vulnerabilities.
Table CPO.2: Children with a care and protection order, by selected vulnerability characteristics, 2018–19

Family and domestic violence

Mental health issue

Problematic drug
and/or alcohol use

Clients

Per cent

Yes

Yes

Yes

240

6.3

Yes

Yes

No

594

15.6

Yes

No

Yes

66

1.7

No

Yes

Yes

110

2.9

Yes

No

No

901

23.7

No

Yes

No

537

14.1

No

No

Yes

58

1.5

No

No

No

1,296

34.1

 

 

 

42,960

100.0

Notes

  1. Clients are assigned to one category only based on their vulnerability profile.
  2. Clients are aged 10 and over.
  3. Totals may not sum due to rounding.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19.

Service use patterns

  • Children on a CPO who received assistance from SHS agencies in 2018–19 had a median of 95 days of support and an average of 1.8 support periods per client.
  • 1 in 2 (49%) clients on a CPO were provided with accommodation with a median of 62 nights of accommodation.

New or returning clients

More than half of the children on a CPO (54% or over 4,900 clients) were returning clients, having received assistance from a SHS agency at some point since the collection began in 2011–12. Returning clients were more likely than new clients to be aged 10–17 (44%, compared with 39%), while new clients were more likely to be aged 0-9 years (61% compared with 56% of returning clients).

Main reasons for seeking assistance

In 2018–19, the main reasons for seeking assistance among children on a CPO were:

  • family and domestic violence (36% or almost 3,300 clients)
  • housing crisis (21% or more than 1,900 clients)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (8% or over 700 clients).

Clients on a CPO who were known to be homeless at first presentation were more likely to identify housing crisis as their main reason for seeking assistance (28%, compared with 17% at risk). For those known to be at risk of homelessness, family and domestic violence was the most commonly reported main reason for seeking assistance among children on a CPO (42%, compared with 27% homeless).

Services needed and provided

Similar to the overall SHS population, most children on a CPO needed general services that were provided by SHS agencies including advice/information, advocacy/liaison on behalf of client and other basic assistance.

Apart from these, the most common services needed by children on a CPO were:

  • short-term or emergency accommodation (46% or over 4,200 clients), with 76% of those needing this service also receiving this service
  • assistance for family/domestic violence (41% or more than 3,700 clients), with 92% receiving this service
  • medium-term/transitional housing (36% or almost 3,300 clients), with 50% receiving this service
  • long-term housing (36% or nearly 3,300 clients), with 3% receiving this service.

Children on a CPO were also more likely than the overall SHS population to need services including:

  • family/relationship assistance (34%, compared with 18%), with 85% receiving this service
  • living skills/personal development (30%, compared with 19%), with 91% receiving this service
  • child protection services (25%, compared with 5%), with 71% receiving this service
  • assistance with challenging social/behavioural problems (24%, compared with 1%), with 86% receiving this service
  • assistance for trauma (23%, compared with 4%), with 82% receiving this service

The majority (85%) of children on a CPO had a case management plan. However, only 16% of those with a case management plan achieved all the set goals. The proportion of children on a CPO who achieved all case management goals was lower than that in the overall SHS population (25%).

Outcomes at the end of support

Outcomes presented here describe the change in clients’ housing situation between the start and end of support. Data is limited to clients who ceased receiving support during the financial year—meaning that their support periods had closed and they did not have ongoing support at the end of the year.

Many clients had long periods of support or even multiple support periods during 2018–19. They may have had a number of changes in their housing situation over the course of their support. These changes within the year are not reflected in the data presented here, rather the client situation at the start of their first support period in 2018–19 is compared with the end of their last support period in 2018–19. A proportion of these clients may have sought assistance prior to 2018–19, and may again in the future.

At the end of the reporting period in 2018–19:

  • The proportion of children on a CPO who were known to be homeless decreased from 49% at the beginning of support to 35% at the end of support; 800 fewer clients were homeless following support (Table CPO.3).
  • The shift in the proportion of couch surfers accounted for much of the decrease in the proportion of clients who were homeless; the proportion of clients living in a house, townhouse or flat as a ‘couch surfer’ with no tenure dropped from 18% to 11% following support, while the proportion staying in short-term temporary accommodation decreased from 27% to 21%.
  • The largest change at the end of support was in the proportion of clients living in public or community housing, which increased from 16% to 27% at the end of support (or over 500 clients).

These trends demonstrate that by the end of support, many clients have achieved or progressed towards a more positive housing solution. That is, clients ending support in public or community housing (renter or rent-free), private or other housing (renter or rent-free) or institutional settings had increased compared with the start of support.

Table CPO.3: Children with a care and protection order (closed support), by housing situation at the beginning and end of support, 2018–19

Housing situation

Beginning of support
(number)

End of
support
(number)

Beginning of support
(per cent)

End of
support
(per cent)

No shelter or improvised/inadequate dwelling
258 112 5.0 2.2
Short term temporary accommodation 1,384 1,072 26.7 21.0

House, townhouse or flat - couch surfer or with no tenure

912

569

17.6

11.2

Total homeless 2,554 1,753 49.2 34.4

Public or community housing - renter or rent free

849

1,378

16.4

27.0

Private or other housing - renter, rent free or owner

1,702

1,905

32.8

37.3

Institutional settings

81

65

1.6

1.3

Total at risk

2,632

3,348

50.8

65.6

Total clients with known housing situation 5,186 5,101 100.0 100.0
Not stated/other 943 1,028    

Total clients

6,129

6,129

 

 

Notes

  1. Percentages have been calculated using total number of clients as the denominator (less not stated/other).
  2. It is important to note that individual clients beginning support in one housing type need not necessarily be the same individuals ending support in that housing type.
  3. Not stated/other includes those clients whose housing situation at either the beginning or end of support was unknown.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection. Supplementary table CPO.4.

Housing outcomes for homeless versus at risk clients

For clients with a known housing status who were at risk of homelessness at the start of support (more than 2,400 clients), by the end of support (Interactive Tableau visualisation):

  • Almost half (around 1,200 clients or 49%) were in private housing
  • Around 800 clients (33%) were in public housing.

For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (just over 2,300 clients):

  • 700 clients (31%) ended support in short term accommodation
  • 600 (26%) ended support in private housing.

More than 400 clients (19%) were couch surfing at the end of support.

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2016. Vulnerable young people: interactions across homelessness, youth justice and child protection—1 July 2011 to 30 June 2015. Cat. no. HOU 279. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019a. Child protection Australia 2017–18. Cat. no. CWS 65. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019b. The views of children and young people in out-of-home care: overview of indicator results from the second national survey 2018. Cat. no. CQS 68. Canberra: AIHW.

CFFR (Council on Federal Financial Relations) 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Viewed 3 October 2019,

MICAH Projects 2016. Families caught in the homelessness and child protection cycle: a supportive housing model for keeping families together. Brisbane: Common Ground Queensland.

Noble-Carr D & Trew S 2018. “Nowhere to go”: investigating homelessness experiences of 12–15 year olds in the Australian Capital Territory. Canberra: Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University.