Better health and ageing for all Australians

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) 2012

Tier 2—Community capacity—2.12 Child protection

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Why is it important?:

Child protection services "receive and assess allegations of child abuse and neglect, and/or harm to children and young people; provide and refer clients to family support and other relevant services; and intervene to protect children" (SCRGSP 2005; AIHW 2012b). 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 although the processes are broadly similar (Bromfield et al. 2008). Child protection services are often located in agencies that are also responsible for providing or funding alternative care arrangements such as foster care, where the care of the child in their original family is not an option.

Indigenous Australians' experience of child welfare policies has historically been traumatic, with misguided policies leading to the forcible removal of children now known as the Stolen Generations (HREOC 1997). The consequences of these removal policies have long-term resonance, including social, physical and psychological devastation for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people directly involved, as well as their families and communities (Raphael et al. 1998; Yehuda et al. 2001). Child protection issues continue to be very significant for Indigenous communities, reflecting this history of trauma and stressors that have impacted on parents and communities.

In responding to situations in which Indigenous children are at risk, all states and territories have adopted the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle which 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 2010–11, the rate of substantiated child protection notifications per 1,000 children aged 0–16 years was 35 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children—seven times the rate for non-Indigenous children (five per 1,000). Since 2004–05 there has been a 43% increase in Indigenous children in substantiations. Rates of children who were the subject of substantiations of notifications vary across jurisdictions, reflecting different legislation and practices. Rates also vary from year to year within jurisdictions. 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. Compared with other children, the reason for substantiated child protection notification for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was more likely to be for neglect rather than sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

As at 30 June 2011 there were 12,280 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on care and protection orders, an increase of 331% since June 1998. There was a 104% increase for other children over the same period. The increase in children on care and protection orders may be attributed to a greater awareness of child abuse and neglect but also to the cumulative effect of the growing number of children who enter the child protection system at a young age and remain on orders until they are 18 years of age (AIHW 2012b). Data issues may also impact on comparability.

As at 30 June 2011, there were 12,358 Indigenous children in out-of-home care. Across Australia, 69% of Indigenous children in out-of-home care are placed with either an Indigenous carer or a relative/kin or in other Indigenous care. Placements with an Indigenous carer or relative/kin were highest in NSW (82%) and lowest in the NT (34%). 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 welfare system, and the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children compared to adults (Berlyn et al. 2009).Top of Page

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 2009b) and the National Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2009–2021. These commitments recognise that everyone has a right to be safe from family violence and abuse and that preventing family violence and child abuse is best achieved by families, communities, community organisations and governments working as partners to build strong and resilient families.

Over the last three years the Australian Government has led the development and implementation of the National Framework, in partnership with the states and territories as well as non-government organisations. Closing the Gap is one of the twelve national priorities under the Framework's first action plan. The Closing the Gap priority is to support Indigenous community building activities in areas such as culture and connectedness, strengthening families and communities in targeted areas and speaking up about abuse. The Framework acknowledges a need "to move from seeing 'protecting children' as a response to abuse and neglect to one of promoting the safety and wellbeing of children" (COAG 2009b). The Framework applies a public health model shifting the emphasis to establishing universal supports for all families (e.g., in health and education), with more intensive (secondary) prevention interventions available for families that need additional assistance with a focus on early intervention. Tertiary child protection services are used as a last resort.

The Indigenous Family Safety Program funds innovative Indigenous family safety initiatives focused on addressing alcohol problems; more effective police protection; working with local community leaders to strengthen social norms against violence; and coordinating support services to aid the recovery of people who have experienced violence. In 2010–11 funding included $7.6 million over two years provided for additional Mobile Child Protection and Remote Aboriginal Family and Community Workers in the Northern Territory; $7 million for 32 Indigenous Family Safety Service projects; $1.6 million over three years as part of the National Plan; and $20 million over three years to assist Indigenous communities implement Alcohol and Substance Abuse Management Plans. A key role for health portfolios is to strengthen child and maternal health services which can play an important role in prevention and early intervention.Top of Page
Figure 114—Children aged 0–16 years who were the subject of a substantiation: rate per 1,000 children, by Indigenous status and jurisdiction, 2010–11
Figure 114—Children aged 0–16 years who were the subject of a substantiation: rate per 1,000 children, by Indigenous status and jurisdiction, 2010–11
Source: AIHW Child Protection Collections 2011
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Figure 115—Number of Indigenous children aged 0–17 years on care and protection orders, at 30 June 1998 to 30 June 2011
Figure 115—Number of Indigenous children aged 0–17 years on care and protection orders, at 30 June 1998 to 30 June 2011
Source: AIHW Child Protection Collections 2011
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Table 33—Children (0–17 years) in out-of-home care by Indigenous status and state and territory, at 30 June 2011
Number of Children:
NSW
Vic.
Qld
WA
SA
Tas.
ACT
NT
Aust.
Indigenous
5,737
877
2,850
1,448
630
196
119
501
12,358
Non-Indigenous
10,994
4,701
4,722
1,527
1,690
754
409
132
24,929
Total
16,740
5,678
7,602
3,120
2,368
966
540
634
37,648
Rate per 1,000 children
NSW
Vic.
Qld
WA
SA
Tas.
ACT
NT
Aust.
Indigenous
80.6
57.3
40.2
46.4
49.6
23.5
61.4
18.2
51.7
Non-Indigenous
7.0
3.8
4.6
3.0
4.9
6.8
5.2
3.8
5.1
Total
10.2
4.6
7.0
5.7
6.6
8.1
6.7
10.2
7.3
Rate ratio
11.5
14.9
8.7
15.6
10.1
3.4
11.8
4.8
10.1
Source: AIHW Child Protection Collections 2011
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Figure 116—Proportion of Indigenous child placements with relatives, kin or other Indigenous caregiver, by jurisdiction, at 30 June 2011
Figure 116—Proportion of Indigenous child placements with relatives, kin or other Indigenous caregiver, by jurisdiction, at 30 June 2011
Source: AIHW Child Protection Collections 2011
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