Australia’s child abuse rates fall but foster care rates rise: Report

Statistics show that the total number of Tasmanian children in state care has risen by 60% in six years. This is the second highest number of children per 1,000 in child protection in the Australia. This means more children are being removed from their families for issues such as substance abuse, mental health and family violence.

The figures come from the new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study into child protection around the country. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released its Child Protection Australia 2009-10 report on Friday. It showed that 15 (8%) of the children who were returned to their families or discharged from protective orders in 2009-10 had spent eight years in state care. At least 25% have been in and out of home care for more than five years. Nearly 50% of children in state care are returned to their families in less than three months. But another half of the children placed in care had been wards of the state before.

In 2009-10 there were 334 admissions and 246 discharges. The number of children under guardianship or custody orders in the state was 1,112 throughout the last financial year 40% in foster care and 25% living with a relative or next of kin. Since 2005, the number of children on care and protection orders increased by 57%, from 24,075 to 37,730. Meanwhile, young people unable to live with their parents and placed in overnight out-of-home care rose by 51% in the same period, from 23,695 to 35,895 in 2010.

Most reports of child abuse to protection authorities come from police, followed by social workers and schools. Only 10% of notifications to Child Protection Services came from hospitals and doctors or members of the community including friends and neighbours who regularly have contact or see the children.

The report also showed that number of children subject to a notification - where authorities are alerted to potential abuse or neglect - fell by 10%, from 207,462 to 187,314, in the latest year. The number of children subject to a substantiation - where departmental intervention is deemed necessary - decreased by 4%, from 32,641 to 31,295, in the same period. An 8% fall in substantiations was recorded in the six years from 2004-05 to 2009-10. Institute spokesman Tim Beard said although these figures could reflect a genuine decrease in child abuse and neglect, other factors were probably at play. “(They) include changes in community awareness regarding child abuse and neglect and or changes to policies, practices and reporting methods,” he said.

However the Child Protection Services have been criticized recently for various reasons. This week the Tasmanian coroner reported the findings into the death of autistic teenager Jackson Kelty, who drowned along with his carer while in state care in 2008. Coroner Glenn Hay said on Wednesday the Department of Health and Human Services did not at the time have adequate systems in place to manage risks to children in care and to ensure adequate support for carers.

Opposition human services spokeswoman Jacquie Petrusma said the report showed a failure by the State Government to deliver important changes in child protection. Children’s Minister Lin Thorp was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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