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FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous children ten times more likely to be living in out-of-home care?

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, speaking on Q&A, February 15, 2016. Q&A

FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous children ten times more likely to be living in out-of-home care?

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, speaking on Q&A, February 15, 2016. Q&A

The Conversation is fact-checking claims made on Q&A, broadcast Mondays on the ABC at 9.35pm. Thank you to everyone who sent us quotes for checking via Twitter using hashtags #FactCheck and #QandA, on Facebook or by email.


Excerpt from Q&A, February 15, 2016.

You know, Indigenous children at the moment are 10 times more likely to be living out of home right now. – Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, speaking on Q&A, February 15, 2016.

Comments by broadcaster Alan Jones on the Stolen Generation have refocused public attention on the rate at which Indigenous Australian children are placed in out-of-home care.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young recently told Q&A that Indigenous children are 10 times more likely to be living out of home (compared to non-Indigenous children).

Is that accurate?

Checking the source

When asked for a data source to support her assertion, a spokesman for Hanson-Young sent the following by email:

The figure came from the Out of Home care report tabled August 19, 2015 by the Community Affairs References Committee. It can be found in Chapter 1, Introduction 1.2 of the report.

You can read the full response here.

That Out of Home Care report notes that:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are almost 10 times more likely to be placed in out-of-home care than their peers.

So Hanson-Young is close to the mark. The rate is “almost ten times more likely”, according to the source she used.

Checking other data

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) is the national body responsible for compiling the data from all the states and territories on child protection and out-of-home care.

Their most recent report on this issue, Child Protection Australia 2013–14, indicates that Indigenous children (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) are 9.2 times as likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children in Australia.

So it’s nearly ten, but not quite. But missing data on Indigenous status means that figure may be an underestimate. And for young children, the rate disparity is even higher, with Indigenous children aged one to four years being 11.1 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be in out-of-home care.

In 2014, a total 43,009 children aged 0–17 were in out-of-home care in Australia (as at June 30), the AIHW data showed. Some 14,991 – or nearly 35% – of these children were Indigenous.

The highest number of Indigenous children in care in Australia live in New South Wales (6,520 children), but the highest rate ratio of Indigenous to non-Indigenous children is in Western Australia, where Indigenous children are 15.5 as likely as non-Indigenous children to be in out-of-home care. The rate ratio was lowest in Tasmania, at 2.9.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

How are the trends changing over time?

The problem is getting worse, and it is getting worse faster for Indigenous children than it is for non-Indigenous children. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report noted:

a steady rise in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care has largely driven the overall increase in the number of children in out-of-home care… The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children placed in out-of-home care has risen steadily since 2010, from 40.4 to 51.4 per 1,000 children, while the non-Indigenous rate has risen slightly from 5.1 to 5.6 per 1,000 children.

Child protection Australia report, 2013–14, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare., CC BY

Why are more Indigenous children in out-of-home care?

The main reasons for being placed in out-of-home care are: physical, sexual, emotional abuse and/or neglect. The AIHW report notes that in 2013-14:

Overall, the most common type of substantiated abuse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was neglect, which represented 41% of substantiations (compared with 22% for non-Indigenous children)… Across all jurisdictions, sexual abuse was the least common type of substantiation for Indigenous children (9%).

The reasons for the over-representation of Indigenous children in child protection substantiations are complex, as the AIHW report explains:

The legacy of past policies of forced removal; inter-generational effects of previous separations from family and culture; lower socio-economic status; and perceptions arising from cultural differences in child-rearing practices are all underlying causes for their over-representation in the child welfare system. Drug and alcohol abuse and family violence may also be contributing factors.

The Senate inquiry into out-of-home care reports examples of failure to understand cultural practices leading to findings of neglect and removal of children. For example, one expert told the inquiry:

… a community was very distressed that children were taken away after a child protection visit around neglect. The worker visited and had a look in the cupboards and there was no food, and there was no food in the fridge, and, of course, the children were neglected!… The worker was without the thought, understanding and knowing that everyone eats [at] Auntie Elsie’s place and that no one else needs to have the food in the house because they live as a communal family.

The ongoing removal of Indigenous children has led community groups such as Grandmothers Against Removals and peak Indigenous agencies such as the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care to call for reform.

Where do these children live when they are in out-of-home care?

The AIHW report noted that, in 2013–14, 67% of Indigenous children were placed with relatives or kin, other Indigenous caregivers or in Indigenous residential care; this proportion is similar to that reported in previous years.

There are accounts of departmental failure to locate suitable kin as a result of the department not being well-connected to community.

How well do Indigenous children do in out-of-home care?

Indigenous children and young people are strongly over-represented in both out-of-home care and juvenile justice detention, even more so in juvenile detention – especially in Western Australia.

If young people have been in out-of-home care or on a care and protection order, they are 23 times as likely as the general population to be in detention in the same year.

A large-scale ongoing longitudinal study of children who entered care on first-time orders in New South Wales over an 18-month period, Pathways of Care, will help to provide solid evidence to answer some of these questions about how well all children fare in care.

Verdict

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young is close to the mark to say Indigenous children are 10 times more likely to be living in out-of-home care (compared with non-Indigenous children). The source she referred has the figure at “almost 10 times more likely”, while the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says the latest figure (June 2014) is closer to 9.2 times as likely. – Judy Cashmore and Teresa Libesman


Review

This a sound analysis. I would further add that the true picture of disadvantage experienced by many children and young people in out of home care, as demonstrated most profoundly by the statistics regarding Indigenous children, is clearly shown when one considers engagement in criminal activity.

Approximately one in 10 young people involved with the criminal justice system in NSW were also in care and similar over-representation rates have been reported nationally.

The United Nations has expressed serious concerns at “widespread reports of inadequacies and abuse” within Australia’s care system, drawing particular attention to the inappropriate placements of children, inadequate screening, training, support and assessment of carers and the mental health issues “exacerbated by (or caused in) care”.

It has concluded that young people in care have much poorer outcomes compared to general population in terms of health, education, well-being and development. – Katherine McFarlane


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