Indigenous and remotely located children are more likely to receive child protection care than those in major cities, but why is this?

Indigenous and remotely located children are more likely to receive child protection care than children in major cities, according to a Child Protection Report from March 2020, but what are the circumstances that lead to this? (Image Source: Department for Child Protection

By Alexandra Bull | @ally_bull19

The number of child protection notifications continues to rise, according to reports analysed by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Over the five-year period from 2014-15 to 2018-19, the overall number of children who were the subject of child protection notifications in Australia rose by 12 per cent, from approximately 152,000 children (29 per 1000) to approximately 170,000 children (30 per 1000). 

Data from the  shows that 170,000 (30 per 1000) Australian children received child protection services, and 72 per cent of those children were repeat clients.

Each year, around 3 per cent of all children aged 0-17 are assisted by Australia’s child protection systems.

Manager of the Department of Child Protection office, Julie Powell says the reason the number of clients receiving child protection services continues to rise is because more people are now aware of what constitutes abuse and neglect.

“40 years ago, we had much less knowledge of child abuse and neglect and the impact that it had on children,” Ms Powell said.

“South Australia was ground-breaking with enacting the Child Protection Act in 1993, which really recognised child abuse and neglect, leading to training for professionals to be aware of what constitutes abuse and neglect as they are mandated notifiers.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 8 times more likely than non-indigenous children to receive child protection services, and children from geographically remote areas are three times more likely to be in out-of-home care than those from major cities.

In 2018-19, 51,000 Aboriginal children received a child protection service.

Why is it that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and children from remote communities, are more subject to be placed in the care of child protection services?

Ms Powell says this is due, in part, to the racist policies regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from decades ago, as abolished legislation and policies continue to impact on these families today.

“Trauma has been passed down from generation to generation due to past treatment of Indigenous peoples, such as the Stolen Generation and the epigenetics that are still effecting Indigenous families today,” she said.

“Abuse and neglect are not typical of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, but it is typical of the vulnerability that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced.

“Children in remote areas are also more likely to receive child protection services as more disadvantaged families are found in these areas, due, in part, to the availability and affordability of housing in these areas.”

Ms Powell also added that in remote areas there is a sense of community and responsibility for children, meaning more people are going to be aware when a child is being abused and neglected.

So, how does the number of repeat clients receiving child protection services drop?

“We need to have early intervention services, to address the problems and vulnerabilities early in children’s lives. We have to start intervening early in the life of a child and early in the cycle of abuse and neglect,” Ms Powell said.

“It takes a village to raise a child and if we are going to seriously address child abuse and neglect, we have to be serious about having strong, nurturing communities to care for all families, not just ones who are the same as us, all families.”

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