New plan to stop shocking rate of child abuse
A NEW national action plan to tackle booming rates of Australian kids in the child protection system will be developed this year.
It comes as a new report shows one in every 32 Australian children received child protection services last year - equivalent to about one child per classroom - while shocking rates of neglect and emotional and sexual abuse continue to climb.
The federal Department of Social Services will work with state and territory governments to develop the action plan as the latest annual report on child protection in Australia, out today, shows the number of kids in the system spiked 25 per cent in just five years.
Emotional abuse was the fastest growing area of concern - rising 51.8 per cent in five years to be present in almost every second case, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report.
Federal Assistant Minister for Children and Families David Gillespie told News Corp he was "disturbed" by the continual rise of children in protection despite the massive efforts that went into reducing the rates.
Dr Gillespie said there appeared to be a reluctance to place children in permanent out-of-home care for fear of creating another Stolen Generation, and not just among indigenous children.
He said if he achieved one thing in his time in the portfolio, which he took over in December, it would be that children were not "recycled" into the situations that they were harmed in.
"If we keep doing the same thing we've been doing state-by-state, we're not going to get a different outcome," he said.
The key changes were needed in policy, procedures and practice rather than more funding, Dr Gillespie said.
The strategy will be the fourth action plan to implement the goals of the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020, which aims to achieve a "substantial and sustained reduction in levels of child abuse and neglect over time".
Two years out from the end of the framework, the AIHW report shows a record 168,352 children were in the system in 2016-17.
That figure includes investigations into suspected abuse or neglect, proven cases, the number of children on protection orders, and the number in out-of-home care.
Substantiated cases of abuse or neglect jumped about 21 per cent to 49,315 children in the period, while the number in out-of-home care hit 47,915 and the number on a protection order hit 54,666.
Sexual abuse and neglect rose over the five years by 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.
Rates of physical abuse fell slightly but were still present in one in six cases.
The report, which also shows children from very remote areas were four times more likely to suffer abuse or neglect than those in major cities, comes almost three weeks after a two-year-old girl was raped by a 24-year-old man in Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.
New South Wales continues to have the worst rates of children in the child protection system at 66,689 kids, although the Northern Territory and Victoria have seen a massive increase with 68 per cent and 48 per cent hikes respectively.
Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory bucked the national trend when it came to the overall number of children in the child protection system, with rates falling slightly over five years.
Indigenous children were seven times more likely than non-indigenous children to be in the child protection system, the report shows.
AIHW spokeswoman Louise York said the spike in cases of emotional trauma, and the number of children in the system more broadly, was partly due to increased community awareness, increased efforts to find at-risk children or those who had been harmed and increased reporting.
It could also be an actual increase in the rates of neglect or abuse, she said.
Ms York said the increase was not entirely negative.
"You can't tackle what you haven't measured and can't see," she said.