The number of Canberra children in out-of-home care has jumped by more than 30 per cent in three years despite "significant" child protection reform by the ACT government.
As carers call for more support, the most recent figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal the number of children in care climbed from 558 in June 2013 to 748 in 2016. Many of those children were under one year old.
Out-of-home care covers foster care, residential care and kinship care, where children are placed with other family members.
In 2015, the government threw an extra $16 million behind the roll out of the territory's new out-of-home care strategy. It was billed as a "significant change" focused on early intervention to limit numbers entering care.
But fewer children under child protection orders are now remaining at home in the ACT, the figures show.
The number of children handed back to their parents or leaving the system has also fallen, down from 209 in 2012-13 to 137 in 2015-16.
The big jump in the numbers in care appears to be explained by children not being discharged, because the number of children going into care each year has remained relatively stable in the three years, up only slightly.
In June 2013, about 15 per cent of all kids under child protection orders were living at home, with 43 per cent in kinship care, 31 per cent in foster care and five per cent in residential care.
By June 2016, that picture had shifted, and the number of children under orders living at home had more than halved at six per cent, while the number in kinship care grew to almost 50 per cent. Foster care also increased to 36 per cent and residential care remained steady.
Professor Morag McArthur at the Institute of Child Protection Studies in Canberra said the figures were "distressing", particularly the number of Indigenous children in care.
Canberra now has the country's second highest rate of Indigenous kids in care, with indigenous children 12 times more likely than non-indigenous children to be removed from home, prompting the government to launch a review in June.
"When people told me the rate, I thought 'surely not'. Then I saw the figures," Professor McArthur said.
Minister for children and youth Rachel Stephen-Smith said $43.8 million extra funding for child protection in this year's budget would fund two more casework teams. Forty new fosters carers had been recruited in the territory - half of its 2017 target.
Under the 2015 strategy, the government outsourced kinship care case management to Barnardos and the ACT Together consortium, which also oversees foster care.
But several carers who spoke to The Canberra Times said kinship care had not received the attention of foster care despite increased demand for children to stay with relatives.
Susan, whose real name cannot be published for legal reasons, is grandmother and kin carer to two children. She said she was now receiving less financial assistance than before 2015, and felt supports for kinship carers, the majority of whom are also grandparents, had suffered as stretched resources were moved into early intervention and foster care.
"Of course we want kids to stay at home, but sometimes they can't and the kinship carers, we're older and usually not as well off as foster families," she said. "We're struggling now because of this."
The government was unable to provide more recent data than 2016, but a spokesman for the Community Services Directorate said the number of children in care "in any given year continues to rise".
Until 2015, the number had been growing by about five per cent a year.
"A series of events in the community have combined to create increased demand for the out of home care system [including] increased focus on family violence and higher levels of child concern reporting," the spokesman said.
One such event, Bradyn Dillon's murder in 2016, cast its shadow over Child Protection Week this month as his father pleaded guilty and recounted months of horrific abuse.
The case sparked widespread criticism of child protection and the government ordered an urgent inquiry., leading to sweeping reform commitments in 2016.
Dr Sue Packer from the National Association of Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect said the Dillon case had taught Canberra "a lot about grief" but not enough about prevention.
"There's still a long way to go," she said. "We've gotten better at detecting problems, but that tends to overload the system so often the responses we see now from child protection aren't as targeted as they once were."
"What child protection calls early intervention, most people in health would call late intervention."
Dr Packer said responsibility for children's safety should not fall to child protection agencies alone, but to health, education and community services as well, so warning signs weren't missed.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said it was working to collect more data on early intervention attempts across Australia.
"All the jurisdictions are telling us they're doing as much as they can to get children back home and keep them in the home but we don't yet have [all] the data to show what they've tried, or what works," a spokeswoman said.
Professor McArthur echoed Dr Packer's call for more involvement from the ACT's "huge service system". She said the territory was once home to many thriving community initiatives that helped identify vulnerable children, including the Communities for Children program which still runs in most other states and territories.
"We didn't get funded for the second round [of the program] in the ACT because we weren't seen as disadvantaged enough," Professor McArthur said.
"The community sector is doing fantastic things but they're so under-leveraged in this, you see it at the council level in other states. We don't really have that here," she said.
"So we've got this tiny sliver at the top with child protection and this mandated threshold of when they can be involved, but where's everyone else?" She said.
"Child Protection [services] are not the answer to child maltreatment. You need more than that. You need community."