NT child abuse reports skyrocketing, children's commissioner report shows

 Photo: Northern Territory children's commissioner Colleen Gwynne. (Supplied: Royal Commission into youth detention in NT) Almost 1,800 children have been abused or neglected in just one year in the Northern Territory, and Territory Families failed to protect almost a quarter of them from more abuse, a new report has revealed.

The NT children's commissioner has released her annual report, finding that the number of notifications potential harm to children has more than doubled in the past five years.

Last year alone, there was a 20 per cent spike in reports, with 20,465 notifications received by the department for 10,851 children, or almost two reports per child.

Almost half of all notifications related to neglect, and almost of third of cases related to emotional abuse.

Almost a fifth of cases involved physical abuse, and sexual exploitation notifications made up just under 10 per cent of the total, a slight decrease from the previous year.

Children's commissioner Colleen Gwynne said the 20 per cent increase in notifications of potential harm to children from the previous year proved authorities had not yet gotten it right and needed to find another approach.

"We have got a real breakdown in our system: more kids are finding themselves the subject of a report and more kids are ending up in care," she said.

According to the report, 1,794 children last financial year were found to have been abused, with 403 children harmed again within 12 months.

70 children were abused while in out-of-home care, including by foster carers who undergo a screening process by the department, and 10 children in care were abused multiple times.

"This means that although Territory Families had recognised that abuse or neglect had occurred, the response of the agency was not sufficient to ensure the safety of the child," the report reads.

 Photo: Indigenous children are still extremely over-represented in the NT's child protection system. (ABC News: James Dunlevie) "It remains of continued concern that such a high percentage of children are being re-exposed to risk following previously substantiated abuse or neglect."

Minister for Families Dale Wakefield said the Government needed to make sure its quality control systems were as strong as possible.

"I don't think any child abuse is acceptable but particularly where the department is involved," she said, adding that the system would require "significant" reform.

There has also been a 12 per cent decrease in the number of reports of abuse being substantiated, despite an increase in the overall number of reports made, Ms Gwynne said.

"We are getting an increase in notifications, but once they are examined then there's a decrease in those that are substantiated, [where] further investigation is undertaken," she said.

"What is happening to those matters? I think we need to have a good microscope on that issue in itself."

Majority of children in out-of-home care Aboriginal

Almost four-fifths of reports of abuse or harm to children in the NT related to Indigenous children, the report found.

Ms Gwynne said they Indigenous children were still over-represented in the system.

But she said although neglect made up the majority of reports, that meant authorities could do something about it.

"We can look at early intervention strategies and family support, diverting families from the statutory system," she said, noting that the situation could be fixed.

"It's not a quick fix, but if we start changing the way that we respond to those really early signs within families, then you know we are going to see a decrease of these over-representations of neglect that we currently see in the NT."

It remains crucial to divert at-risk children away from the youth justice system, Ms Gwynne said.

"We are not using those pre-court, pre-offending strategies that will work and stop kids from entering into child protection and the youth justice system," she said.

"What we are seeing now is just continual increases in this area and no system, [no matter] how good or how well-staffed or financed it is, is going to be able to withstand the continual increase that we are seeing at the moment."

Related Story: NT children's commissioner calls for residential children's homes to be shut down

Source : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-23/nt-child-abuse-reports-skyrocketing-new-report-shows/8050668

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