Every year, thousands of children and adolescents across Australia present to an Emergency Department (ED) or are hospitalised for an injury or poisoning incident. As children grow and develop, they are at greater risk of different mechanisms of injury.

In 2020–21, there were 603,675 ED presentations and 88,766 injury hospitalisations that occurred amongst children and adolescents across Australia. This represented 28% of all ED presentations, and 8.3% of hospitalisations among children. Some age groups are predisposed to certain types and causes of injury compared to adults, such as head injuries, or drowning and submersion injuries. This report presents child and adolescent injury as a whole, as well as comparing individual stages of childhood development with adults to identify key areas of injury prevention for this population.

Key findings

  • Boys made up the majority of injury ED presentations (353,245 cases, 58%) and hospitalisations (54,020 cases, 61%).
  • Children aged 1–4 are most likely to have an ED presentation, while adolescents aged 16–18 are more likely to be hospitalised for an injury.
  • First Nations children, and children living in remote parts of Australia experience disproportionately higher rates of childhood injury.
  • Falls and contact with objects were the top 2 causes of injury hospitalisation among children and adolescents.
  • Where specified, fractures and open wounds were the most common type of injury across ED presentations and injury hospitalisations.
    • Over a third of injury hospitalisations were for fractures (36%).
  • The ‘head and neck’ was the leading site of injury for injury ED presentations and hospitalisations (29%)
  • Where specified, the most common place of occurrence was the home (45%) where:
    • 9 in 10 injuries were amongst infants aged under one (91%)
    • 3 in 4 were amongst children aged 1–4 (74%)
  • Sports and active recreation contributed to around 1 in 5 injury hospitalisations (21%)
  • Children are at greater risk of certain causes and types of injury according to developmental stage:
    • The same cause of injury can present differently across age groups – infants are most likely to experience near-drowning in bathtubs, toddlers and preschoolers are more at risk around swimming pools, while older adolescents experience the highest rates of injury in natural water (such as lakes, rivers, and the ocean).
    • Infants had the highest rate of injury hospitalisation caused by choking and suffocation amongst children, and were 7.5 times more likely than adults to be hospitalised.
    • Head and neck injuries made up 70% of infant injury hospitalisations, and 63% of injury ED presentations.
    • Children aged 1–4 were over 14 times more likely than adults to be hospitalised for injuries caused by drowning and submersion, while children aged 5–9 were 2.8 times more likely.
    • Children aged 10–12 have no causes where they experience significantly higher rates of injury compared to adults.
    • Adolescents aged 16–18 were 1.6 times more likely than adults to be hospitalised for injuries caused by transport, while adolescents aged 13–15 were 1.4 times more likely.
    • Adolescents aged 13–18 are 3.4 times more likely than adults to be hospitalised for injuries caused by intentional self-harm. Over 4 in 5 of these hospitalisations were for girls.