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  • Children in protection hits 25,000
  • By Dewi Cooke
  • The Age
  • 25/01/2007 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 59 articles in 2007 )
THE number of children taken from their homes for protection has risen and numbers across the country are at their highest for at least five years.

An annual report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which gathered statistics from child-protection agencies in all states and territories, has found that, for the year ending June 2006, the number of children in protective custody had increased by more than 7000 since 2001.

Nationally, there were 25,454 children living in out-of-home care, such as foster and family group homes, compared with 18,241 in 2001. There were 4794 Victorian children living in these circumstances.

The institute attributes increased vigilance and longer stays in the child-protection system for the rises.

In Victoria, the number of notifications made to child protection agencies about children at risk of abuse or harm had risen slightly over the year from 37,523 in 2004-05 to 37,987 in 2005-06.

A Government spokeswoman said the increase in notifications was fractional and appeared to be slowing down. There were currently 39 early-intervention programs, including 12 for indigenous children and parents, and another 12 would be established in the next couple of months.

As in previous years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were significantly over-represented within the system. Victoria had the highest number of indigenous children on protection and custody orders of all the jurisdictions and one of the highest rates of indigenous children in out-of-home care.

Victorian Indigenous Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings was concerned by the figures but said the State Government had committed an additional $3 million to indigenous family-support programs.

"These are specifically designed to assist indigenous families and indigenous children at risk of abuse or neglect and are on top of the 13 programs for 2007 to help indigenous families," he said.

The institute's Deidre Penhaligon said the high numbers of indigenous children found to be abused or neglected and taken from their homes was largely due to the intergenerational effects of previous separations, lower socio-economic status and cultural differences in child rearing.

Julian Pocock from the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, the national body for indigenous children's welfare, said the figures were not surprising, but urged the federal and state governments to invest in more early childhood services for indigenous Australians.

Monash University researcher Chris Goddard criticised the lack of uniform data for the "massive health problem" of child abuse as a "national disgrace".

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