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4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2008  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 29/04/2008   
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Contents >> Community Services >> CHILD PROTECTION

CHILD PROTECTION

Each state and territory has a department which is responsible for child protection services. Children who come into contact with these departments for protective reasons include those:

  • who have been abused, neglected or otherwise harmed
  • whose parents cannot provide adequate care or protection.

Children who are seen to be in need of protection can come to the attention of child protection authorities through a report by an individual or organisation, or by the children themselves. Reports of suspected abuse or neglect can lead to the matter being dealt with as a family support issue (whereupon services will be provided) or as a child protection notification. Departments then determine if a notification requires an investigation or is better dealt with by other means, such as referral to other organisations or family support services. If an investigation is carried out, the outcome can be a substantiation, meaning that the investigating authority concludes that the child has been, is being, or is likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed. A range of services may then be provided to the child and the child's family.

The departments provide assistance to these children through the provision of, or referral to, a wide range of services. Non-government agencies are often contracted by the departments to provide these services which range from family support to the placement of children in out-of-home care.

In more serious cases, the department may also apply to the relevant court to place a child under a care and protection order. Care and protection orders vary between jurisdictions but can provide for a supervisory role for the department or transfer of legal guardianship to the department. The issuing of a care and protection order is often a legal requirement if a child is to be placed in out-of-home care. This option can be used to protect the child from further harm, where there is family conflict and 'time out' is needed, or where parents are ill or unable to care for the child.

The three areas of child protection services for which national data are collected are:
  • child protection notifications, investigations and substantiations
  • children on care and protection orders
  • children in out-of-home care.

Each state and territory has its own legislation, policies and practices in relation to child protection, so the data provided by jurisdictions are not strictly comparable, and national data are limited. This is particularly the case with the data on notifications, investigations and substantiations, where jurisdictions use different definitions and processes (AIHW 2007d). It is also worth noting that the quality of Indigenous data varies across jurisdictions due to differences in the practices used to identify and record the Indigenous status of children and young people in the child protection system.


Substantiations

In 2005-06, the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were the subject of a child protection substantiation were substantially higher than the rates for other children in all jurisdictions except Tasmania (table 11.2). Data for Tasmania, however, should be interpreted with caution due to the low incidence of child protection workers recording Indigenous status at the time of the substantiation.

11.2 CHILDREN WHO WERE THE SUBJECT OF A CHILD PROTECTION SUBSTANTIATION(a), by Indigenous status - 2005-06

Number of children
Rate per 1,000 children(b)
Indigenous
Other(c)
Total
Indigenous
Other(c)
Total
Rate ratio(d)
State/territory
no.
no.
no.
rate
rate
rate
ratio

New South Wales
2 696
9 931
12 627
44.2
6.9
8.4
6.4
Victoria
834
6 453
7 287
67.7
6.0
6.7
11.3
Queensland
1 340
8 737
10 077
23.0
10.1
10.9
2.3
Western Australia
316
603
919
10.9
1.4
2.0
7.8
South Australia
360
1 101
1 461
32.3
3.5
4.5
9.2
Tasmania(e)
34
635
669
4.4
6.2
6.1
0.7
Australian Capital Territory
99
754
853
56.8
10.9
12.0
5.2
Northern Territory
354
108
462
15.2
3.2
8.1
4.8

(a) Aged 0-16 years.
(b) Based on ABS 'low series' population projections.
(c) Includes children for whom Indigenous status was not stated.
(d) The rate for Indigenous children divided by the rate for other children.
(e) Data should be interpreted with caution due to the high proportion of investigations not finalised by 31 August 2006 (the cut-off date for the processing of investigations for inclusion in the data for that year).
Source: AIHW 2007d


Substantiations are classified into one of the following four categories depending on the main type of abuse or neglect that has occurred: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect. While more than one type of abuse or neglect may be recorded, only the most serious type of abuse or neglect for the first substantiation of the year for each child is reported. Thus, it is difficult to measure the real patterns of abuse or neglect that each child may experience. The precise definition of type of abuse or neglect, as well as the types of incidences that may be substantiated, vary according to the policies and practices of the different jurisdictions.

The pattern of substantiated abuse and neglect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children differs somewhat from the pattern for other children. Indigenous children were more likely to be the subject of a substantiation of neglect than other children. For example, in Western Australia 40% of Indigenous children in substantiations were the subject of a substantiation of neglect, compared with 30% of other children (table 11.3). However, other Australian children were more likely than Indigenous children to have substantiations where the main type of abuse was sexual. For example, in New South Wales, 17% of other Australian children had substantiations where the main type of abuse was sexual abuse, compared with 9% of Indigenous children. Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory had a relatively high proportion of substantiations that were classified as 'emotional abuse' for both Indigenous and other children.

11.3 CHILDREN WHO WERE THE SUBJECT OF A CHILD PROTECTION SUBSTANTIATION(a), by type of abuse or neglect and Indigenous status - 2005-06

Type of abuse or neglect
NSW
Vic.
Qld
WA
SA
Tas.(b)
ACT(b)
NT

Indigenous children

Physical abuse
17.5
20.7
20.7
27.4
14.7
26.5
7.1
33.1
Sexual abuse
9.2
5.6
4.2
16.4
5.8
2.9
-
4.2
Emotional abuse
37.0
49.3
36.2
16.1
36.1
23.5
69.7
28.4
Neglect
36.3
24.3
38.9
40.1
43.3
47.1
23.2
34.3
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

Other children

Physical abuse
21.5
25.1
22.1
28.6
25.9
22.2
9.0
31.5
Sexual abuse
16.7
9.4
6.6
23.6
9.7
12.5
3.3
9.3
Emotional abuse
38.1
43.1
42.4
17.9
32.1
26.9
71.8
37.0
Neglect
23.6
22.5
28.8
29.9
32.3
38.5
15.9
22.2
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Children aged 0-17 years.
(b) The proportion of Indigenous children who were the subject of a substantiation in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory should be interpreted with caution due to small numbers in these jurisdictions.
Source: AIHW 2007d



Care and protection orders and out-of-home care

The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being placed on care and protection orders and in out-of-home care was around seven times the rate for other Australian children (table 11.4). The rate ratios varied considerably by jurisdiction and were highest in Victoria (12.3 for children on care and protection orders and 11.4 for children in out-of-home care) and lowest in Tasmania (2.3 for children on care and protection orders and 2.2 for children in out-of-home care). Again, however, it should be noted that data from Tasmania should be interpreted with caution due to the low incidence of child protection workers recording Indigenous status at the time of the substantiation.

11.4 CHILDREN ON CARE AND PROTECTION ORDERS AND IN OUT-OF-HOME CARE(a), by Indigenous status - 30 June 2006

Care and protection orders
Out-of-home care
State/Territory
Indigenous
Other(b)
Rate ratio(c)
Indigenous
Other(b)
Rate ratio(c)

New South Wales
37.2
4.5
8.3
44.7
4.6
9.7
Victoria
56.4
4.6
12.3
42.1
3.7
11.4
Queensland
26.7
5.2
5.1
24.0
4.7
5.1
Western Australia
31.8
3.9
8.2
30.2
3.4
8.9
South Australia
25.8
2.7
9.6
24.8
2.6
9.5
Tasmania(d)
15.2
6.5
2.3
11.9
5.4
2.2
Australian Capital Territory
12.2
3.8
3.2
10.0
3.0
3.3
Northern Territory
53.3
6.2
8.6
43.7
4.1
10.7
Australia
29.9
4.5
6.6
29.8
4.1
7.3

(a) Rates per 1,000 children aged 0-17 years, based on 'low series' ABS population projections from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing.
(b) Includes children for whom Indigenous status was not stated.
(c) Rate ratio is equal to the rate for Indigenous children divided by the rate for other children.
(d) Data for Tasmania should be interpreted with caution due to the low incidence of child protection workers recording Indigenous status.
Source: AIHW 2007d


One of the most significant changes in child welfare policy in relation to Indigenous children was the introduction of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (box 11.5). The Principle outlines a preference for placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with relatives/kin or other Indigenous carers. All jurisdictions have adopted the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle in legislation and policy.

11.5 THE ABORIGINAL CHILD PLACEMENT PRINCIPLE

The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle expresses a preference for the placement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when they are placed outside their family (Lock 1997). The Principle has the following order of preference for the placement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children:
  • with the child's extended family
  • within the child's Indigenous community
  • with other Indigenous people.

The Principle covers the placement of Indigenous children in out-of-home care as well as the adoption of Indigenous children.

The impact of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is reflected in the relatively high proportion of Indigenous children who are placed with Indigenous caregivers or with relatives, though this proportion varies by state and territory. At 30 June 2006, the proportion of Indigenous children in out-of-home care placed with relatives/kin, other Indigenous caregivers or in Indigenous residential care was at least 62% in all jurisdictions, except Tasmania (table 11.6). These data do not necessarily reflect the effort made to place a child in accordance with the Principle, however, as the availability of Indigenous caregivers and other considerations in relation to the suitability of the placement can impact on the placement outcomes.

11.6 INDIGENOUS CHILDREN IN OUT-OF-HOME CARE(a), by relationship to, and Indigenous status of carer - 30 June 2006

Relationship/Indigenous status of carer
NSW
Vic.
Qld
WA
SA
Tas.
ACT
NT

Number

Indigenous relative/kin
1 669
152
379
394
109
10
28
90
Other Indigenous caregiver
512
102
400
143
138
13
17
67
Other relative/kin
282
80
142
64
28
8
11
(b)na
Indigenous residential care
9
21
9
18
-
-
1
-
Total with relative/kin, other Indigenous caregivers, Indigenous residential care
2 472
355
930
619
275
31
57
157
Other caregiver
374
166
538
92
62
55
18
87
Other residential care
43
27
28
45
22
7
6
-
Total other caregivers, other residential care
417
193
566
137
84
62
24
87
Total
2 889
548
1 496
756
359
93
81
244

Percent

Indigenous relative/kin
57.8
27.7
25.3
52.1
30.4
10.8
34.6
36.9
Other Indigenous caregiver
17.7
18.6
26.7
18.9
38.4
14.0
21.0
27.5
Other relative/kin
9.8
14.6
9.5
8.5
7.8
8.6
13.6
na
Indigenous residential care
0.3
3.8
0.6
2.4
-
-
1.2
-
Total with relative/kin, other Indigenous caregivers, Indigenous residential care
85.6
64.8
62.2
81.9
76.6
33.3
70.4
64.3
Other caregiver
12.9
30.3
36.0
12.2
17.3
59.1
22.2
35.7
Other residential care
1.5
4.9
1.9
6.0
6.1
7.5
7.4
-
Total other caregivers, other residential care
14.4
35.2
37.8
18.1
23.4
66.7
29.6
35.7
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
na not available
(a) This table does not include Indigenous children who were living independently or whose living arrangements were unknown.
(b) In the Northern Territory, children placed with family members have all been included in the 'Indigenous relative/kin' category.
Source: AIHW 2007d


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