A clearer picture of child abuse in Australia’s out-of-home care system has emerged, but the full scale of the problem remains unknown.
There were 1442 children whose in-care abuse claims were substantiated in 2020-21, according to a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released on Friday.
It presents a snapshot of the issue for the first time in response to recommendations set out by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Four years on from the landmark inquiry’s final report, the AIHW has published enhanced sexual abuse data along with wider statistics on physical and emotional abuse and neglect when children are living away from their parents or guardian in services such as foster care.
Of the 1442 kids abused while in state or territory-run care, almost all were from New South Wales (846), Queensland (278) and Victoria (214).
About one in three were physically abused (32.3 per cent), while 27.8 per cent suffered a form of emotional abuse.
Sexual abuse was less common (20.6 per cent) but more frequent than neglect (18.5 per cent).
Those aged 10 to 14 were the most abused group, making up 40.8 per cent of all substantiated incidents over the previous 12 months.
More girls (54 per cent) than boys (46 per cent) faced abuse once removed from their home.
Girls (28.1 per cent) were also far more likely to be sexually abused than boys (11.8 per cent), while more boys than girls were the target of physical abuse (36.7 per cent compared to 28.7 per cent).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children accounted for 46 per cent of the proven abuse claims, highlighting their over-representation among the nation’s 56,456 kids who were in out-of-home care at some point in 2019-20.
However, the AIHW report notes it is not possible to estimate the rate of abuse in out-of-home care as it includes historical cases substantiated over the past 12 months, and children on court orders who may be living in other arrangements.
It has instead flagged future reporting could provide a “best estimate” of the rate, as well as other information on victims and perpetrators, where and when the abuse occurred and how many times, as per the royal commission’s recommendations.
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