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Primum non nocere: rethinking our policies on out-of-home care in Australia

Are our child protection policies causing more harm to our most vulnerable children?

In Australia, there were 43 399 children in out-of-home care (OOHC) on 30 June 2015 (Box).1 Over the past 18 years, the rate at which Indigenous children have been placed in care has more than tripled and more than doubled for non-Indigenous children.13 This is disturbing, and particularly so for Indigenous children where one in 19 are in OOHC.1 A recent review of child maltreatment across various countries, including Australia, concluded that 40 years after contemporary child protection policies were introduced in the 1970s, there has been “no clear evidence for an overall decrease in child maltreatment”.4 Despite the call by this review for more evidence,4 there have been no studies planned to assess the effectiveness of our current OOHC policy in Australia.

OOHC refers to the care of children and young people up to 18 years of age who are unable to live with their families and who are, in turn, placed with alternate caregivers on a short or long term basis. Most children in care are in good physical health and display improvements in psychological functioning over time. Recent statistics…