In Australia, the proportion of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care (placement of a child with alternate caregivers on a short or long-term basis) is up to 17 times that of non-Aboriginal children in states such as Western Australia.

Data also suggest the rates for Aboriginal children are increasing, and that Aboriginal children are entering out-of-home care at earlier ages and staying for longer durations. Also, of concern, the number of Aboriginal children placed with kinship carers is declining.

A National Health and Medical Research Council funded project led by Prof Sandra Eades with the ACCP’s Associate Professor Melissa O’Donnell as a Chief Investigator, supported by ACCP Research Assistants Fernando Lima, and Miriam Maclean is providing detailed and contemporary and integrated data to estimate rates of Aboriginal children entering the child protection system and identifying the intergenerational health predictors of children and families before they enter the child protection system and health outcomes after they are in care.


This project which is co-creating research knowledge through partnerships with Aboriginal communities is aiming to

  • Examine contemporary trends, patterns and characteristics of WA Aboriginal children entering the child protection system, particularly the clustering of risk within families and geographic regions.
  • Identify the intergenerational demographic, social and health predictors of out-of-home care among children during their first 10 years of life, their parents and grandparents.
  • Explore the views and narratives from Aboriginal kinship carers about positive and negative experiences of providing out-of-home care to Aboriginal children and their perceptions on how they can be better supported
  • Explore the views and narratives from Aboriginal primary health care staff about how services can be strengthened to support families at risk of having their children removed, to increase kinship carer arrangements and to better support kinship carers
  • Work with policy makers and health practitioners to implement the findings into policy and practice.

Aboriginal Led Process

Addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in care will require Aboriginal-led strategies, and governments working in partnership with communities and families, and wholistic strategies that cross-government portfolios and include the voices of families and communities.

Importantly, listening to perspectives from the Aboriginal comunity is helping to identify the support systems required for kinship carers so that children going into out-of-home care can stay connected to their culture and community.


Our team has utilised the linked Western Australian data which integrates child protection data with health data for Aboriginal children and families to find:

  • Over half the children did not have any contact with the child protection system between one year prior to birth and their 11th birthday
  • There were a large proportion of Aboriginal children (41%) involved with child protection and 9% children placed in out-of-home care
  • For infants notified to child protection they more likely to have substantiated maltreatment and be placed in out-of-home care
  • Aboriginal children were predominantly placed in kinship care (56%), however only 22% had their first placement with kinship carers.

Impact on Aboriginal Mothers

Further research is being conducted to investigate the health and wellbeing of mothers of Aboriginal children who entered out-of-home care. Mothers who have a child removed have a high level of contact with health services. A high proportion of mothers whose child were removed had mental health diagnoses, or hospitalisations related to alcohol and drug, injury or poisoning, assault and potentially preventable hospitalisations. We also identified that mothers experience high levels of comorbidity with largest groups containing mothers who experienced hospitalisation for alcohol and drug use, and a mental health diagnosis, followed by mothers who experienced hospitalisation for alcohol and drugs, assault and mental health diagnoses.