Children in care

Children in care

CFCA Resource Sheet— June 2015
Children in care

What is out-of-home care?

Out-of-home care refers to the care of children and young people up to 18 years who are unable to live with their families (often due to child abuse and neglect). It involves the placement of a child or young person with alternate caregivers on a short- or long-term basis (Victorian Department of Human Services, 2007). Out-of-home care can be arranged either formally or informally. Informal care refers to arrangements made without intervention by statutory authorities or courts, and formal care occurs following a child protection intervention (either by voluntary agreement or a care and protection court order). This paper will describe those children in out-of-home care in Australia who are on care and protection orders.

Types of out-of-home care

  • Residential care: placement is in a residential building whose purpose is to provide placements for children and where there are paid staff.
  • Family group homes: homes for children provided by a department or community-sector agency, which have live-in, non-salaried carers who are reimbursed and/or subsidised for the provision of care.
  • Home-based care: placement is in the home of a carer who is reimbursed for expenses for the care of the child. There are three categories of home-based care: relative or kinship care, foster care and other home-based out-of-home care.
  • Independent living: includes private board and lead tenant households.
  • Other: placements that do not fit into the above categories and unknown placement types. This may include boarding schools, hospital, hotels/motels and the defence forces.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2015, p. 46.

The National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 (Council of Australian Governments [COAG], 2009) noted that out-of-home care is a last resort for keeping children safe. Supporting children within their family is the preferred option. Where the home environment is not safe enough for children and they have to be placed in out-of-home care, the focus is on providing children with safety, stability and a sense of security. Importantly, the Framework noted that while the need for carers to provide quality out-of-home care for children is rising, the availability of such carers appears to be decreasing.

How many children live in out-of-home care in Australia?

The most recent statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW, 2015) show that, as of 30 June 2014, there were 43,009 Australian children living in out-of-home care. This has increased from 7.7/1,000 children at 30 June 2013 to 8.1/1,000 children at 30 June 2014. Table 1 shows the number of children in Australia admitted to out-of-home care, by age group, in each state and territory during 2013-14.

Table 1: Children admitted to out-of-home care by age group, states and territories, during 2013-14
Age (years) NSW Vic. Qld WA SA Tas. ACT NT Total
Number
<1 674 520 426 235 102 37 39 63 2,096
1-4 875 822 542 283 93 60 47 106 2,828
5-9 816 761 515 261 113 60 46 82 2,654
10-14 646 718 505 234 92 34 49 107 2,385
15-17 237 389 278 87 45 17 33 35 1,121
Unknown 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
Total 3,248 3,210 2,266 1,100 445 208 214 394 11,085
Percentage
<1 20.8 16.2 18.8 21.4 22.9 17.8 18.2 16.0 18.9
1-4 26.9 25.6 23.9 25.7 20.9 28.8 22.0 27.0 25.5
5-9 25.1 23.7 22.7 23.7 25.4 28.8 21.5 20.9 23.9
10-14 19.9 22.4 22.3 21.3 20.7 16.3 22.9 27.2 21.5
15-17 7.3 12.1 12.3 7.9 10.1 8.2 15.4 8.9 10.1
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

Notes: The table includes all children admitted to out-of-home care for the first time, as well as those children returning to care who had exited care 60 days or more previously. Children admitted to out-of-home care more than once during the year were only counted at the first admission. Percentages exclude children of unknown age. Percentages in tables may not add to exactly100.0 due to rounding.

Source: AIHW, 2015, Table A26, p. 95.

The number of children in out-of-home care has risen every year over the past 10 years (AIHW, 2015). As seen in Table 2, the number of children in out-of-home care increased by 20% from 30 June 2010 to 30 June 2014. This increase may reflect the cumulative impact of children being admitted to, and remaining in, out-of-home-care.

Table 2: Trends in children aged 0-17 years in out-of-home care, states and territories, 30 June 2010 to 30 June 2014
Year NSW Vic. QLD WA a SA b Tas. ACT NT Total
Number
2010 16,175 5,469 7,350 2,737 2,188 893 532 551 35,895
2011 16,740 5,678 7,602 3,120 2,368 966 540 634 37,648
2012 17,192 6,207 7,999 3,400 2,548 1,009 566 700 39,621
2013 17,422 6,542 8,136 3,425 2,657 1,067 558 742 40,549
2014 18,192 7,710 8,185 3,723 2,631 1,054 606 908 43,009
Number per 1,000 children
2010 9.9 4.5 6.9 5.1 6.2 7.6 6.7 8.8 7.1
2011 10.2 4.6 7.1 5.7 6.7 8.3 6.7 10.2 7.4
2012 10.4 5.0 7.3 6.1 7.2 8.7 6.9 11.1 7.7
2013 10.4 5.2 7.4 5.9 7.4 9.3 6.7 11.6 7.7
2014 10.8 6.0 7.3 6.3 7.3 9.2 7.1 14.3 8.1

Notes: Some rates may not match those published in previous publications of Child Protection Australia due to retrospective updates. Rates were calculated using revised population estimates based on the 2011 Census and should not be compared with rates calculated using populations or projections based on previous census data, including those published in previous editions of Child Protection Australia. Refer to tables A47 and S2 for the populations used in the calculation of rates.

a Data for 20090-10 for Western Australia are not comparable with other years due to the introduction of a new client information system in March 2010. Proxy data were provided for that year.
b South Australia could only provide the number of children in out-of-home care where the Department of Families and Communities is making a financial contribution to the care of a child.

Source: AIHW, 2015, Table 5.6, p. 54.

What are the living arrangements of children in out-of-home care?

The AIHW statistics show that 93% of all children living in out-of-home care in Australia are in home-based care. Of that figure, 41% are in foster care, 48.5% are in relative/kinship care and 3.9% are in other forms of home-based care. A further 6% of children were placed in alternative living arrangements (see Table 3) (AIHW, 2015). At 30 June 2014, the vast majority of children living in out-of-home-care had been in care for more than one year. Twelve per cent of children had been in out-of-home-care for between 1-2 years, 28% had been in care for between 2-5 years, and 41% had been in out-of-home-care for more than 5 years.

Table 3 compares the proportion of children in out-of-home care by living arrangements for each state and territory. Of children in out-of-home care, Queensland and Northern Territory had a relatively high proportion in foster care (52% in both jurisdictions), and New South Wales had a relatively high proportion placed with relatives or kin (55%) compared to other states and territories (AIHW, 2015).

Table 3: Proportion (%) of children in out-of-home care, by living arrangements, states and territories, as at 30 June 2014
Type of placement NSW (n = 18,192) Vic a (n = 7,710) Qld (n = 8,185) WA (n = 3,723) SA (n = 2,631) Tas b (n = 1,054) ACT (n = 606) NT c ( n = 908) Total (n = 43,009)
Foster care d 41.5 27.7 51.6 41.6 42.3 38.0 35.1 52.0 41.0
Relatives/kin d 55.2 50.3 40.4 48.9 44.2 28.7 52.5 1.9 48.5
Other home-based care 0.0 14.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 24.2 5.9 28.7 3.9
Total home-based care 96.7 92.7 92.0 90.5 86.5 90.9 93.6 82.6 93.4
Family group homes 0.1 0.0 0.0 5.0 - 2.8 0.0 1.0 0.6
Residential care 2.8 6.7 8.0 4.5 12.7 4.6 6.3 9.9 5.5
Independent living 0.4 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.8 0.1 0.0 0.6 0.3
Other/unknown 0.1 - 0.0 0.0 - 1.7 0.2 5.9 0.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

Notes: Percentages include children with "other/unknown" living arrangements. Percentages in the table may not add to exactly 100.0 due to rounding.

a In Victoria, the "foster care" category includes children in permanent care placements. These placements are different to foster care as they involve granting permanent guardianship and custody of a child to a third party via a permanent care order. Unlike adoptions, permanent care orders do not change the legal status of the child and they expire when the child turns 18 or marries.
b In Tasmania, children under third-party guardianship orders are counted under "Other home-based care" living arrangements.
c In the Northern Territory's client information system, the majority of children in a relative/kinship placement are captured in the "foster care" placement type. Approximately 45% of children in the "foster care" placement type are placed in a relative/kinship household.
d Where a child is placed with a relative who is also fully registered to provide foster care for other children, they are counted in the "foster care" category for Victoria and Western Australia, whereas they are counted in the "relatives/kin" category in Queensland and South Australia. Relatives/kin in some jurisdictions undergo assessment, registration and review processes to similar foster carers under the national definition and are considered as (relative) foster carers in local practice, policy and reporting.

Source: AIHW, 2015, Table A28, p. 97

How many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children live in out-of-home care?

Australian Bureau of Statistics population projection data for 30 June 2014 indicates that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children would comprise 5.5% of all children aged 0-17 years in Australia (AIHW, 2015); yet in 2013-14 they constituted nearly 35% of all children placed in out-of-home care. In all jurisdictions, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on placement orders was higher than that for other children. As of 30 June 2014, there were 14,991 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in Australia - a placement rate of 51.4 per 1,000 children. In contrast, the rate for non-Indigenous children was 5.6 per 1,000. This indicates that the national rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care was almost 10 times the rate for non-Indigenous children (AIHW, 2015). There was substantial variation across the states and territories, with the placement rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children varying from 21.8 per 1,000 in Tasmania to 71.3 per 1,000 in New South Wales (AIHW, 2015). Indigenous children were over-represented in out-of-home care across all age groups and children aged 1-4 were 11 times more likely than non-Indigenous children of the same age group to be in out-of-home care (AIHW, 2015).

What is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle?

Cultural safety is important for the safety and wellbeing of all children. The right to cultural safety while a child is placed in out-of-home care is enshrined in Article 20 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989).

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle endorses this in legislation and policy in all Australian states and territories. The principle provides an important acknowledgement that previous policies caused suffering to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and reflects the right of Indigenous people to raise their children in their communities (Lock, 1997). The principle states the preferred order of placement for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child who has been removed from their birth family. The preferred order is for the child to be placed with:

  • the child's extended family (kin);
  • the child's Indigenous community (kith); or
  • other Indigenous people.

According to the principle, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child can only be placed with a non-Indigenous carer if an appropriate placement cannot be found from these three groups (Lock, 1997). However, in order to find suitable placements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children there must be suitable places available for children. Increasing demand on the child protection system must be met with an increased availability for children who require out-of-home care and where demand outstrips availability, children will have to be placed in homes that may not comply with this principle.

Even when children are placed in accordance to the principle they may become disconnected from their culture. This may occur when children are placed with the "white" side of the family, an Aboriginal carer who is not from the child's own cultural group, or kin who may have (because of their own removal) been disconnected from their traditional culture (Scott & Higgins, 2011).

The percentage of children placed with relatives/kin, other Indigenous caregivers or in an Indigenous residential care facility varied substantially across jurisdictions from 40.5% in Tasmania to 81.4% of placements in New South Wales (see Figure 1). In Australia in 2013-14, 67% of Indigenous children were placed with relatives/kin, other Indigenous caregivers or in an Indigenous residential care facility (AIHW, 2015).

For more information see Child Protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children.

Figure 1: Percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, states and territories, 30 June 2014

Figure 1: Percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, states and territories, as described in text.

Notes: a Aggregate data were provided by New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory for this table. b For Victoria, 286 children for whom relationship of carer and/or their Indigenous status were unknown are included in the categories "Other caregiver" and "Total not placed with relatives/kin, other Indigenous caregivers or in Indigenous residential care".

Source: AIHW, 2015, Table A33, p. 101.

What does foster care cost?

Recurrent expenditure on child protection and out-of-home care services was approximately $3.3 billion across Australia in 2013-14, an increase of 2.4% from 2012-13. Nationally, out-of-home care services accounted for the majority (65.4%, or $2.2 billion) of this expenditure (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2015). A study by the Social Policy Research Centre found that the cost of caring for children in foster care is, on average, 52% higher than the costs of caring for other children not in care (McHugh, 2002).

What are some of the key issues/challenges in foster care in Australia today?

Many children in out-of-home-care experience multiple placement changes (Delfabbro, King, & Barber, 2010; Rubin, O'Reilly, Luan, & Localio, 2007). In a study profiling children in out-of-home care in South Australia, Delfabbro, Barber, and Cooper (2001) found that 20% of the sample had between three and five placements, 18% had between six and nine placements, and 24% - almost a quarter of all children - had experienced ten or more previous placements during their time in care.

Placement instability can have significant adverse effects on children. A number of studies have found associations between continued instability and adverse psychosocial outcomes, such as emotional difficulties, behaviour problems and poor academic performance. For example, Rubin et al. (2007) found that placement instability is "a significant contributor to a child's risk for behavioural problems unrelated to the baseline problems that a child had on referral for placement" (p. 343). Placement instability can be a significant concern for young people in care. In a survey of 1,767 Queensland children and young people in care, almost 20% of respondents were worried about having to move to another placement in the next few months (Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian, 2008).

Recruiting enough carers to cope with the increased demand for foster carers is a concern for most states and territories (Delfabbro et al., 2010; McHugh & Pell, 2013; Osborn, Panozzo, Richardson, & Bromfield, 2007). Some are advocating for the professionalisation of foster carers in a bid to facilitate recruitment and help the increasing number of children coming into the system with complex and challenging behaviour problems (Butcher, 2005); and as more carers require an expansion of skills and ongoing training to respond to these complex behaviours of children (McHugh & Pell, 2013).

With the reliance on home-based care and the problems recruiting sufficient numbers of foster carers, there has been a rapid increase in the proportion of children in kinship care (AIHW, 2014; Boetto, 2010; Delfabbro et al., 2010). Studies have shown that children and young people are able to identify positive experiences of living in kinship care (Mason, Fallon, Gibbons, Spence, & Scott, 2002) and experience some positive outcomes such as good educational progress (Kiraly, 2015). However, at this stage, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate whether or not kinship care produces better outcomes for children (Bromfield & Osborn, 2007a, 2007b).

The National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 (COAG, 2009) noted that while primary and secondary prevention are important to reduce the number of children affected by maltreatment and the impact that maltreatment has on them, it is equally important that children who have suffered maltreatment are afforded necessary support and services. Ultimately, the preference is for children to be safe and cared for in their own family, but where that is not possible, children require a sense of safety and stability. Where parental responsibility for care of the child or young person has been transferred to the minister or state executive, the Framework has also outlined National Standards for Out-of-Home Care. These standards influence the health, education, care planning, connection to family, culture and community, transition from care, training and support for carers, belonging and identity, and safety, stability and security of children and young people in care and aim to improve outcomes and experiences for these children and young people.

References

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Authors and Acknowledgements

This paper was updated by Kathryn Goldsworthy, Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Previous editions were compiled by Deborah Scott, Lalitha Nair and Alister Lamont.

The feature image is by United Nations Photo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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CFCA Resource Sheet
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 2015.

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