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2.12 Child protection

Why is it important?

Experience of maltreatment (physical, emotional and psychological abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and witnessing family violence) during childhood has serious and long-term impacts on social and emotional wellbeing and health. Exposure to trauma and neglect and experience of out-of-home care is associated with suicidal behaviour (Atkinson 2013; Robinson et al. 2011) and contact with the criminal justice system and increases the risk of experiencing family violence as an adult (Guthridge et al. 2014; Wong et al. 2014).

Various services and activities are used to promote the safety of children including prevention, mitigating risk factors and intervention where child maltreatment has already occurred (Higgins 2010). All jurisdictions have legislative requirements on the reporting of suspect child abuse. Child protection functions are undertaken at the state and territory level of government. Each jurisdiction has its own legislation, policies and practices in relation to child protection (AIHW 2014m).

Indigenous Australians' experience of child welfare policies has historically been traumatic, with the policy of forcible removal of children known as the Stolen Generations (HREOC 1997). The consequences of these removal policies have long term impacts, including social, physical and psychological impacts for those directly involved, as well as their families and communities (Atkinson 2013). Child protection issues continue to be very significant for Indigenous communities, reflecting this history of trauma and stressors that have impacted on parents, parenting skills and communities.

In responding to situations in which Indigenous children are at risk, all states and territories have adopted the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle that requires that where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are removed from their family, the following order of preference for their placement should be followed: the child's extended family; the child's Indigenous community; other Indigenous Australians.

Findings

In 2012–13 there were around 11,000 Indigenous children who were the subject of substantiated child protection notifications. For Indigenous children aged 0–17 years, the rate was 38 per 1,000—6.6 times the rate for non-Indigenous children (6 per 1,000). Note: the rates calculated for this report are based on the revised Indigenous population estimates (see ABS 2014g). Rates of children who were the subject of substantiations of notifications vary across jurisdictions, in part reflecting different legislation, practices and resources in each jurisdiction. While comparisons between jurisdictions should be made with care, rates of Indigenous children who were the subject of substantiations were higher than for non-Indigenous children within each jurisdiction (ranging from 3 times to 13 times). The most common type of substantiated child protection notification for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was neglect (40% of substantiations compared with 23% for non-Indigenous children). Nationally, the second most common reason for notification for Indigenous children was emotional abuse (34% compared with 40% for non-Indigenous children). Across all jurisdictions sexual abuse was the least common type of substantiation for Indigenous children (9% nationally compared with 15% for non-Indigenous children).

As at 30 June 2013 there were 14,455 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on care and protection orders. This represents a steady increase from 30 June 2009 (36.6 to 49.9 per 1,000), while the non-Indigenous rate has remained relatively stable (5.3 to 5.8 per 1,000).

As at 30 June 2013, there were 13,952 Indigenous children in out-of-home care. Across Australia, 68% of Indigenous children in out-of-home care were placed with either a relative/kin or an Indigenous carer or other Indigenous care. Placements with relative/kin or an Indigenous carer were highest in NSW (82%) and lowest in Tasmania (40%). Reasons for placements outside the Indigenous community include the unavailability of carers within the community, the impact of trauma and disadvantage on previous generations, the unwillingness of some Indigenous people to be associated with the child protection system, and the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children compared with adults (Berlyn et al. 2009).

In NSW prisons nearly half of all Aboriginal inmates were placed in care as children, twice the non-Indigenous rate. Aboriginal inmates were also more likely to report their parents had been placed in care as a child (27% of Aboriginal women and 14% of Aboriginal men) (Indig et al. 2010).

Implications

Child protection data provide a measure of how many children come into contact with child protection services; however, these data do not capture all children who have been abused or neglected and, additionally, may include some children who have not been abused or neglected (Bromfield et al. 2004).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be subject to higher rates of child protection substantiations, mainly for 'neglect'. COAG has two major commitments in the area of child protection: The National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009–2020 (COAG 2009) and the National Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010–2022. These commitments recognise that everyone has a right to be free and safe from family violence and abuse and that breaking inter-generational cycles of maltreatment is best achieved by families, communities, community organisations and governments working as partners to build strong and resilient families.

State and territory governments have primary responsibility for child protection. The Australian Government funds a number of initiatives through its Indigenous Advancement Strategy's Safety and Wellbeing Programme designed to deliver a range of activities for Indigenous families whose children have come into contact with the child protection system or are at risk of coming into contact with the child protection system.

The Australian Government funds Mobile Child Protection Teams in the Northern Territory, which provide timely, high quality investigation into allegations of child abuse and neglect or protective concerns about children and young people. They assist Aboriginal families and communities to make decisions about the safety and care of their children, and contribute to the development of a holistic and sustainable child protection and family support service to meet the care and protection needs of Aboriginal children.

The Australian Government funds Remote Aboriginal Family and Community Workers (RAFCWs) in the Northern Territory to provide culturally appropriate intensive parenting support and education services to prevent the removal of children into out-of-home care in remote communities. RAFCWs have increased the capacity of the NT Department of Children and Families to provide a more responsive and culturally appropriate child protection service to Aboriginal families living in remote communities.

The Australian Government also funds Indigenous Parenting Services that provide prevention and early intervention activities that support parents to address underlying issues that can present barriers to effective parenting, especially for children at risk of abuse and neglect.

Figure 2.12-1 Children aged 0–17 years who were the subject of a substantiation: no. per 1,000 children, by Indigenous status and jurisdiction, 2012–13
children who were the subject of a substantiation

Figure 2.12-1 shows the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and non-Indigenous Australian children aged 0–17 years who were the subject of a substantiated notification in 2012–13 (rate per 1,000 children). Data is presented separately for each jurisdiction, and Australia as a whole. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: AIHW Child Protection Collections 2013

Figure 2.12-2 Children aged 0–17 years on care and protection orders: no. per 1,000 children, by Indigenous status, 30 June 2009 to 30 June 2013
children on care and protection orders

Figure 2.12-2 shows the number of Indigenous children aged 0–17 years on care and protection orders. Data is presented annually from 30 June 2009 to 30 June 2013. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: AIHW Child Protection Collections 2013

Table 2.12-1 Children (0–17 years) in out-of-home care, by Indigenous status and state and territory, at 30 June 2013
NSW Vic Qld WA SA Tas ACT NT Aust
Number of Children:
Indigenous 6,203 1,087 3,195 1,678 788 243 140 618 13,952
Non-Indigenous 11,214 5,442 4,884 1,721 1,835 803 399 124 26,422
Total(a) 17,422 6,542 8,136 3,425 2,657 1,067 558 742 40,549
No. per 1,000 children
Indigenous 68.1 52.9 37.3 45.5 49.8 23.1 58.4 23.2 48.2
Non-Indigenous 7.1 4.4 4.8 3.2 5.4 7.7 4.9 3.4 5.3
Total(a) 10.4 5.2 7.3 5.9 7.4 9.3 6.6 11.7 7.7
Rate ratio 9.6 12.0 7.8 14.3 9.3 3.0 11.9 6.8 9.0

(a) Includes Indigenous status not known

Source: AIHW Child Protection Collections 2013

Figure 2.12-3 Proportion of Indigenous child placements with relatives, kin or other Indigenous caregiver, by jurisdiction, at 30 June 2013
child placements with relatives, kin or other Indigenous caregiver

Figure 2.12-3 shows the proportion of Indigenous child placements with relatives, kin or other Indigenous caregiver at 30 June 2013. Data is presented separately for each jurisdiction, and Australia as a whole. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: AIHW Child Protection Collections 2013