ACT has highest rate of indigenous child care, protection reports in Australia
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ACT has highest rate of indigenous child care, protection reports in Australia

The ACT had the highest rate of indigenous child care and protection reports in the nation and second-highest rate of indigenous children on protection orders in 2016-17.

The Productivity Commission's latest annual report on government services showed the rate of child care and protection reports about potential harm to indigenous children in Canberra reached 352.8 for every 1000 indigenous children last year.

A new report shows the ACT had the second-highest rate of indigenous children the subject of child protection orders in the country.

A new report shows the ACT had the second-highest rate of indigenous children the subject of child protection orders in the country.Credit:JOHN DONEGAN/Fairfax

That compared to a rate of just 46.3 for non-indigenous children in the ACT, and the next highest rate for reports about indigenous children, at 320.1 for every 1000 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children was in the Northern Territory.

The report also showed the ACT spent less on child protection services, per child, than every other Australian jurisdiction, at only $700 a child, compared to up to $1395 a child in South Australia, the highest spend in the country.

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While the ACT is spending almost $130 more than it did per child in 2011-12, it has consistently remained the lowest spending jurisdiction on child protection services in the past six years.

The high rate of reporting may be related to numerous factors, including the higher public profile of domestic violence issues, and comes despite previously reported delays in child protection authorities reporting those cases to the ACT Human Rights Commission.

Asked about the rise in reports, a spokesman for Children's Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT had the second-lowest proportion of child concern notifications for indigenous children, which is measured as a percent figure, rather than a proportion of all such reports.

He also said the figure was not comparable with other jurisdictions due to different counting methods.

But the data also showed the number of reports about suspected abuse, neglect or harm to indigenous children in Canberra almost doubled over the past decade, up from 169 for every 1000 indigenous children in 2007-08.

Professor Morag McArthur, of the Institute of Child Protection Studies, said one explanation for an increase in reports might be that people are more informed about the risks to children and that more children may be identified.

While the data shows a middling rate of 104.8 indigenous children in "finalised investigations", it also shows a rate of only 34.1 of those investigations resulting in "substantiations" - or a finding in the system that a child had definitely suffered abuse, harm or neglected.

But Prof McArthur said more concerning than the volume of reports was the continued "highly problematic" and increasing rate of indigenous children in care in Canberra.

The territory government has begun a review of the indigenous child protection system in Canberra, which she said was a "recognition that things need to be done differently", but that had not yet been not completed.

Prof McArthur also said the nation and the ACT government already had the evidence it needed to take more action on early intervention.

She said the government particularly needed to help other organisations like schools and child care centre, as well as the wider community, to ensure the child protection system was worked as well as it could, and reduce the numbers of children in care.

That situation has previously been labelled at a "crisis" point in Canberra, and has been highlighted in Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports, among others, in recent years.

The report showed the number of indigenous children on child protection orders in the ACT last year was at 100, out of every 1000 indigenous children in the ACT, second only to the 111.1 rate in Victoria.

Similarly, it showed the number of indigenous children in Canberra in out-of-home care was 90.1 of every 1000 such children, again second only to Victoria's rate of 95.9 last year, and compared to a rate of only 6.5 for non-indigenous children in the ACT.

Ms Stephen-Smith's spokesman said the government received 7436 'concern notifications' in 2016-17, compared to 5405 in 2015-16.

"The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in care is an issue of major concern in our community, as it is a significant issue affecting every Australian jurisdiction," he said.

"The ACT continues to have a focus on keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children connected to family with 58.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in out of home care living with relatives or kin compared to 53.0% of non-Indigenous children and young people."

Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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