Child protection demand grows

The rate of children receiving child protection services continues to rise.

The number of children receiving child protection services continues to grow, with Indigenous children notably overrepresented, a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows.

The report, Child protection Australia 2016–17, shows that around 168,000 children received child protection services in 2016–17—or 1 in every 32 children.

The NT Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was told Territory Families cannot keep enough qualified staff in Katherine tasked to child protection cases. 

“Territory Families identified difficulties in attracting and retaining people well qualified to undertake the work in the Katherine office,” the Commission report states. 

“It is not unusual for senior practitioners in the Katherine Investigation and Assessment Team to carry a caseload of more than 100 child protection investigations.

“This indicates that children in Katherine are currently at risk and that more staff are needed to prevent further increases in the number of overdue investigation.

“Staff members in the Katherine Investigation and Assessment Team have raised concerns with management higher up in Territory Families.”

The Katherine Times has been told this caseload has since dropped to about 70 each.

In Darwin the caseload is about one social worker for every 15 children in need of protection.  

The Royal Commission has also told the government to provide bail support services for children in Katherine. 

Those services would include accommodation, bail support plans and referral to services and practical life skills support to assist the young person.

Territory Families told the Commission they were “securing a facility in Katherine” for bail accommodation.

They have also recommended that youth court in Katherine be scheduled on days or times when no adult matters are scheduled.

A Territory Families spokeswoman told Katherine Times  it was making continued efforts to consider all potential issues facing recruitment and retention in regional and remote areas including Katherine. 

“This includes regular intestate advertising through mechanisms such as the ‘our life out here’ campaign.

“Territory Families is also currently conducting an evidenced based review of the existing Child Protection Market Allowance, which includes eligible positions in Katherine.

“Our organisational services area is currently further exploring motivating incentives for staff based in Katherine inclusive of potential accommodation arrangements.

The spokeswoman said no resources have been reallocated from Katherine to Tennant Creek.

The spokeswoman said a successful recruitment drive for child protection workers in July 2017 resulted in four new appointments for the Katherine region.

This recruitment drive was repeated in November, attracting 39 applications for the Katherine region, and resulting in five new appointments, the spokeswoman said.

This recruitment drive statistics does not account for the numbers of staff who have left during the same period.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 7 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be receiving child protection services.

‘In the 5 years to 2016–17, the rate of children receiving child protection services has increased for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children,’ said AIHW spokesperson Louise York.

In 2012–13, about 127 per 1000 Indigenous children were receiving child protection services, growing to around 164 in 2016–17. For non-Indigenous children, the rate rose from about 19 to 22 per 1,000 over the same period. Indigenous rates of contact with the child protection system are higher than non-Indigenous rates and growing at a faster rate, with rates increasing by 29% over the 5-year period for Indigenous children compared with 21% for non-Indigenous children.

“A range of factors could be contributing to this rise. Increased public awareness and reporting, legislative changes and inquiries into the child protection processes all play a part, as well as potential rises in the rate of child abuse and neglect,” an institute spokeswoman said.

The report also shows that the majority of children in the child protection system are repeat clients. In 2016–17, almost three-quarters (74%) of children receiving child protection services had received services previously.

This was particularly true of those children on a care and protection order or in out-of-home care, of whom 95% were repeat clients.

Overall, the report shows that emotional abuse was the most common main type of substantiated abuse (48%), followed by neglect (24%). This was followed by physical abuse (16%) and sexual abuse (12%). However, there is often overlap between types of abuse.

In about 45% of cases where physical abuse was the main form of abuse recorded, emotional abuse was also found to be present.