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Improving the mental health of Indigenous children and young people in child protection

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are over-represented in the child protection system. They experience higher rates of mental health conditions and self-harm than those not in the system. The subsequent transition from out-of-home care also involves substantial adjustment for children and young people. Loss of connections to family, culture and community, and feelings of instability may contribute to higher rates of mental illness and suicide. The child placement principle recognises the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children remaining connected to family, culture, community and Country; however, it has not been consistently applied as states and territories have adopted varying forms of the principle in legislation and policy. Flexible care planning and service delivery is essential and must be designed and delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Outcomes improve with the use of cultural support plans, transition plans, alternative methods of service delivery to improve accessibility, and the provision of trauma-informed therapeutic care. The data on mental health and suicide outcomes among children and young people who receive child protection services and on program evaluation are limited. Similarly, the long-term effects of child protection reforms are yet to be seen.