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Age group 6 to 11 years

Safe in the home

Feeling safe and being safe at home is critical for children’s healthy development. A safe and supportive family provides a sense of security which supports attachment, enables children to develop good mental health and responds appropriately to children’s needs.1,2

National and international research consistently refers to the profound impact family violence, abuse and neglect can have on children both in the short term and into adulthood. The consequences can include poor physical health, learning and developmental problems, substance abuse, mental health issues and homelessness.3

Overview and areas of concern

Some data is available on whether WA children aged 6 to 11 years feel safe and are safe in their homes.

Overview

This indicator considers some key measures on whether children feel safe and are safe at home. This includes data on family and domestic violence and the child protection system in WA.

No data is available on whether WA children aged six to 11 years feel safe in their homes.

Areas of concern

In 2017, a child or young person was present at 12,726 reported incidents of family violence across WA.

For almost one-quarter (24.4%) of the children and young people who have had contact with the child protection system, the primary reason was neglect.

At 30 June 2018, the rate of WA Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care was 64.4 per 1,000, 18 times the rate for WA non-Aboriginal children and young people (3.6 per 1,000).

Children with disability represent 25.9 per cent of children with a maltreatment allegation and 29.0 per cent of those with a substantiated notification, although they comprise only 10.4 per cent of the population.

Other measures

Injuries and poisoning are major causes of hospitalisation for children in Australia. A measure on child deaths or injuries has not been selected for the Indicators of wellbeing as data is regularly compiled by Kidsafe WA and the WA Ombudsmen.

For information on child deaths refer to the Ombudsmen’s annual Child Death Review. For information on injuries for children refer to Kidsafe WA Childhood Injury Bulletins & Reports.

Measure: Feeling safe at home

Safe and supportive relationships in the home are essential for children’s development. Feeling safe at home is critical for children to develop good mental health, feel able to build positive relationships with others and effectively participate in school.1

Children who feel unsafe at home often feel frightened, anxious and worried, which over time can result in trauma and toxic stress responses.2 Negatives outcomes can include mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, difficulties with learning, behavioural issues and a higher likelihood of future alcohol and drug misuse.3,4

There is no data available on whether WA children aged six to 11 years feel safe at home.

Children may not feel safe when there is family dysfunction including alcohol and drug use, family and domestic violence, parental mental health issues, harsh parenting or bullying. Parents experiencing high levels of stress or trauma may also be unable to provide their child with a sense of security, resulting in their child feeling unsafe and insecure.5

Older children and young people (aged 10 to 17 years) describe safety in relation to being surrounded by others that they felt safe with, that they trusted and were reliable to be able to protect them from danger. Adults that were inconsistent, unpredictable and bullied or threatened were identified as unsafe.6

In 2009 the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA undertook research into the wellbeing of children and young people in WA. As part of the research, more than 500 children and young people aged 10 to 17 reported in an online survey that safety was fundamental to their wellbeing. Almost 20.0 per cent of children and young people said they did not always feel safe at home.7

In the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey, WA children and young people aged eight to 17 years were asked some questions about feeling safe at home. Results from the study will be published in 2020.

Endnotes

  1. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2009, Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, p. 1.
  2. Hunter C 2014, Effects of child abuse and neglect for children and adolescents, National Child Protection Clearinghouse Resource Sheet, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Richards K 2011, Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia, Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, No 419, Australian Institute of Criminology, p. 3.
  5. McLean S 2016, Children’s attachment needs in the context of out-of-home care, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  6. Moore T et al 2016, Our safety counts: Children and young people’s perceptions of safety and institutional responses to their safety concerns, Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University, p. 7, 16.
  7. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2011, Policy Brief: Children and young people speak out about safety, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA
Measure: Experiencing family and domestic violence

Every child has a right to live free from violence, abuse and neglect.1 Most children live in safe and supportive homes, however for some, home can be a place of conflict and distress as a result of family and domestic violence. 

There is considerable overlap between children being exposed to family and domestic violence and the child protection system.2 When a physical assault on a child or young person is reported, the police officer in charge will make an assessment about whether to involve child protection authorities through a formal notification. The Department for Communities then determines whether a child has suffered significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of exposure to family and domestic violence.

The next measure (Involved in the child protection system) records child protection service responses, including notifications, substantiations and children in care.

Family and domestic violence can be defined as ‘abusive behaviour in an intimate relationship or other type of family relationship where one person assumes a position of power over another and causes fear’.3 Abusive behaviour can include physical abuse or verbal, mental or emotional abuse or control. For children it is often perpetrated by parents/carers, however, perpetrators can also be siblings and other family members such as step-fathers.

Living with family and domestic violence has short and long-term impacts on children’s health and wellbeing. These include mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, difficulties with learning, behavioural issues, a higher likelihood of future alcohol and drug misuse and greater risk of homelessness.4,5

Research also suggests that family and domestic violence can impact a parent’s ability to parent effectively.6

Data on children’s exposure to domestic violence is limited because it is often underestimated by parents and under-reported to the police for various reasons, including concerns that children will be removed by child protection workers.7

Children experiencing family and domestic violence as onlookers

Experiencing family and domestic violence involves children not only being subject to family and domestic violence, but also witnessing family and domestic violence. Research has shown that the existence of violent behaviour in the home increases the likelihood of trauma and negative health and wellbeing outcomes.8,9,10 This can have effects on a child’s coping mechanisms and sense of self, can cause a state of hyper-vigilance and in some cases can manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder.11

The WA Police Force (WA Police) collect data on whether children are present at family violence-related incidents.12

Almost one-half of all family violence incidents reported, or becoming known, to WA Police between 2014 and 2017 had at least one child or young person present.

Number of family violence (FV) related crime incidents recorded by WA Police, number and in per cent, WA, 2014 to 2017

2014

2015

2016

2017

Number of FV incidents

21,641

26,913

31,316

28,716

Number of distinct FV incidents
where at least one child* was present

10,047

12,132

14,081

12,726

Proportion of incidents where
at least one child* is present (%)

46.4

45.1

45.0

44.3

Source: WA Police custom report of FV crime incidents recorded in the Incident Management System (IMS) where at least one child was present, provided to the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA

* A child or young person aged 0 to 17 years.

Notes:

1. Crime incidents are recorded in the IMS where one or more valid offences are suspected to have occurred.

2. The family violence data is collected using the family violence (FV) flag in the IMS. WA Police select the FV flag at the victim level when they have determined an offence or incident to be FV-related as defined by the relevant state legislation (Refer to ABS 0 - Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2018 – Explanatory Notes for more information).

3. Reporting on family violence by WA Police changed from 1 July 2017 due to changes in the legislation, for more information refer to: The Restraining Orders and Other Legislation Amendment (Family Violence) Bill 2016.

In 2017, at least one child or young person (aged 0 to 17 years) was present at 12,726 recorded crime incidents of family violence across WA. 

In the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey, 68.0 per cent of Australian women and 60.0 per cent of Australian men who had children in their care when they experienced intimate partner violence reported that the children had seen or heard the violence.13

The proportion of family violence incidents where a child was present varies between WA regions and districts, with the Wheatbelt and South West districts having the highest proportions followed by the Metropolitan region.

Family violence crime incidents recorded by WA Police where at least one child was present by regions and districts, number and per cent, WA, 2017

Total incidents

Total incidents
with children present

Proportion of incidents
with children
present (%)

Central Metropolitan

4,018

1,746

43.5

North West Metropolitan

4,249

2,064

48.6

South East Metropolitan

4,539

2,162

47.6

South Metropolitan

5,061

2,506

49.5

Metropolitan region
total

17,867

8,478

47.5

Goldfields-Esperance

1,254

469

37.4

Great Southern

891

388

43.5

Kimberley

3,427

1,017

29.7

Mid West-Gascoyne

1,615

750

46.4

Pilbara

1,720

643

37.4

South West

1,336

667

49.9

Wheatbelt

606

314

51.8

Regional WA total

10,849

4,248

39.2

Total incidents

28,716

12,726

44.3

Source: WA Police custom report of FV crime incidents recorded by WA Police, provided to the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA

Note: District is based on the location of the offence.

It should be noted that this data is the raw numbers of incidents without the commensurate population and therefore does not provide the rates of occurrence by area.

Children experiencing family and domestic violence as direct victims

In 2017, 562 crime incidents14 (2.1% of all crime incidents) were reported, or became known, to WA Police where WA children less than nine years of age were one of the victims of family violence.

Family violence-related crime incidents recorded by WA Police by victim age group, number and per cent, WA, 2017

Number

Per cent of total

0 to 9 years

562

2.1

10 to 17 years

1,674

6.3

18 to 24 years

4,395

16.5

25 to 44 years

15,186

56.9

45 to 64 years

5,709

21.4

65+ years

766

2.9

Source: WA Police custom report of FV crime incidents recorded in the Incident Management System (IMS) provided to the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA

Note: Values are a distinct count/ distinct per cent of incidents by demographics and offence location. As an incident may have multiple victims recorded across all demographics, the figures should not be summed.

It should be noted that WA Police are only able to record incidents detected and/or reported to them. There is clear evidence that family violence incidents are under-reported.15

In 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) asked adult survey respondents to the Personal Safety Survey about experiences of childhood abuse (before 15 years of age). According to this survey, 13.0 per cent (2.5 million) of Australian adults have experienced childhood abuse. The majority of people experienced only one type of abuse; 5.8 per cent experienced physical abuse, 5.0 per cent experienced sexual abuse and 2.7 per cent experienced both.16

Analysis by the ABS showed that 71.0 per cent of people who experienced abuse as a child also experienced violence as an adult, compared to 33.0 per cent of those who did not experience childhood abuse.17

The ABS annually reports data on victims of family and domestic violence through the Recorded Crimes – Victims collection gathered from police agencies within each Australian jurisdiction.18

A small number of WA children aged 0 to nine years are reported as victims of family and domestic violence, physical and sexual assault.

Victims of family and domestic violence (FDV) by type of assault and age group, number, WA, 2014 to 2018

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Per cent change since 2014

0 to 9 years*

Physical assault

218

274

314

342

342

56.9

Sexual assault

140

126

139

192

134

-4.3

10 to 14 years*

Physical assault

383

469

559

538

531

38.6

Sexual assault

130

89

113

152

140

7.7

15 to 19 years*

Physical assault

1,380

1,619

1,767

1,492

1,529

10.8

Sexual assault

108

106

104

100

148

37.0

Source: ABS, Victims of FDV related offences, Table 24 Victims of Family and Domestic violence-related assault, Selected characteristics, Selected states and territories, 2014 to 2018

* The age groupings are not equal – 0 to 9 years reports on 10 years, 10 to 14 years reports on 5 years and 15 to 19 years reports on 4 years.

Note: This data differs from the previous table as it includes only physical and sexual assault, compared to all incidents categorised as family and domestic violence.

Victims of family and domestic violence physical assault by age group, number, WA, 2014 to 2018

Source: ABS, Victims of FDV related offences, Table 24 Victims of Family and Domestic violence-related assault, Selected characteristics, Selected states and territories, 2014 to 2018

For WA children aged 0 to nine years, there has been a 56.9 per cent increase in the number of children reported as victims of physical assault due to family and domestic violence between 2014 and 2018.

There was a marginal decrease in the number of WA children aged 0 to nine years reported as victims of family and domestic violence sexual assault from 140 in 2014 to 134 in 2018.

It is not known whether these changes represent a change in the rate of occurrence or the impact of other factors, including population change or varying rates of reporting to WA Police.

This data suggests that physical assault is more likely to be reported to the police than sexual assault for both male and female children.19 It should be noted that if a sexual assault is reported for a child or young person under 18 years of age, the police officer in charge must report this to the Department of Communities under the mandatory reporting regime.20

Victims of family and domestic violence by type of assault, age group and gender, number, WA, 2018

Physical assault

Sexual assault

0 to 9 years

10 to 14 years

15 to 19 years

0 to 9 years

10 to 14 years

15 to 19 years

Male

193

236

354

41

30

13

Female

135

279

1,166

92

111

139

Total

342

531

1,529

134

140

148

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Victims of FDV related offences, Table 24 Victims of Family and Domestic violence-related assault, Selected characteristics, Selected states and territories, 20142018

Note: The ABS notes that totals may not sum due to perturbation.

A higher number of male children aged 0 to nine years are physically assaulted than female children, while a greater number of female children in this age group are sexually assaulted than male children.

Data from the ABS Personal Safety Survey shows that parents are the most common perpetrators of physical abuse of children younger than 15 years. Respondents were asked whether they experienced abuse before the age of 15 years. Of those who were victims of abuse before 15 years of age, around 42.0 per cent were victims of physical abuse by a father or stepfather, and 22.0 per cent by a mother or stepmother.21 Approximately six per cent were abused by a sibling (which can include an adult sibling).22 A significant proportion were also abused by another ‘known person’.   

Research indicates that women in regional, rural and remote areas are more likely to be victims of family and domestic violence.23,24 Across Australia, 23.0 per cent of women living outside major cities reported experiencing partner violence compared with 15.0 per cent living in major cities.25 There is no comparable research on the experiences of children in regional and remote locations.

The cultural and social characteristics of rural and remote communities can influence the prevalence of family and domestic violence. Some of these factors include more traditional gender norms, a lack of access to appropriate services due to greater isolation, and for some communities there is a greater focus on privacy and self-reliance.26

Data from the ABS 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) shows that there is a higher rate of family and domestic violence in Aboriginal families than non-Aboriginal families across Australia.27 This should be understood in the context of a history of colonisation, forced child removal, social disadvantage and intergenerational trauma.28

Aboriginal Australians are also more likely to have increased risk factors for family violence such as poor and overcrowded housing, higher levels of poverty, lower education and higher unemployment.29

The ABS collection on Recorded Crime – Victims does not report on data for Aboriginal peoples in WA as the data is not of sufficient quality.30 Furthermore, the NATSISS survey does not provide jurisdictional level data nor data on children and young people’s experiences of family and domestic violence.31

In the Longitudinal Study of Aboriginal Children, participating families were asked about family violence, and families living in remote areas were significantly more likely to rate family violence as a big problem in the community.32

There is no data available on children’s exposure to family and domestic violence in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, although research suggests that women in CALD communities are particularly vulnerable to experiencing family and domestic violence.33,34

There are many barriers that prevent CALD families from reporting violence and accessing services or support, including language difficulties, cultural differences regarding asking for help, and isolation due to separation from other family and friends.35

Considering their high risk of exposure, the lack of data and research with Aboriginal and CALD children experiencing family and domestic violence is a significant gap. 

In a small but critical number of cases family and domestic violence results in the tragic death of the victim or victims. Relative to other Australian jurisdictions, a high number of WA people were murdered in a family and domestic violence incident in 2016 and 2018.

All victims of family and domestic violence-related homicide by selected states and territories, number, Australia, 2016 to 2018

2016

2017

2018

NSW

42

30

35

VIC

37

35

31

QLD

34

24

22

SA

19

19

10

WA

35

16

35

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Victims of FDV related offences, Table 25 Victims of Family and Domestic violence-related homicide, Selected characteristics, Selected states and territories

In 2018, 15 WA children and young people (aged 0 to 19 years) lost their lives due to family and domestic violence homicide.36

From 30 June 2009 to 30 June 2019, 72.0 per cent of investigable child deaths37 in WA were associated with family and domestic violence.38

Across Australia, around 10.0 per cent of Australian homicide victims are children and young people aged 0 to 17 years. The majority are victims of filicide (murdered by their parents).39

Endnotes

  1. Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [website].
  2. Child abuse includes emotional abuse where young people are exposed to family and domestic violence as onlookers and they are deemed at risk of significant emotional/mental harm. When a physical assault on a child or young person is reported, the officer in charge will make an assessment about whether to involve child protection authorities. The Department for Communities then determines whether a child has suffered significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of exposure to family and domestic violence. Significant harm or likelihood of significant harm may be caused by a single act of family and domestic violence or the cumulative impact of exposure over a period of time. Source: WA Department for Child Protection and Family Support (now Communities) 2014, Emotional abuse – Family and domestic violence policy, WA Government. If a sexual assault is reported for a child or young person under 18 years of age, the police officer in charge must report this to the Department of Communities under the mandatory reporting regime.
  3. QLD Department of Child Safety 2018, Domestic and family violence and its relationship to child protection – practice paper, QLD Government, p. 3.
  4. Campo M 2015, Children’s exposure to domestic and family violence: CFCA Paper No. 36, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 6
  5. Richards K 2011, Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia, Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, No 419, Australian Institute of Criminology, p. 3.
  6. Kaspiew R et al 2017, Domestic and family violence and parenting: Mixed method insights into impact and support needs: Final report, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013, Defining the Data Challenge for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence, ABS.
  8. Campo M 2015, Children’s exposure to domestic and family violence: CFCA Paper No. 36, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 6.
  9. Richards K 2011, Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia, Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, No 419, Australian Institute of Criminology, p.1.
  10. QLD Department of Child Safety 2018, Domestic and family violence and its relationship to child protection – practice paper, QLD Government, p. 12-13.
  11. Taylor A 2019, Impact of the experience of domestic and family violence on children – what does the literature have to say?, Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research.
  12. In line with the amendments made to the Restraining Orders Act 1997 (ROA) on 1 July 2017, the terminology used by the WA Police Force is ‘family violence’. The term domestic violence is no longer used within the policing context.
  13. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia: continuing the national story 2019, Cat no FDV 3, AIHW, p. 71.
  14. Crime incidents of family and domestic violence are considered to be incidents that include a valid offence.
  15. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013, Defining the Data Challenge for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence, ABS.
  16. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, 4906.0 - Personal Safety, Australia, 2016, ABS.
  17. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016, Media Release: Childhood abuse increases risk of violence in adulthood, ABS.
  18. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, 4510.0 - Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2018 Explanatory Notes, ABS.
  19. Australian Law Reform Commission 2010, The prevalence of sexual violence, Australian Government [website].
  20. WA Department for Child Protection and Family Support (now Communities) 2014, Policy on child sexual abuse, WA Government.
  21. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2019, 4906.0 - Personal Safety, Australia, 2016, Table 31.3 Experience of abuse before the age of 15, Characteristics of abuse by sex of respondent, Proportion of persons, ABS.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Campo M and Tayton S 2015, Domestic and family violence in regional, rural and remote communities: An overview of key issues, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  24. Mishra G et al 2014, Health and wellbeing of women aged 18 to 23 in 2013 and 1996: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, Report prepared for the Australian Government, Department of Health.
  25. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia: continuing the national story 2019, Cat no FDV 3, AIHW, p. 101.
  26. Campo M and Tayton S 2015, Domestic and family violence in regional, rural and remote communities: An overview of key issues, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  27. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2018, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia 2018, Cat  No FDV 2, AIHW, p. 85.
  28. Campo M and Tayton S 2015, Domestic and family violence in regional, rural and remote communities: An overview of key issues, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies. 
  29. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2018, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia 2018, Cat no FDV 2, AIHW, p. 88.
  30. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, 4510.0 - Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2018 Explanatory Notes, ABS.
  31. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016, 4714.0 - National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014–15, ABS.
  32. Bennetts Kneebone L 2015, Partner violence in the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC), Research summary: No.3/2015, Department of Social Services, p. 9.
  33. Campo M 2015, Children's exposure to domestic and family violence: Key issues and responses, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  34. El Murr A 2018, Intimate partner violence in Australian refugee communities, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  35. Queensland Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women 2018, Domestic and family violence and its relationship to child protection: a practice paper, QLD Government, p. 19.
  36. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, Victims of FDV related offences, Table 25 Victims of Family and Domestic violence-related homicide, Selected characteristics, Selected states and territories, 2014-2018.
  37. The WA Ombudsman Child Death Review considers reportable deaths of WA children and young people aged 0 to 17 years. Investigable deaths are defined in the Ombudsman’s legislation, the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1971 (see Section 19A(3)).
  38. WA Ombudsmen 2019, Annual Report 2018-19: Child Death Review, WA Government, p. 66.
  39. Brown T et al 2019, Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice – Filicide Offenders, Australian Institute of Criminology.
Measure: Involved in the child protection system
#611-child-protection

Although the majority of WA children are living in a safe and supportive home environment, some children are unable to live with their families for a range of reasons including abuse or neglect.1

The child protection system provides assistance to vulnerable children and young people who are suspected of being abused, harmed or neglected.2 In WA, the Department of Communities is responsible for child protection and investigates, responds to and manages child protection cases.

Forms of child abuse and neglect are generally categorised as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.3 Incidents of family and domestic violence are classified as child abuse when it is determined by the Department of Communities that the child or young person is at risk of significant harm.4 For information on family and domestic violence refer to the measure: Experiencing family and domestic violence.

This measure reports on data on WA children and young people involved in the child protection system. Most of the available data provides information about the number of children and young people involved in child protection and the provision of child protection services.

There is very limited data on the health and wellbeing of children who have contact with the WA child protection system despite them being a particularly vulnerable group.

Abuse and neglect can have a profound impact on children both in the short term and into adulthood including poor physical health, learning and developmental issues, substance abuse, mental illness, unlawful behaviour, homelessness and suicide.5

Recent research using linked data from WA has found that compared to children who have never had contact with the child protection system, children and young people who have left care are nearly twice as likely to be admitted to hospital, are three times more likely to have mental health-related issues, are less likely to complete high school and more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system.6

Children receiving child protection services include those who are subject of an investigation of a notification, on a care and protection order or living in out-of-home care.7

Child protection data only include those cases of abuse and neglect that were detected and reported. However, child abuse and neglect often remain undetected for a variety of reasons including the private nature of the crime, the challenges children experience about whether to make disclosures and whether they will be believed if they choose to disclose, and the difficulty of gathering evidence to substantiate allegations.8 The data below is therefore likely to be an underestimation of the number of children being abused or neglected in Australia.9

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) publishes the Child Protection Australia report on an annual basis. This report compiles data from state and territory child protection agencies.10

Most data on children in the child protection system is not disaggregated by age groups. Therefore, the analysis in this section is generally not specific to children aged six to 11 years. 

Children and young people in the child protection system

At 30 June 2019, the Department of Communities reported 5,379 children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care in WA.11 Of these, 1,618 were between five and nine years of age and 1,664 were between 10 and 14 years of age.

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care by age group, number, WA, at 30 June 2017 to 2019

30 June 2017

30 June 2018

30 June 2019

Less than 1 year

153

195

205

1 to 4 years

1,038

1,034

1,136

5 to 9 years

1,552

1,560

1,618

10 to 14 years

1,432

1,548

1,664

15 years and older*

620

692

756

Total

4,795

5,029

5,379

Source: WA Department of Communities, Annual Reports

* Includes a small number of young people who are 18 years and older and are still under the care of the WA Government.

The rate of children and young people aged 0 to 17 years living in care in WA (at 30 June) has increased from 5.7 per 1,000 children and young people in 2011 to 7.4 per 1,000 in 2018.

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care, number and rate, WA and Australia, 30 June 2011 to 30 June 2018

WA

Australia

Number

Number per 1,000

Number

Number per 1,000

2011

3,120

5.7

37,648

7.4

2012

3,400

6.1

39,621

7.7

2013

3,425

5.9

40,549

7.7

2014

3,723

6.3

43,009

8.1

2015

3,954

6.7

43,399

8.1

2016

4,100

6.9

46,448

8.6

2017

4,232

7.1

47,915

8.7

2018

4,448

7.4

45,756

8.2

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Reports, Table S55: Children aged 0 to 17 in out-of-home care, states and territories, 30 June 2014 to 30 June 2018 and Table 5.7: Children aged 0 to 17 in out-of-home care, states and territories, 30 June 2011 to 30 June 2015

Note: The AIHW reported the number of children in care differs from the Department of Communities Annual Report as the Department of Communities includes unfunded living arrangements (including unendorsed arrangements). These are not included by AIHW to ensure national consistency. Refer AIHW, Child Protection Australia 2017–18 Appendixes C to E for further discussion of policy and practice differences that impact national comparability.  

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care, number and rate, WA and Australia, 30 June 2011 to 30 June 2018

Source: AIHW Child Protection Reports, Table S55: Children aged 0 to 17 in out-of-home care, states and territories, 30 June 2014 to 30 June 2018 and Table 5.7: Children aged 0 to 17 in out-of-home care, states and territories, 30 June 2011 to 30 June 2015

Note: The reduction in the number and rate of children in care across Australia in 2017–18 was principally due to a change in reporting practices in Victoria.12

The rate of WA children and young people being subject to substantiations,13 on care and protection orders14 and in care has steadily increased in WA over the last five years. This is consistent with increases across Australia.15

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in the child protection system, number per 1,000, WA, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Subject of an
investigation

Subject of
substantiations

On care and
protection
orders*

In care*

Total receiving
child
protection
services

2013–14

19.4

5.2

7.6

6.3

26.5

2014–15

20.0

5.7

8.1

6.7

27.0

2015–16

18.4

7.1

8.3

6.9

25.8

2016–17

18.2

7.8

8.7

7.1

25.9

2017–18

17.4

7.6

9.3

7.4

25.1

Source: AIHW Child Protection Report 2018, Table A2: Children in the child protection system, by states and territories, 2013–14 to 2017–18 (rate) and Table S5: Notifications, by type of action, states and territories and Table 2.1: Children receiving child protection services, by states and territories (for 201314 to 201718) for notifications

* On care and protection orders and in care are at 30 June in relevant year.

Notes:

1. Children might be involved in more than one component of the child protection system. As such, the components do not sum to the total children receiving child protection services

2. WA out-of-home care data exclude children on third-party parental responsibility orders and from 2015–16 includes children placed in boarding schools.

3. Total receiving child protection services includes children who are subject of a notification under investigation.

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in the child protection system, number per 1,000, WA, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Source: AIHW Child Protection Report 2018, Table A2: Children in the child protection system, by states and territories, 2013–14 to 2017–18 (rate) and Table S5: Notifications, by type of action, states and territories and Table 2.1: Children receiving child protection services, by states and territories (for 201314 to 201718) for notifications

The above graph also highlights that although rates of substantiation, care and protection orders and children and young people in care have increased since 201314, the overall rate of children and young people receiving child protection services is decreasing, due to a reduction in the number of investigations.16

Aboriginal children and young people

WA Aboriginal children and young people are significantly overrepresented in the child protection system in comparison to non-Aboriginal children and young people.

At 30 June 2018, the rate of WA Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care was 64.4 per 1,000 children, 18 times the rate for WA non-Aboriginal children (3.6 per 1,000).17

The rate of Aboriginal children and young people being in care across Australia has increased substantially since 2011. In contrast, the rate of non-Aboriginal children and young people being in care has remained relatively static. 

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care by Aboriginal status, number per 1,000, Australia, 2011–2018

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

2011

43.2

5.2

2012

46.2

5.4

2013

48.2

5.3

2014

52.5

5.5

2015

53.6

5.5

2016

57.8

5.7

2017

59.8

5.9

2018

59.4

5.2

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Reports, Table S61: Children in the child protection system, by Indigenous status, 20142018 and Table A45: Children in the child protection system, by Indigenous status, 20112015

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care by Aboriginal status, number per 1,000, Australia, 2011–2018

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Reports, Table S61: Children in the child protection system, by Indigenous status, 20142018 and Table A45: Children in the child protection system, by Indigenous status, 20112015

The overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in the child protection system is influenced by persistent social disadvantage which began with the process of colonisation including policies of wage-theft, assimilation and forced child removals and has continued with ongoing discrimination, poverty and inter-generational trauma.18,19

There is also recognition that child protection systems around Australia may themselves contribute to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people for various reasons. These include that when children are removed from their remote communities it is difficult to move toward family re-unification, western cultural bias regarding appropriate family practices, primary caregivers who are not biological parents being excluded from child protection proceedings, services provided not being culturally safe and child protection workers without the cultural knowledge to effectively support Aboriginal families.20,21,22,23

Children and young people living in remote and very remote locations in WA are three to four times more likely to be involved in the child protection system than children living in metropolitan areas. In WA, Aboriginal children and young people are more likely than non-Aboriginal children to live in remote and regional areas.

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years who were the subject of substantiations by jurisdiction and remoteness area, number per 1,000, Australia, 2017–18

VIC

QLD

WA

SA

TAS

ACT

NT

Total

Major cities

11.0

3.7

5.7

3.1

-

2.9

-

7.0

Inner regional

16.5

5.5

7.0

6.3

6.2

39.7

-

10.1

Outer regional

21.2

7.5

12.0

7.5

5.4

-

15.7

10.6

Remote

15.9

8.5

17.5

4.5

10.1

-

39.7

16.9

Very remote

-

14.5

22.1

28.6

-

-

42.4

26.1

Total

12.4

4.9

7.1

4.2

6.0

3.0

27.1

8.3

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 2017–18, Table S11b: Children who were the subject of substantiations during 201718, by remoteness area, states and territories

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years who were the subject of substantiations by remoteness area, number per 1,000, WA, 2017–18

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 201718, Table S11b: Children who were the subject of substantiations during 2017-18, by remoteness area, states and territories

For the 201819 year the WA Department of Communities Child Protection Activity Performance Information report provides further information on the children and young people in the WA child protection system.

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care by district and Aboriginal status, number and per cent, WA, 2018–19

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total

Number

Per cent in district

Number

Per cent in district

Number

Per cent of total

Metropolitan

Perth

131

45.5

157

54.5

288

5.4

Armadale

316

54.3

266

45.7

582

10.8

Cannington

249

56.1

195

43.9

444

8.3

Fremantle

180

53.3

158

46.7

338

6.3

Joondalup

121

34.2

233

65.8

354

6.6

Midland

239

49.7

242

50.3

481

8.9

Rockingham

108

29.8

255

70.2

363

6.7

Mirrabooka

171

48.9

179

51.1

350

6.5

Fostering/Adoption

0

0.0

11

100.0

11

0.2

Regional and remote

Goldfields

121

79.1

32

20.9

153

2.8

Great Southern

107

54.6

89

45.4

196

3.6

Mid West

210

85.0

37

15.0

247

4.6

Peel

94

29.0

230

71.0

324

6.0

Pilbara

199

93.4

14

6.6

213

4.0

South West

152

40.0

228

60.0

380

7.1

West Kimberley

206

99.0

2

1.0

208

3.9

East Kimberley

159

100.0

0

0.0

159

3.0

Wheatbelt

179

62.2

109

37.8

288

5.4

Total

2,942

54.7

2,437

45.3

5,379

100.0

Source: Department of Communities, Activity Performance Information: 201819, Children and young people in care at 30 June 2019, by district

Note: The district is generally where the family of the child resides at the time of the notification, however, if a child is in care for a long period of time the district could be changed to where the child now resides.

In the Perth metropolitan area, a high proportion of children and young people in care were from Armadale (10.8% or 582), Midland (8.9% or 481) and Cannington (8.3% or 444). In certain regional and remote districts, the number of Aboriginal children and young people in care compared to non-Aboriginal children was very high, in particular, East Kimberley (100.0%), West Kimberley (99.0%), Pilbara (93.4%), Mid West (85.0%) and the Goldfields (79.1%).

It should be noted that this data does not take into account the number of children and young people living in the district.

This data highlights particular districts in WA where families and communities may require more accessible, relevant and culturally appropriate services and resources to assist them to provide a safe home for their children.

The high number of substantiated child abuse and neglect cases in regional and remote areas of WA is consistent with the greater prevalence of socioeconomic disadvantage in these regions, including homelessness and overcrowding, higher unemployment, and less access to services. In research into social exclusion in Australia, the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) determined that 36.0 per cent of Australian children in remote and very remote areas were facing the highest risk of social exclusion.24

For more information on social exclusion refer to the Material basics indicator.

Type of abuse

Across Australia, emotional abuse is the most common primary type25 of abuse or neglect substantiated for children (59.0%), followed by neglect (17.0%), physical abuse (15.0%), and sexual abuse (9.0%) in 201718.26 In 201516 the definition of emotional abuse in WA was broadened to include children and young people witnessing family and domestic violence.

In WA, the proportion of children and young people subject to substantiations for emotional abuse is lower than the Australian average (49.5% compared to 59.0%) and the proportion subject to substantiations for neglect is higher (24.4% compared to 17.0%).27 There are, however, significant variations across all jurisdictions which may be due to different jurisdictional definitions of the types of abuse. 

The type of abuse or neglect experienced is generally similar for male and female children and young people, with the exception that female children and young people are more likely than male children and young people to be the subjects of substantiations of sexual abuse.

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications by type of abuse or neglect and gender, number and per cent, WA, 2017–18

Male

Female

Total*

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Physical

268

13.1

245

10.8

540

11.9

Sexual

146

7.1

449

19.8

611

13.5

Emotional

1,080

52.6

1,033

45.6

2,242

49.5

Neglect

542

26.4

526

23.2

1,107

24.4

Not stated

16

0.8

13

0.6

30

0.7

Total

2,052

100.0

2,266

100.0

4,530

100.0

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 201718, Table S9:  Children who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications received during 201718, by type of abuse or neglect and sex, states and territories

* Includes gender not stated.

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications by type of abuse or neglect and gender, number, WA, 2017–18

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 201718, Table S9: Children who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications received during 201718, by type of abuse or neglect and sex, states and territories

A higher proportion of non-Aboriginal than Aboriginal children and young people were subjects of substantiations of sexual abuse (17.2% compared to 9.0%).

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years who were subjects of substantiations of notifications by Aboriginal status and type of abuse or neglect, number and per cent, WA, 2017–18

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

All children

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Physical

227

11.1

313

12.6

540

11.9

Sexual

183

9.0

427

17.2

611

13.5

Emotional

1,038

51.0

1,202

48.3

2,242

49.5

Neglect

574

28.2

532

21.4

1,107

24.4

Not stated

15

0.7

15

0.6

30

0.7

Total

2,037

100.0

2,489

100.0

4,530

100.0

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 201718, Table S14: Children aged 0 to 17 who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications received during 201718, by type of abuse or neglect and Indigenous status, states and territories

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years who were subjects of substantiations of notifications by Aboriginal status and type of abuse or neglect, in per cent, WA, 2017–18

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 2017-18, Table S14: Children aged 0 to 17 who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications received during 201718, by type of abuse or neglect and Indigenous status, states and territories

A high proportion (24.4%) of WA children and young people have had contact with the child protection system as a result of neglect. Furthermore, a greater proportion of Aboriginal children and young people than non-Aboriginal children and young and people with substantiated abuse notifications were subject to neglect (28.2% compared to 21.4%).

Neglect is a failure to provide minimally acceptable care.28 Research has highlighted strong and consistent relationships between child abuse and neglect and economic disadvantage.29 Neglect is closely associated with families experiencing poverty and social exclusion, although not all carers in poverty are neglectful and not all children who are neglected come from financially disadvantaged families.30

Research shows that a significantly higher proportion of Aboriginal families experience social and financial disadvantage, compared to non-Aboriginal families.31

Across Australia, children and young people who are living in the lowest socioeconomic areas are more likely to be subject to a child protection substantiation than children living in other more advantaged areas.

Proportion of children and young people aged 0 to 17 years who were the subjects of substantiations by socioeconomic area and Aboriginal status, in per cent, Australia, 2017–18

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

1 - Lowest

44.6

33.3

2

26.4

22.9

3

16.9

24.8

4

9.1

12.8

5 - Highest

2.9

6.3

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia: 201718, Table S12: Children who were the subjects of substantiations by socioeconomic area and Indigenous status, 201718

In 201718, 44.6 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people who were subject to substantiations were living in the lowest socioeconomic areas of Australia.

Research using data from the 2016 Census has concluded that in 2016, 31.4 per cent of Aboriginal Australians were living in poverty (50.0% median income before housing costs).32

Age of children and young people

In 201718, the majority (57.6%) of children and young people in care were between five and 14 years old.

Children and young people aged 0 to 17 years receiving child protection services by age and Aboriginal status, number and per cent, WA, 2017–18

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total*

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Unborn

310

4.6

201

2.6

583

3.9

<1 years

478

7.2

454

5.8

964

6.4

1 to 4 years

1,569

23.5

1,723

22.0

3,387

22.7

5 to 9 years

1,986

29.7

2,376

30.3

4,464

29.9

10 to 14 years

1,768

26.5

2,279

29.0

4,133

27.7

15 to 17 years

569

8.5

812

10.3

1,414

9.5

Unknown

0

0.0

2

0.0

2

0.0

Total

6,680

100.0

7,847

100.0

14,947

100.0

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 201718, Table S3: Children receiving child protection services, by age group and Indigenous status, states and territories, 2017–18

* Includes unknown Aboriginal status

Data on substantiations by age group highlights that the rate of substantiations progressively reduces as children age.

Research suggests that older children and young people may be under-represented in the child protection system.33 While young children may express fear and anxiety in response to trauma, adolescents are more likely to be aggressive, run away from home, and engage in risky behaviours. These behaviours can result in these young people becoming homeless and/or coming into contact with the youth justice system instead of the child protection system.34,35 For more information refer to the Safe in the home indicator for the 12 to 17 years age group.

Children and young people who were subjects of substantiations of notifications, by age group, number per 1,000 and number, WA, 2014–15 to 2017–18

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

<1 years

7.6

9.8

12.0

11.8

1 to 4 years

5.6

7.2

8.4

8.1

5 to 9 years

6.6

7.5

8.2

7.7

10 to 14 years

5.7

6.8

7.4

7.1

15 to 17 years

2.4

3.7

3.2

3.1

0 to 17 years

5.5

6.8

7.5

7.2

All children

5.7

7.1

7.8

7.6

Children and young people
in substantiations (number)

3,382

4,198

4,633

4,530

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 2017–18, Table 3.2: Children who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications, by age group and states and territories, 201718 (rate) (and previous years’ reports)

Note: Unborn children are covered under WA child protection legislation and are therefore included in the ‘All children’ rates. However, they are excluded in rate calculations for the ‘less than 1’ and ‘0 to 17’ categories. Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Child welfare series No 70, Cat no CWS 65, AIHW, p. 16.

Children and young people who were subjects of substantiations of notifications, by age group, number per 1,000, WA, 201415 to 201718

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 2017–18, Table 3.2: Children who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications, by age group and states and territories, 201718 (rate) (and previous years’ reports)

The higher rates of substantiation for infants is discussed in the Safe in the home indicator for the 0 to 5 years age group.

Type of placement and placement stability

Most (87.0%) WA children and young people in care are in home-based care with either foster parents or a family member. 

Children and young people in care by type of placement and Aboriginal status, number and per cent, WA, 30 June 2019

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Total

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Foster care with
family member (kinship)

1,366

46.4

1,074

44.1

2,440

45.4

General foster care

1,016

34.5

930

38.2

1,946

36.2

Parent/former guardian

170

5.8

122

5.0

292

5.4

Residential care

185

6.3

194

8.0

379

7.0

Unendorsed arrangement

173

5.9

82

3.4

255

4.7

Other

32

1.1

35

1.4

67

1.2

Total

2,942

100.0

2,437

100.0

5,379

100.0

Source: Compiled from the Department of Communities, Activity Performance Information: 2018–19, Children and young people in care at 30 June 2019, by living arrangement

Only a small number of children in care (379 representing 7.0%) are in residential care or family group homes. Residential care is placement in a residential building where the purpose is to provide placements for children and where there are paid staff.36 The children and young people placed in residential care generally have more complex needs.37

Unendorsed arrangements are where a child self-selects to live with a person or people who have not been assessed or approved by the Department of Communities. In this instance, the Department of Communities is required to arrange an assessment of the placement as a matter of urgency.38

Stable care placements tend to deliver learning and psycho-social outcomes for affected children than those who experience ongoing episodes of instability.39 Placement instability can have significant adverse effects on children including a lack of supportive relationships, which can lead to poor educational, socio-emotional and behavioural outcomes.40

Proportion of children and young people (aged 0 to 17 years) having more than two placements, by time in care and Aboriginal status, in per cent, Australia, 2017–18

1 month to
<6 months

6 months to
<1 year

1 year to
<2 years

2 years to
<5 years

5 years or more

Aboriginal

6.8

22.4

33.8

52.4

67.0

Non-Aboriginal

6.1

15.5

27.0

41.1

56.7

All children

6.2

18.2

29.2

44.9

60.0

Source: AIHW, National framework for protecting Australia's children indicators - NFPAC Indicator 4.2 Placement Stability

Proportion of children and young people (aged 0 to 17 years) having more than two placements, by time in care and Aboriginal status, in per cent, Australia, 2017–18

Source: AIHW, National framework for protecting Australia's children indicators - NFPAC Indicator 4.2 Placement Stability

In Australia in 2017–18, 22.4 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people who had been in care for between six months and one year had experienced more than two placements. This increases to 67.0 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people who had been in care for more than five years, compared to 56.7 per cent of non-Aboriginal children and young people.

Across all durations of time in care, Aboriginal children and young people are more likely than non-Aboriginal children and young people to have experienced more than two placements.

For more information on the placement of Aboriginal children in care refer to the next measure: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle.

There is no available data on placement stability for WA children in care.

According to the experiences of children and young people who participated in the CREATE Foundation’s 2017–18 Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards survey, kinship care provided the least disrupted living arrangement, with the lowest average number of placements.41 Results are not reported for participating WA children and young people.

Expenditure per child

The 2019 Productivity Commission Report on Government Services shows that in 2017–18 the WA Government spent the second lowest amount per child in the population on child protection, intensive family support services and family support services of all states and territories.42

There has also been minimal increase in WA spending across these services over the last four years, in contrast to most other Australian jurisdictions.

Real expenditure* per child by jurisdiction, dollars per child, Australia, 2014–15 to 2017–18

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

NSW

949.22

1,038.06

1,075.47

1,159.85

VIC

685.86

749.53

802.97

929.34

QLD

792.62

802.56

841.49

924.26

WA

787.23

789.65

807.53

831.24

SA

838.46

1,103.43

1,403.95

1,514.97

TAS

719.60

730.46

864.74

999.53

ACT

621.98

662.29

703.92

699.05

NT

2,883.54

2,966.67

3,257.47

3,397.47

Australia

839.83

905.26

966.04

1,055.04

Source: Productivity Commission 2019, Report on Government Services 2019 – Child protection services, Table 16.A7 State and Territory Government real recurrent expenditure on all child protection services (201718 dollars)

* Real expenditure includes protective intervention services, out-of-home care, intensive family support services and family support services.

Notes:

1. Expenditure per child relates to children aged 0 to 17 years in the population.

2. Population data used to derive rates are from the 2016 Census preliminary estimates.

3. Refer to the Productivity Commission Report on Government Services for more information on comparatives and inclusions for each state and territory.

Real expenditure per child by category and jurisdiction, dollars per child, Australia excluding ACT and NT, 2014–15 to 2017–18

Source: Productivity Commission 2019, Report on Government Services 2019 – Child protection services, Table 16.A7 State and Territory Government real recurrent expenditure on all child protection services (2017–18 dollars)

Further analysis shows that WA has the lowest expenditure per child in the population on general family support services and intensive family support services of all states and territories with only 21.2 and 18.6 dollars per child respectively in 2017–18.

Real expenditure per child by category and jurisdiction, dollars per child, Australia, 2017–18

Family support services

Intensive family support services

Protective intervention services

Out-of-home care services

NSW

65.3

100.6

308.4

685.5

VIC

152.9

98.7

213.2

464.4

QLD

67.1

84.2

247.9

525.1

WA

21.2

18.6

325.2

466.2

SA

139.4

94.1

120.5

1,161.0

TAS

59.1

71.9

206.3

662.3

ACT

32.2

61.3

146.4

459.2

NT

732.3

77.9

393.9

2,193.4

Australia

94.7

86.0

257.4

617.0

Source: Productivity Commission, Report on Government Services 2019 – Child protection services, Table 16.A7 State and Territory Government real recurrent expenditure on all child protection services (2017–18 dollars)

Real expenditure per child by category and jurisdiction, dollars per child, Australia excluding ACT and NT, 2017–18

Source: Productivity Commission, Report on Government Services 2019 – Child protection services, Table 16.A7 State and Territory Government real recurrent expenditure on all child protection services (2017–18 dollars)

At the same time, in 2017–18 WA has the second highest expenditure per child in the population on protective intervention services (325.2 dollars per child).

Variations across jurisdictions can be due to different definitions and methodologies for calculating the total expenditure in each category. However, the results still highlight that WA is spending a disproportionate amount on tertiary services in the child protection system with significantly less being spent on primary and secondary services (family support services and intensive family support services).

Early intervention is essential to improve the lives of children and young people and to strengthen families and communities. Recent research has highlighted the significant cost to Australia due to late intervention. This analysis estimated that the total cost to the government for children and young people experiencing serious issues is $15.2 billion every year. These costs include the costs of child protection, youth justice, mental health issues, youth unemployment and youth homelessness.43

Endnotes

  1. Mullan K and Higgins D 2014, A safe and supportive family environment for children: key components and links to child outcomes – Occasional Paper No 52, Department of Social Services, p. 1.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child Protection Overview, AIHW [website].
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Child welfare series No 70, Cat no CWS 65, AIHW, p. 24.
  4. WA Department for Child Protection and Family Support (now Communities) 2014, Emotional abuse – Family and domestic violence policy, WA Government.
  5. Hunter C 2014, Effects of child abuse and neglect for children and adolescents, National child Protection Clearinghouse Resource Sheet, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  6. Lima F et al 2018, Exploring outcomes for children who have experienced out-of-home care, Telethon Kids Institute.
  7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Child welfare series No 70, Cat no CWS 65, AIHW.
  8. Child Family Community Australia 2017, Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics: CFCA Resource Sheet, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Child welfare series No 70, Cat no CWS 65, AIHW.
  11. Department of Communities 2019, Child Protection Activity Performance Report 2017–18, WA Government p. 17.
  12. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Child welfare series No 70, Cat no CWS 65, AIHW, p. 8.
  13. A substantiation of a notification is the conclusion (following an investigation) that there was reasonable cause to believe that a child had been, was being, or was likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed. Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, National framework for protecting Australia's children indicators.
  14. Care and protection orders are legal orders or arrangements that give child protection department some responsibility for a child’s welfare. Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child Protection: Glossary.
  15. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Child welfare series No 70, Cat no CWS 65, AIHW, p. v.
  16. The WA Department of Communities does not use the terminology of ‘investigations’ and instead uses the term ‘Safety and wellbeing assessments’.
  17. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Data Tables: Table S43: Children in out-of-home care, by Indigenous status, states and territories, 30 June 2018, AIHW.
  18. Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) 2019, CFCA Resource Sheet: Child protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, AIFS.
  19. SNAICC – National Voice for our Children (SNAICC) et al 2018, Family Matters Report 2018, SNAICC, p. 10.
  20. Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry 2013, Addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander overrepresentation, QLD Government, p. 169-170.
  21. Child Protection Systems Royal Commission 2016, The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,  Volume 1: Summary and Report, Government of South Australia, p. xxv.
  22. Family Matters 2017, Family Matters Report 2017, SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children, p. 61.
  23. Australian Human Rights Commissioner 1997, Bringing them home, Chapter 25: Underlying Issues, Australian Government.
  24. Miranti R et al 2018, Child Social Exclusion, Poverty And Disadvantage In Australia, NATSEM, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA), University of Canberra.
  25. The type of abuse or neglect that is recorded as the ‘primary’ type is the type considered most likely to place the child at risk or be most severe in the short term.
  26. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Child welfare series No 70, Cat no CWS 65, AIHW, p. 24.
  27. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Table S9: Children who were the subjects of substantiations of notifications received during 2017–18, by type of abuse or neglect and sex, states and territories, AIHW.
  28. Scott D 2014, Understanding child neglect: CFCA Paper No. 20, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 9.
  29. Doidge J et al 2017, Economic predictors of child maltreatment in an Australian population-based birth cohort, Child and Youth Services Review, Vol 72.
  30. Scott D 2014, Understanding Child Neglect, CFCA Paper No 20, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  31. Markham F and Biddle N 2018, Income, Poverty and Inequality: 2016 Census Paper No. 2, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, p. 16.
  32. Ibid, p. 16.
  33. Raissian K et al 2014, Child Maltreatment Reporting Patterns and Predictors of Substantiation: Comparing Adolescents and Younger Children, Child Maltreatment, Vol 19, No 1.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2016, Vulnerable young people: interactions across homelessness, youth justice and child protection: 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2015, AIHW.
  36. Child Family Community Australia 2017, Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics: CFCA Resource Sheet, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Department of Communities 2019, Casework Practice Manual, 3.4.23 Unendorsed placements, WA Government.
  39. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, National framework for protecting Australia's children indicators – 4.2 Placement stability, AIHW.
  40. Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) 2018, CFCA Resource Sheet – Children in care, AIFS.
  41. McDowall JJ 2018, Out-of-home care in Australia: Children and young people’s views after five years of National Standards, CREATE Foundation, p. 28.
  42. There are differences across jurisdictions in the calculation of child protection expenditure. These includes where expenditure is categorised (e.g. intensive family services or protection intervention services) and how overheads are allocated. Refer to the Productivity Commission Report on Government Services for more information.
  43. Teager W et al 2019, How Australia can invest early and return more: A new look at the $15b cost and opportunity, Early Intervention Foundation, The Front Project and CoLab at the Telethon Kids Institute.
Measure: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle

While it is important for all children in care to feel connected to their community and culture, it is particularly important for Aboriginal children whose culture is an integral part of their identity and wellbeing. Connection to community and culture can be difficult to maintain in the child protection system.1 Furthermore, Aboriginal children are significantly overrepresented in the child protection system and are more likely to have permanent placements away from their family and community.2

The National Standards for out-of-home care have been designed to improve the quality of care provided to children and young people in care around Australia. Standards 9 and 10 relate to the right of children and young people in care to be able to maintain relationships with their birth family, culture and community.3

  • Standard 9: Children and young people are supported to safely and appropriately maintain connection with family, be they birth parents, siblings or other family members.
  • Standard 10: Children and young people in care are supported to develop their identity, safely and appropriately, through contact with their families, friends, culture, spiritual sources and communities and have their life history recorded as they grow up.

There are a number of mechanisms that are designed to support Aboriginal children’s connection to culture while in care. These include compliance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP) and having a cultural support plan.

The ATSICPP consists of five inter-related elements: prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection with the aim of enhancing and preserving Aboriginal children's connection to family and community and sense of identity and culture.4 For further information on the ATSICPP and how it can be implemented in practice refer to the SNAICC – National Voice for our Children (SNAICC) resource: The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: A guide to support implementation.

There is currently no nationally agreed measure to report on whether children have been placed into care in line with the ATSICPP.5

Action 1.3 of the Fourth Action Plan of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children is to develop a nationally consistent approach to measuring the application of the five elements of the ATSICPP. Progress towards this action, particularly in WA, will be monitored and reported through the Indicators of wellbeing.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) annually report on the proportion of Aboriginal children aged 0 to 17 years in care placed with extended family or other Aboriginal caregivers (a proxy for compliance with the placement component of the ATSICPP).6

In 2017–18, AIHW reported that 60.1 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people in care in WA were placed with Aboriginal relatives or extended family members (kin), other relatives or with other Aboriginal caregivers (including family group homes and residential care run by Aboriginal caregivers). The remainder, 39.9 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people, were not placed with kin or Aboriginal caregivers.

The term ‘kin’ or ‘kinship’ care is used in the AIHW and Productivity Commission reports and by most other Australian jurisdictions to represent care by a relative or a person known to the child as a significant other. For Aboriginal children, this may include people who have a cultural, tribal or community connection with the child or young person that is recognised by that child or young person’s family or community.7

The WA Department of Communities uses the term ‘family care’ rather than kinship care, for care that is not foster care, family group or residential care.

Aboriginal children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care by jurisdiction and relationship to carer, in per cent, Australia, 2017–18

Aboriginal relatives, kin*

Other relatives, kin

Other Aboriginal caregiver

Total placed with relatives, kin, other

Total not placed with relatives, kin, other

Total

NSW

35.9

21.8

16.6

74.4

25.6

100.0

VIC

43.1

31.4

4.3

78.9

21.1

100.0

QLD

24.7

18.5

13.3

56.6

43.4

100.0

WA

38.7

12.6

8.7

60.1

39.9

100.0

SA

32.8

20.0

12.3

65.0

35.0

100.0

TAS

8.7

27.6

6.3

42.6

57.4

100.0

ACT

39.6

21.2

1.5

62.3

37.7

100.0

NT

27.3

0.0

5.9

33.3

66.7

100.0

Total

33.4

19.5

12.3

65.2

34.8

100.0

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 2017–18, Table S45: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, by relationship of carer, states and territories, 30 June 2018

Aboriginal children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care by jurisdiction and relationship to carer, in per cent, Australia, 2017–18

Source: AIHW, Child Protection Australia 2017–18, Table S45: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, by relationship of carer, states and territories, 30 June 2018

There is considerable variation across Australian jurisdictions in regards to the fulfilment of this principle, and WA is just below the Australian average of 65.2 per cent.

The ATSICPP placement hierarchy prioritises placement options as follows:

  1. With Aboriginal relatives or extended family members, or other relatives or extended family members, or
  2. With Aboriginal members of the child’s community, or
  3. With Aboriginal family-based carers.

If none of the above three options is available, then as a last resort the child may be placed with a non-Aboriginal carer or in a residential setting.8

There is criticism of the placement data currently reported by AIHW, including that the definition of ‘kin’ used by child protection departments is too broad (it can include non-family members), Aboriginal carers may not be from the child’s community or country and therefore not provide a connection to their culture, and placement with non-Aboriginal family members can be detrimental over the longer term if they do not support the child’s connection to culture.9,10

SNAICC also note that the published placement data includes Aboriginal children and young people in residential care settings if they are targeted towards Aboriginal children and young people, but are not necessarily run by Aboriginal community organisations. This represents the ‘last resort’ in the hierarchy and they exclude this from their analysis of compliance with the placement component.11

Recognising these limitations, this measure uses the data from the AIHW and the Productivity Commission in lieu of other data.

Over the last decade, the proportion of WA Aboriginal children and young people being placed in accordance with the placement principle has decreased from 75.3 per cent in 2008–09 to 60.1 per cent in 2017–18. As highlighted by the graph below, this is in part because of an overall increase in the number of Aboriginal children and young people in care.

Placements of Aboriginal children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care, complying with the placement principle of ATSICPP, number and per cent, WA, 2008–09 to 2017–18

Placed in accordance

Not placed in accordance

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

2008–09

898

75.3

294

24.7

2009–10

926

74.8

312

25.2

2010–11

1,029

71.2

417

28.8

2011–12

1,094

69.3

484

30.7

2012–13

1,104

65.9

570

34.1

2013–14

1,240

65.9

642

34.1

2014–15

1,327

64.4

733

35.6

2015–16

1,384

62.6

828

37.4

2016–17

1,397

60.2

924

39.8

2017–18

1,474

60.1

978

39.9

Source: Productivity Commission, Report on Government Services – Child Protection Report - 2019, Table 16A.21 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by relationship of caregiver, 30 June

Placements of Aboriginal children and young people aged 0 to 17 years in care, complying with the placement principle of ATSICPP, number and proportion, WA, 200809 to 201718

Source: Productivity Commission, Report on Government Services – Child Protection Report, Table 16A.21 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by relationship of caregiver, 30 June

In 2008–09, 898 (75.3%) Aboriginal children and young people were placed in accordance with the child placement principle compared to 1,397 (60.1%) in 2017–18.

The Department of Communities 2018–19 Annual Report states that in 2018–19, 65.0 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people in care in WA met the first three of the four placement options under the ATSICPP placement hierarchy.12 The difference between the AIHW Child Protection Report and the Department of Communities Annual Report is principally the inclusion of unpaid placements (including unendorsed arrangements) by the Department of Communities.

Placing children and young people in the child protection system with family or kin can be difficult for a variety of reasons. These include the increasing number of Aboriginal children and young people entering care, the shortage of Aboriginal foster and family (kinship) carers, and inconsistent support for Aboriginal families, communities and organisations to participate in decision-making processes.13 Furthermore, Aboriginal families experience higher levels of poverty and disadvantage which can add financial strain when providing family care for children and young people.14

The recent WACOSS report, Partnering with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to deliver trusted services with stronger outcomes for Aboriginal people highlighted that a shortage of Aboriginal carers was not simply due to a shortage of Aboriginal families interested in being carers, but was sometimes because potential carers did not meet the Department’s criteria, had limited financial capacity and felt that there was less support provided to Aboriginal family carers compared to foster carers.15

It should be noted that placement with an Aboriginal caregiver (family or other) may meet the placement component of the ATSICPP but does not mean the other components (prevention, partnership, participation and connection) have been, and are being, complied with.16

For example, SNAICC performed a baseline analysis of compliance with the ATSICPP in WA and noted in particular that policies and procedures do not mandate participation or even efforts to enable or facilitate the participation of children, families and communities in decision making.17 There was, however, also recognition that the Department of Communities is making changes as part of their reform agenda.18

In 2019, the WA Government has announced a new initiative to consult SNAICC and local Aboriginal communities to develop a new action plan to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in the child protection system.19

Endnotes

  1. Krakouer J et al 2018, “We Live and Breathe Through Culture”: Conceptualising Cultural Connection for Indigenous Australian Children in Out-of home Care, Australian Social Work, Vol 71, No 3.
  2. Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) 2019, Child Protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  3. Department of Social Services 2011, An outline of National Standards for out-of-home care, Commonwealth of Australia. 
  4. Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) 2015, Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: Policy and practice considerations, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018, Indicator Quick Reference Guide: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children – outlines that Placement of Indigenous children (compliance) has no data and that an indicator is still to be developed.
  6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, National framework for protecting Australia's children indicators – Kinship Placement, AIHW.
  7. Kiraly M 2018, Support for children in kinship care provided by the Commonwealth, States & Territories of Australia: Report of national policy survey, The Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies, p. 5.
  8. SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children (SNAICC) 2019, The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Placement Principle: A Guide to Support Implementation, SNAICC, p. 45.
  9. Family Matters 2019, Family Matters Report 2018, SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children, p. 73-74
  10. Higgins D et al 2005, Enhancing out-of-home care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 58-59.
  11. Family Matters 2019, Family Matters Report 2018, SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children, p. 74.
  12. Department of Communities 2019, Annual Report: 2018-19, WA Government, p. 150.
  13. Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) 2016, Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, AIFS.
  14. Family Matters 2019, Family Matters Report 2018, SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children, p. 74.
  15. West Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS) and Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council 2019, Partnering with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to deliver trusted services with stronger outcomes for Aboriginal people, WACOSS, p. 23.
  16. Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) 2016, Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, AIFS.
  17. SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children (SNAICC) 2018, Baseline Analysis of Best Practice Implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: Western Australia, SNAICC.
  18. SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children (SNAICC) 2018, Baseline Analysis of Best Practice Implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: Western Australia, SNAICC.
  19. McGurk S 2019, Two major announcements for National Child Protection Week, Simone McGurk [website], viewed 3 October 2019.
Children in care

At 30 June 2019, there were 1,618 WA children in care aged between five and nine years, more than one-half of whom (55.1%) were Aboriginal.1

Although children and young people are placed into care to protect them from child abuse and neglect at home, evidence suggests that out-of-home care is not always a safe place, with some research showing higher prevalence rates of abuse in the care system than in the general population.2,3

There is limited data on the prevalence of abuse or neglect within the care system.

Standard One of the National Standards for out-of-home care states that ‘children and young people will be provided with stability and security during their time in care’. This is planned to be measured using the rate and number of children in out-of-home care who were the subject of a child protection substantiation and the person believed responsible was living in the household providing out-of-home care.4

In WA, cases of alleged abuse for children in care are included in the data for notifications and substantiations. These cases are not separately reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.5

The Productivity Commission Report on Government Services reports on children in care who were the subject of a substantiation of abuse or neglect. They note this data is experimental and should be interpreted with caution due to the collection methods employed by the various jurisdictions.6

In 2017–18, 89 WA children and young people in care (aged 0 to 17 years) were reported as subject of a notification which was substantiated.7

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) found that sexual abuse by carers, their family members, visitors, caseworkers and other children and young people in care continues to occur in care, and that sexual exploitation is a growing concern, especially for children and young people in residential care.8 The Royal Commission identified persistent weaknesses and systemic failures that continue to place children and young people in care at risk of sexual abuse.9

Of the survivors who reported their experiences, most were sexually abused by an adult, including a foster or kinship carer, another adult in the household, or a residential care worker. Some survivors reported being abused by other children and young people in care, this was particularly high in residential care.10

The Royal Commission found residential care held particular risks for children and young people. These included the challenges associated with caring for vulnerable groups of young people in the same facility including young people who may have exhibited potentially harmful sexual behaviours, many of whom have previously been sexually abused. These risks are compounded by high turnover of staff, use of casual labour and lack of staff training, supervision and support.11

However, research also suggests that violence more broadly may be an issue for families providing kinship care. In online survey research in Victoria one-half of the kinship carers participating experienced physical abuse and violence from a family member of children being cared for. While just under one-half of the carers reported experiencing family violence caused by the child in care.12 It should be noted that this survey was not a representative sample and does not provide an indication of the prevalence of violence for kinship carers more broadly.13

In 2018 AIHW presented data on the views of children and young people in out-of-home care collected by all Australian jurisdictions as part of their local case management processes. Across Australia, 92.0 per cent of children and young people in care (aged eight to 17 years) reported feeling both safe and settled in their current placement. These results differed depending on living arrangements, with approximately 95.0 per cent of children and young people in foster care and family (kinship) care reporting they felt safe and settled, compared to only 69.0 per cent in residential care.14

In 2016, CREATE Foundation spoke with 25 WA children and young people with a care experience aged between seven and 25 years of age about what they thought they needed in care. The participants explained that it was really important that adults were communicating and speaking with children and young people to see if they felt safe or not, and that children and young people were listened to, taken seriously and supported if they felt unsafe.15

In 2016, the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA asked 96 children and young people aged eight to 24 years with experience of care about their views on raising concerns and making complaints.16 In this consultation, strong themes emerged with regards to barriers to speaking up that many children and young people in care face, including:

  • fear of the consequences
  • being told not to speak up
  • not knowing how to or not having the words to articulate concerns
  • not having anyone to speak to or anyone who would listen
  • fear of not being believed
  • isolation and lack of privacy
  • a lack of confidence or feeling scared
  • shame
  • an imbalance of power.

These barriers highlight how important it is that children in care understand their right to voice their concerns and, are informed on who they can talk to and how they can access help if they feel unsafe. For more information refer to:

Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2016, Speaking Out About Raising Concerns in Care. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.

Endnotes

  1. Department of Communities 2019, Annual Report: 2018-19, WA Government p. 26.
  2. Euser S et al 2013, The Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse in Out-of-Home Care: A Comparison Between Abuse in Residential and in Foster Care, Child Maltreatment, Vol 19, No 4.
  3. Euser S et al 2014, Out of home placement to promote safety? The prevalence of physical abuse in residential and foster care, Children and Youth Services Review, Vol 37.
  4. Department of Social Services 2011, An outline of National Standards for out-of-home care, Commonwealth of Australia. 
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Appendix C: Policy and practice differences in states and territories, AIHW, p. 10.
  6. Productivity Commission 2019, Report on Government Services: Child Protection Services, Productivity Commission, p. 16.15.
  7. Productivity Commission 2019, Report on Government Services: Child Protection Services – Table 16A.13 Children in out-of-home care who were the subject of a substantiation of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse or neglect, Productivity Commission.
  8. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Volume 12: Contemporary Out-of-home care, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 9.
  9. Ibid, p. 9.
  10. Ibid, p. 13.
  11. Ibid, p. 14-15.
  12. Breman R and MacRae A 2017, ‘It’s been an absolute nightmare’ Family violence in kinship care, Baptcare.
  13. The online survey link was emailed to former and current kinship carers in Victoria. The link was distributed to both informal and formal kinship carers. Since the intention of this study was to describe the carers and children’s experience of violence and abuse and the impact this violence has had on them, recruitment of participants was specifically targeted towards kinship carers who had direct experience of family violence since their placement started. No information was obtained about the prevalence of family violence in kinship placements in Victoria. Source: Breman R and MacRae A 2017, ‘It’s been an absolute nightmare’ Family violence in kinship care, Baptcare, p. 10.
  14. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, The views of children and young people in out-of-home care: overview of indicator results from the second national survey 2018, Cat No CWS 68, AIHW, p. iv.
  15. CREATE Foundation 2017, Standards of Out-of-Home Care Consultation Report – Western Australia (2017), CREATE Foundation, p. 12.
  16. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2016, Speaking Out About Raising Concerns in Care. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
Children with disability

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2015 data collection reports that approximately 23,700 WA children and young people (7.5%) aged five to 14 years have reported disability.1,2

Children with disability are at greater risk of not feeling safe in their community and experiencing violence and abuse.3,4,5 While there is limited data, research shows that children with disability are likely to have a higher risk of being unsafe in their homes and have a greater risk of experiencing child abuse and neglect.6,7

There is limited data on whether WA children aged six to 11 years with disability feel safe and are safe at home.

In 2017–18, 448 WA children and young people in care (10.1%) were reported as having a disability.8 It should be noted that there is evidence to suggest many children in care may be living with undiagnosed Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).9

A WA study using linked administrative data found that although children with disability made up 10.4 per cent of the population, they represented 25.9 per cent of children with a maltreatment allegation and 29.0 per cent of those with a substantiated notification.10 The risk of maltreatment was not consistent across all disability types. Children with intellectual disability, mental/behavioural problems and conduct disorder had a greater risk of maltreatment than children with other types of disability.11

There are currently no nationally consistent data sets available to monitor the extent of violence, abuse and neglect of children and young people with disability.12 The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is working with the Australian and state/territory governments to better identify children with disability within the Child Protection National Minimum Dataset.13

In a very small number of cases, parents of children and young people with disability relinquish the day-to-day care of their child to the state.14 There is no data publicly available on relinquishment in WA.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has been established to specifically address evidence that people with disability are being abused in institutional and other settings. This Royal Commission is currently receiving submissions and holding hearings.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that children with disability who disclosed sexual abuse were often not believed or their distress was explained as a function of their disability. Furthermore, survivors with communication and cognitive impairments were reliant on supportive adults noticing and understanding changes in their behaviour after the abuse.15

Endnotes

  1. ABS uses the following definition of disability: ‘In the context of health experience, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICFDH) defines disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions… In this survey, a person has a disability if they report they have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities.’ Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015, Glossary.
  2. Estimate is to be used with caution as it has a relative standard error of between 25 and 50 per cent. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015: Western Australia, Table 1.1 Persons with disability, by age and sex, 2012 and 2015 estimate, and Table 1.3 Persons with disability, by age and sex, 2012 and 2015, proportion of persons.
  3. Wayland S and Hindmarsh G 2017, Understanding safeguarding practices for children with disability when engaging with organisations, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 3.
  4. Robinson S 2016, Feeling safe, being safe: what is important to children and young people with disability and high support needs about safety in institutional settings?, Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University, p. 9.
  5. World Health Organisation (WHO) 2019, Violence against adults and children with disabilities, WHO [website].
  6. Maclean M et al 2017, Maltreatment Risk Among Children with Disabilities, Pediatrics, Vol 139, No 4.
  7. Jones L et al 2012, Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies, Lancet, Vol 380.
  8. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, Data Tables – Table S41, AIHW.
  9. McLean S and McDougall S 2014, Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: Current issues in awareness, prevention and intervention, CFCA Paper No 20, Child Family Community Australia (CFCA).
  10. Maclean M et al 2017, Maltreatment Risk Among Children With Disabilities, Pediatrics, Vol 139, No 4.
  11. Jones L et al 2012, Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies, Lancet, Vol 380.
  12. Community Affairs References Committee 2015, Violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings, including the gender and age related dimensions, and the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 37.
  13. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Child protection Australia: 2017–18, AIHW, p. 6.
  14. Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission 2012, Desperate measures: The relinquishment of children with disability into state care in Victoria, Victorian Government.
  15. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2017, Final Report: Preface and executive summary, Australian Government, p. 14.
Policy implications

Feeling and being safe at home is critical for children to develop good physical and mental health, have a stable foundation for positive socio-emotional development and effectively participate in learning.1,2

Children who are not safe and supported in their home are more likely to have poor outcomes in both the short and long-term including learning and developmental problems, poor physical and mental health and behavioural issues.3,4,5

This indicator considers whether WA children feel and are safe at home. This is a broad topic which encompasses a continuum of issues from not feeling safe at home due to sibling bullying through to family and domestic violence and child abuse occasioning child protection involvement.

Feeling safe at home

Supporting families to foster a safe environment at home for children aged six to 11 years requires a number of areas of focus:

  • Data is required on children’s views on safety at home to determine when they feel safe and unsafe, and what they need to help them feel safe.
  • Continued general information campaigns for families on how to parent effectively, including improving understanding of the importance of responsive, consistent and warm parenting throughout childhood.
  • It is particularly critical that parents experiencing vulnerabilities are provided with access to specialised and intensive parenting support services.6
  • Policies which are focused on reducing disadvantage and social exclusion more broadly, which can reduce social stressors in socially and economically disadvantaged communities.7,8

Family and domestic violence

Family and domestic violence is a key contributor to children not feeling, or being, safe in their home. It can affect a child’s coping mechanisms and sense of self, has the potential to cause a state of hyper-vigilance and trauma and in some cases can manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder.9

The causes of family and domestic violence are complex. Violence against women is linked to gender inequality reinforced through gender stereotypes. It is further influenced by factors including intergenerational abuse and trauma, exposure to violence as a child, social and economic exclusion, drug and alcohol misuse and mental illness.10

While there has been a significant policy focus on family and domestic violence in Australia over the last 10 years, how to address the impact on children and young people has been less considered. To do this effectively, it is essential that the voices of children and young people who have experienced family and domestic violence are brought to the fore.

Across Australia, there is a higher rate of family and domestic violence in Aboriginal families than non-Aboriginal families.11 This should be understood in the context of a history of colonisation, forced child removal, significant social and economic disadvantage and intergenerational trauma.12

Providing improved support to children and their families experiencing family and domestic violence requires the following: 

  • Engagement with children who have experienced family and domestic violence to gain an understanding of what they need for support.
  • Further work to integrate services that address the multiple factors that increase the risk of family and domestic violence occurring, including mental health issues and drug and alcohol misuse.
  • It is essential that services are provided directly for children who experience violence in their homes. Children need to be treated as victims in their own right with their own needs.
  • Improved services responses for children with disability and CALD children and young people.
  • Continued effort to improve access to safe and stable housing for women who choose to leave violent relationships, and to develop approaches to enable women and children to stay (safely) in their home while the perpetrator is removed.13
  • A whole-of-government response to reducing childhood poverty, with a focus on Aboriginal children and young people, should be considered at both a state and national level.
  • Services and programs to address family and domestic violence in Aboriginal communities, must be Aboriginal-led and tailored to local needs. Wherever possible, service providers should be from Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and non-Aboriginal service providers must be culturally safe and trauma competent.14

Child protection system

There has been a sustained increase in the number and rate of children and young people entering care over the last decade. Research suggests that this increase is associated with an increase in the number of families and children experiencing multiple forms of social and economic disadvantage.15

For almost one-quarter (24.4%) of the children and young people who have had contact with the child protection system, the primary reason was neglect. Research has shown a strong and consistent link between neglect and economic disadvantage.16 Policies which address poverty and disadvantage more broadly are essential.

It is important to build the capacity of parents, caregivers and families so they are supported to provide environments in which their children can be healthy, safe, engaged in learning and have opportunities to thrive. This requires the following areas of focus:

  • There is a critical need to more effectively address the leading social determinants of child abuse and neglect: domestic violence, mental illness, and substance misuse.17 Greater collaboration between services is required to address each family’s specific needs, this might include coordination between drug and alcohol services, specialist family violence services and mental health programs.18
  • Families experiencing multiple long term complex challenges require intensive support to make changes to be able to provide a safe and supportive home for their children. Services provided should be holistic, strength-based and non-judgemental.
  • Early intervention services that respond to family and community needs are critical in order to reduce the number of children and young people entering care and to maximise the prospect of reunification with their family if they are placed in care. Supports and interventions that do not address the home, school and community environments in which children live are unlikely to be effective or sustainable.
  • High-quality data outlining community, group or individual vulnerability is essential to identify children and young people who are at risk. Data such as school attendance rates, Australian Early Development Census data provide indicators of children and young people who may be at risk of harm.19,20
  • At the same time, intensive family support services need to be evaluated and shown to be effective in addressing the risk of abuse and neglect in highly vulnerable families.21

Despite policy commitments and public discussion, there has been no progress in reducing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in the child protection system. Addressing the underlying causes of the poor health and wellbeing in Aboriginal communities is essential to most effectively bring about change, and must include recognition of the pervasive nature of trauma in Aboriginal people’s lives.22

Reducing Aboriginal children’s overrepresentation in the child protection system requires a number of areas of focus:

  • Programs and services working in the Aboriginal community must be Aboriginal-led, rights-based, client (child) centred, place-based, appropriately resourced and evaluated.
  • Services engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families should aim to build on existing family strengths to assist families to develop healthy relationships to care for themselves and their children.23
  • Service providers who work with Aboriginal children and young people (including teachers, workers in child protection, mental health and youth justice) must be trauma competent – better training is needed for all these workers to understand the magnitude of the historical and contemporary trauma experienced by Aboriginal people.24

In 2019, the WA Government has announced a new initiative to consult with SNAICC – National Voice for our Children and local Aboriginal communities to develop a new action plan to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in the child protection system.25

It is essential to improve the child protection system more broadly in WA to more effectively respond to the needs of vulnerable children and young people. Numerous inquiries into Australian child protection systems have consistently highlighted issues of inadequate workforce capacity and poor quality of practice and decision making.26

Data gaps

There is no data or research available on whether WA children aged six to 11 years feel safe in their homes.

No data is currently available on the prevalence or incidence of childhood experiences of family and domestic violence and child abuse and neglect. This gap will be at least partially addressed by the Australian Child Maltreatment Study funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council. This study will involve a national survey of 10,000 randomly selected participants to determine the prevalence of child maltreatment in Australia. 

There is limited data on the experiences and prevalence of family and domestic violence, abuse and neglect for specific groups of children including Aboriginal children, children with disability and CALD children.

There is considerable data available on the number of children in the child protection system and their various interactions with child protection services. There is however very limited data on whether the child protection is improving these children’s lives. Data on the health and wellbeing of children in the WA child protection system, not simply the services provided to them, is essential.

In the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey, WA children and young people aged eight to 17 years were asked questions about feeling safe at home. Results from the study will be published in 2020.

Endnotes

  1. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2009, Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, p. 1.
  2. Mullan K and Higgins D 2014, A safe and supportive family environment for children: key components and links to child outcomes – Occasional Paper No 52, Department of Social Services, p. 2.
  3. Hunter C 2014, Effects of child abuse and neglect for children and adolescents, National child Protection Clearinghouse Resource Sheet, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  4. Mullan K and Higgins D 2014, A safe and supportive family environment for children: key components and links to child outcomes – Occasional Paper No 52, Department of Social Services, p. 2.
  5. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004, Young children develop in an environment of relationships, Working Paper No. 1, Harvard University.
  6. Volmert A et al 2016, Perceptions of Parenting: Mapping the gaps between expert and public understandings of effective parenting in Australia, FrameWorks Institute, p. 6.
  7. Webster C and Kingston S 2014, Crime and Poverty, in Reducing Poverty in the UK: A collection of evidence review, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, p. 148.
  8. Schwartz M 2010, Building communities, not prisons: Justice reinvestment and Indigenous over-imprisonment, Australian Indigenous Law Review, Vol 14, No 1.
  9. Laing L 2000, Children, young people and domestic violence, Issues Paper no. 2, Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse.
  10. State of Victoria 2016, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations, Parl Paper No 132, p. 2.
  11. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia: continuing the national story 2019, Cat no FDV 3, AIHW, p. 106.
  12. Campo M and Tayton S 2015, Domestic and family violence in regional, rural and remote communities: An overview of key issues, Child Family Community Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies. 
  13. State of Victoria 2016, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations, Parl Paper No 132, p. 22.
  14. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2019, Improving the odds for WA’s vulnerable children and young people, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  15. Pilkington R 2017, Child Protection in South Australia, BetterStart Child Health and Development Research Group, School of Public Health, The University of Adelaide.
  16. Doidge J et al 2017, Economic predictors of child maltreatment in an Australian population-based birth cohort, Child and Youth Services Review, Vol 72.
  17. Bromfield L et al 2014, Contemporary issues in child protection intake, referral and family support, in Families, policy and the law: Selected essays on contemporary issues for Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  18. State of Victoria 2016, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations, Parl Paper No 132, p. 23.
  19. Green M et al 2017, Childhood Maltreatment and Early Developmental Vulnerabilities at Age 5 Years, Child Development, Vol 89, No 5.
  20. Hagborg J et al 2018, Evidence for a relationship between child maltreatment and absenteeism among high-school students in Sweden, Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol 75.
  21. Bromfield L et al 2014, Contemporary issues in child protection intake, referral and family support, in Families, policy and the law: Selected essays on contemporary issues for Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  22. The Lowitja Institute 2018, Journeys to Healing and Strong Wellbeing Final Report, The Lowitja Institute.
  23. SNAICC – National Voice for our Children 2019, Eight Priorities, SNAICC [website].
  24. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2019, Improving the odds for WA’s vulnerable children and young people, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  25. McGurk S 2019, Media Statements: Two major announcements for National Child Protection Week, WA Government.
  26. Finan S et al 2018, Assessing the quality and comprehensiveness of child protection practice frameworks, Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia.
Further resources

For more information on safety in the home for children refer to the following resources:

Endnotes

  1. Mullan K and Higgins D 2014, A safe and supportive family environment for children: key components and links to child outcomes – Occasional Paper No 52, Department of Social Services, p. 2.
  2. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004, Young children develop in an environment of relationships, Working Paper No. 1, Harvard University.
  3. Hunter C 2014, Effects of child abuse and neglect for children and adolescents, National Child Protection Clearinghouse Resource Sheet, Australian Institute of Family Studies.