Cost of child protection in SA continues to climb higher than national average

South Australia continues to be the second highest spender on overall child protection services per child although it spends considerably less on preventative and family support services than any other jurisdiction across the nation, according to the latest data from Australia’s Report on Government Services.

At the Office of the Guardian, we have just released our annual analysis of SA’s child protection expenditure and we found that in 2019-20, while SA spent 23.8% higher than the national average on child protection services overall, nearly 80% of that expenditure was on ‘care services’ (i.e. the cost of caring for children once they have been removed from their families, such as residential care).

Our report found that only 20% of the state’s child protection budget was spent on protective intervention services, family support services, and intensive family support services, which are all aimed at supporting families so children can stay safely with them at home.

“The latest data from South Australia’s child protection spending shows we need to change how the state invests in vulnerable children and young people,” Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright, said.

“Many young people in care come from families who face significant personal difficulties as a result of domestic violence, mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction, and these difficulties are often intergenerational. COVID-19 has only increased these pressures, with people becoming more isolated, losing their jobs and struggling to find housing in a tight rental market. Unfortunately the number of young people being removed from their families is likely to get worse.”

“The best place for kids is at home, if they can be looked after and safe. We need to better invest in intervention services to support families who are at risk of having their children removed from them, with a goal of reducing expenditure at the care end when the numbers begin to decrease.”

“I am glad the state government has recently made the decision to invest more money towards providing tailored support to parents who are experiencing these hardships. I hope that in time we will see noticeable changes as a result of this reform and there will be better outcomes for these young people and their families,” Penny said.

Our report also highlighted that:

– On 30 June 2020, there were 4,136 children and young people in out of home care in South Australia. Of those, 601 were living in residential care, which is 14.5% of the care population. South Australia continues to have the highest reliance on residential care in Australia, with the national average being 6.5%.

– This reliance is especially apparent when examining South Australian expenditure on care services, which accounted for $458,764,000 (or 79.9%) of child protection services spending. Of expenditure on care services, 58.2% (or $267,458,000) was spent on residential care services.

– Real expenditure on care services per placement night in South Australia is 35.1% higher than the national average.

– South Australia ranks second after outlier NT for total child protection services real expenditure per child aged 0-17 in the population in 2019-20, with national average expenditure being 23.8% lower than in South Australia.

– South Australian real expenditure on care services per child aged 0-17 in the population has increased by 39.6% from $888.8 per child in 2015-16, to $1,241.2 per child in 2019-20.

Read the Guardian’s South Australian Child Protection Expenditure Report 2021.

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