Safety, crime and justice : from data to policy Australian Institute of Criminology Conference

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1 Safety, crime and justice : from data to policy Australian Institute of Criminology Conference ABS House, Canberra, Australia 6-7 June 2005 CONFERENCE PAPER: THE NATIONAL CHILD PROTECTION DATA COLLECTION: WHAT DO THE DATA TELL US? Susie Kelly Australian Institute of Health and Welfare This conference was organised by the Australian Institute of Criminology in conjunction with the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

2 Introduction In Australia, child protection is the responsibility of the community services departments in the eight states and territories. Because of this, there are eight separate jurisdictions, each with their own distinct legislations, policies and practices in relation to child protection services. While the mission of the departments are similar, namely keeping children safe and assisting families to function during difficult times, the way they go about it can be quite different. These differences impact on the data and make comparisons across the jurisdictions, and across time, problematic. Scope of the collection The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has been responsible for collecting the national child protection data since 1993, and holds child protection data from The data contain five collections: Notifications, investigation and substantiation Children on care and protection orders Children in out-of-home care Adoptions Intensive Family Support Services The main focus of this paper will be on the first three collections, but mostly on the data in the notifications, investigations and substantiations collection. This data set previously was known as the child abuse and neglect collection. The reason for this name change is mainly in recognition that the data are actually reporting the activity of the community services department, rather than what is happening to children in Australia. It is also in recognition that we are only counting reported child abuse and neglect, and not the prevalence of the problem. There is of course no way to accurately measure the extent of child abuse and neglect in the community. The results from the first three collections are reported in the Child Protection Australia series, the latest being These data are also used to measure outcome indicators for the Report on Government Services. The adoptions collection has its own series Adoptions Australia and the intensive family support services data are reported briefly in Child Protection Australia (see AIHW 2005 for more information) and Report on Government Services (see SCRRCSSP 2005). Collection methods These data are collected annually from the administrative systems of each community services department. Each year, the AIHW send these departments counting rules and excel spreadsheets with skeleton tables, usually by the end of September. The data sections within each department then enter their jurisdiction s data and return the completed tables to AIHW. Table 1 is an example of how the data are returned to the AIHW. These data are aggregated, which means that there is little capacity to do much analysis of the data. Another major limitation of the system is the inability to track children through the child protection system. Table 1: Investigations, by type of outcome Number of investigations Substantiations Abuse or neglect not substantiated Total finalised investigations Investigations not finalised Total investigations Indigenous children Other children Total 2

3 Impact of policies and procedures Each time a jurisdiction changes their child protection policies or practices, legislation or their data system, it is reflected in the data. An excellent example of this is New South Wales. Table 2 shows the number of notifications, investigations and substantiations for the years to By looking at the data for it would appear that child abuse and neglect increased dramatically in one year. However, it actually shows the reported data has finally caught up with the legislative changes in that state. Table 2: Notifications, Investigation and substantiations, to , New South Wales Notifications Investigations Substantiations ,398 18,107 6, ,937 25,292 7, ,208 33,618 8, ,498 45,265 16, ,541 n.a. n.a. Note: Data for investigations and substantiations were unavailable for due to the ongoing implementation of the data system. Source: AIHW To explain this very briefly, in , the Children and Young Persons Act 1998 was enacted. This Act introduced a central intake system and also broadened mandatory reporting requirements, both of these having an impact on the number of notifications. While the numbers of notifications did increase during the period 2000 to 2002, the departments data system did not have the capacity to correctly record the impact the new policies and practices had on the department. This changed in , when the KiDS system was implemented. This system was able to more accurately record the activity of the department, and in turn has made it look like notifications doubled, whereas in fact the new system enabled more accurate reporting. Substantiations, on the other hand, did not increase during 2000 to 2002 to the same extent as notifications, but this is mainly because a new category carer/family concerns was introduced for those years. About 5,000 cases were included in this category in both years. This category was removed in , and those cases were again recorded as substantiations. This is a good example of how recording practices impact on time series data. Trends in child protection notifications Table 3 shows the rates per 1,000 children in notifications. Overall, it would appear that the pattern is one of increasing rates of child abuse and neglect notifications. Table 3: Rates of children aged 0 16 per 1,000 who were the subject of a child protection notification, to NSW Vic Qld WA SA Tas ACT NT Total n.a Source: AIHW

4 The jurisdictions that have been italicised (namely New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT) are the ones that have introduced new Acts in the past 5 years. Interestingly, these are the jurisdictions that have had the largest increase in the rate of children per 1,000 aged 0 16 who were the subject of a notification. To summarise: Queensland introduced a new Act in This would have impacted on the data due to changes in policies and procedures. There have also been a number of inquiries that were widely reported in the media, which would have raised public awareness, and a greater willingness to report suspected harm to children. The largest increase in Tasmania was between and This was due to the centralisation of the intake services. Prior to , departmental officers in each locality had the discretion to decide as to whether the call should be recorded as a notification, whereas since 2003, every call made to the department is counted. This has increased the numbers, and the rates of notifications, 10-fold. In the ACT there are two main reasons for the large increase. Firstly, in the category child concern reports was combined with notifications, which caused the number of notifications between and to double. Secondly, in 2004 there were two inquiries into the department that were, like those in Queensland, widely reported in the media, which again raised awareness of the issues and likely increased the number of notifications made. Apart from the factors mentioned, the overall increasing trend in notifications and substantiations may also reflect increases in prevalence, increased public awareness and mandatory reporting of cases of suspected abuse or neglect by professionals and organisations. Trends in substantiations Table 4 shows the rates of children per 1,000 aged 0-16 who were the subject of a child protection substantiation. In every jurisdiction, except Western Australia, there is a trend of increasing substantiations. Table 4: Rates of children aged 0 16 per 1,000 who were the subject of a child protection substantiation, to Year NSW Vic Qld WA SA Tas ACT NT n.a. (a) (b) (c) n.a. (d) (a) Data for the financial year were not available from the Northern Territory. (b) The data for and previous years should not be compared. New South Wales implemented a modification to the data system to support legislation and practice changes during which would make any comparison inaccurate. (c) The decline in the number of notifications for is associated with organisational and practice changes. (d) Data for was not available due to the ongoing implementation of the data system. Sources: AIHW When notifications increase, it is logical to expect substantiations to increase as well. However, in most jurisdictions, the rate of increase is much less for substantiations than it is for notifications. And this does make sense. A notification is generally a call regarding a concern about a child. A large proportion of these end up being not substantiated, some are dealt with by other means, some are unable to be investigated and some are not investigated at all. 4

5 The variation in policies and practices between jurisdictions is much more evident in substantiations than in notifications. While most jurisdictions have similar rates, such as Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, the others are markedly different. For example, Western Australia, and Tasmania historically, have very low rates of substantiations. This is because notifications that do not involve maltreatment are screened out of the child protection system and dealt with separately. Tasmania no longer does this, so it will be interesting to see if the rate of substantiations increases over the next few years. Queensland, on the other hand, has a broader definition of what constitutes child abuse and neglect; therefore their rates are higher accordingly. Care and protection orders and out-of-home care As previously mentioned, the AIHW also collects data on child protection orders and out-of-home care. Care and protection orders Children on care and protection orders are those for whom the community services department has a responsibility for as a result of some formal legal order or an administrative/voluntary arrangement. Only orders issued for protective reasons are included (AIHW 2005). Care and protection orders are categorized into three groupings. Guardianship/custody orders: Guardianship orders include those that involve the transfer of legal guardianship to an authorized department or to an individual such as a relative/kin or carer. Custody orders involve placing the child in the custody of a third person. The department or the person granted custody having responsibility of day-to-day requirements, but the guardianship of the child remains with the parent. Supervisory orders include those where the child is living with their parents or a third party and the department has some responsibility for the child. Interim or temporary orders are those that are in place for a limited time and are usually a precursor to another type of order. At 30 June 2004, most children on care and protection orders were on a guardianship/ custody order. This ranged from 72% in Victoria to 94% in South Australia. In the period from 30 June 1998 to 30 June 2003, the rate of children aged 0 17 years on orders in Australia increased from 3.5 per 1,000 to 4.6 per 1,000 (Table 5). Table 5: Rates of children aged 0 17 years on care and protection orders, per 1,000 children, by state and territory, 30 June 1997 to 30 June 2004 At 30 June NSW (a) Vic Qld WA SA Tas ACT NT Total (b) n.a (c) n.a. (a) New South Wales was unable to provide data due to the ongoing implementation of the data system. (b) From 1999, care applications were included for the first time and this resulted in an increase in the numbers. (c) Data include for the first time children in care applications adjourned at 30 June where no subsequent court appearance had occurred by the end of August. Data from 1999 to 2003 do not include these children. Source: AIHW Although the national rate is not available for , from the available data it would appear that this trend would have continued as rates of children on care and protection orders increased in all jurisdictions. The increase in rates between 30 June 1998 and 30 June 2004 was particularly large in the Northern Territory, where rates increased from 2.4 to 5.8 per 1,000. 5

6 Out-of-home care For the national collection, out-of-home care refers to those children who were in overnight accommodation that was paid for by the jurisdiction. There are five main categories of care: Relative/kin these are relatives other than natural or adoptive parents who are reimbursed for the care of the child Foster care this is an authorised caregiver who is reimbursed by the state or territory and is supported by an approved agency Family group homes this is where the placement is in a residential building which is owned by the jurisdiction or a funded services and is run like a family home. There are a limited number of children and substitute parents care them for around the clock. Residential care this is in a facility-based building whose purpose it is to provide placements for children and where there is rostered, paid staff. These are not like the facilities of the past. There are usually only around 6-8 children per house, and they mostly cater for children with complex behavioural problems, but also for larger family units who need to be placed together. Independent living the young people are supported by the department to living alone, in a group homes or in boarding situations. At 30 June 2004, 94% of children in out-of-home care lived in a home-based situation 53% in foster care, 40% in relative/kin care and 1% in other home-based care. Only 4% of children lived in residential care. The number of children in residential care has fallen in the past 5 years from 8% in 1999 to 4% in 2004 (AIHW 2000; AIHW 2005). Table 6 shows the rate of children per 1,000 aged 0 17 years who were in out-of-home care. Like children on care and protection orders, the national rate has increased since 1998, from 3.1 at June 1998 to 4.5 in This increase occurred in every state and territory. Table 6: Rates of children in out-of-home care, per 1,000 children, by state and territory, 30 June 1997 to 30 June 2004 At 30 June NSW Vic Qld (a) WA SA Tas (b) ACT NT Total (a) The data for the years 1997 to 2000 only include those children who were on a care and protection order or remanded in temporary custody. From 2001, the data include all children in out-of-home care. (b) The number of children in out-of-home care in Tasmania from 2003 should not be compared to previous years as a group of children who did not meet the definition of out-of-home care were excluded from this year s collection. These children are not the subject of a care and protection orders and out of home care services did not arrange their placement with relatives. Sources: AIHW

7 Future directions in national child protection data As mentioned above, the National Child Protection Data Collection is provided to the AIHW in aggregate format. This does not lend itself to much in depth analysis as it is not possible using aggregate data to track children as they move through the system. The group responsible for the national data, the National Child Protection and Support Services (NCPASS) data group has long recognised this and is in the process of moving towards a unit record collection. This will mean that instead of providing excel tables, the jurisdictions will provide a file to the AIHW with the information specified by the national minimum data set dictionary. Not only will the current information be available, but also much more. An important inclusion is that of a statistical linkage key for each child which will enable tracking of children through the child protection system. It was also enable more accurate recording of how often a child will re-enter the system and under what circumstances. The NCPASS data group is also in the process of developing more nationally comparable definitions which will hopefully alleviate some of the across jurisdictional definitional problems. It is anticipated that this process could be implemented as early as Summary Using administrative data to portray what is happening to children is problematic. The data are only a measure of the activity of the child protection departments, and not of the extent of child abuse and neglect in the community. The data are heavily influenced by changes in legislation, which make comparisons across jurisdictions and across time problematic. However, this is the only data collection available on this issue. Although it may not give a true reflection of the extent of the problem of child abuse and neglect, the collection is of critical importance in informing the community of this important issue. 7

8 References AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) Child protection Australia AIHW cat. no. CWS 24. Canberra: AIHW (Child Welfare Series no. 36) AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) Child protection Australia AIHW cat. no. CWS 11. Canberra: AIHW (Child Welfare Series no. 25) SCRCSSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision) Report on Government Services 2005 Volume 2. Melbourne: Productivity Commission. 8

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