ACT News


'Crisis levels' of Indigenous children in out-of-home care in the ACT

The number of children in state care in the ACT has jumped 40 per cent and Canberra now has the second-highest rate of Indigenous children in care in the country.

In its latest annual report on child protection for 2015-16, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has confirmed the increasingly dire situation among the capital's vulnerable population of Indigenous children.

The number of all children in care in the ACT jumped some 40 per cent in one year, up 685 from 1703 in 2014/15 to 2388, to the highest it had been in four years.

Prior to that the number had fluctuated from 2215 in 2012/13 to 1635 in 2013/14.

The report also revealed the ACT as having the nation's second-highest rate of Indigenous children under child protection and care orders, behind only Victoria.

It is a situation Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service chief executive Julie Tongs labelled a crisis.


"We've got 90 Indigenous children in care for every 1000 Indigenous children in the ACT, that's over 30 per cent higher than the national rate and compares with about seven non-Indigenous children in care out of every 1000 non-Indigenous kids in the ACT," she said.

"For a prosperous city, the national capital, to have a rate of Indigenous children in care like this - it's really at crisis levels and it's not good enough."

Nationally, the report showed the number of Australian children receiving child protection services rose about 20 per cent over the past four years.

Indigenous children were seven times more likely as non-Indigenous to have received child protection services, such as investigations, care and protection orders or out-of-home care.

In the ACT, that rose to almost 12 times more likely.

ACT children's minister Rachel Steven-Smith said the over-representation of Indigenous children in care was an issue across Australia.

"It's a complex issue that reflects a legacy of intergenerational disadvantage," Ms Steven-Smith said.

"Overall, the report into child protection demonstrates that children and young people in the ACT are involved in the child protection system at a slightly lower rate than in other jurisdictions."

The report showed the ACT had the fourth highest rate of children in care, behind the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria.

It comes as a groundbreaking study on the contact children have with their families while in out-of-home care expands its reach from the ACT into NSW.

The study aims to improve the management and supervision of contact visits, which play a significant role in the assessment of parent-child relationships and the capacity of parents to care for the child.

Led by Australian Catholic University Institute of Child Protection Studies associate director Stephanie Taplin the study aims to design a better contact supervision system for children in out-of-home care.

"There are no published empirical studies comparing types of supervision upon child or parent outcomes," she said.

"Designing and supporting contact interventions that improve outcomes for children and their families is therefore vital."

Ms Tongs reiterated her calls for an expansion of Aboriginal services in Canberra to deliver the services needed to help families stay together.

She said Indigenous children who weren't living in safe, loving homes with family "only feed into the ACT's high rate of Indigenous kids in the prison."

"These are all issues wound up in disadvantage, and Indigenous people are up the top of the scales when it comes to disadvantage, prison rates and children in care."