Children in care in Southern Australia are 52% more likely to be hospitalised by their mid-teens than those children who have had no contact with the care system, new research has found.

Elevated hospitalisation rates for children in care continued on into adulthood, with most being admitted for mental illness, drug abuse and physical injury during childhood and beyond.

The research, produced by the University of South Australia and published in the Child Abuse and Neglect journal, is the first ever study to examine the impact of child abuse and neglect from data about 608,540 South Australian born children since 1986.

Lead author for the study, Dr Emmanuel Gnanamanickam said the research highlighted the lack of proper support given to children within the care system.

The research identifies several alarming trends:

  • Children who had at some time been placed in Out of Home Care (OOHC) had an average of 7.7 hospital admissions by the time they reached 16.5 years, about four times the mean of 2.0 for children who had never had contact with Child Protection Services (CPS)
  • People aged between 15 and 32 years, who had contact with CPS in their childhood, had 2 to 4 times more hospitalisations than those with no contact.
  • Children with substantiated child abuse or neglect and had entered OOHC, were shown to be at highest risk.

In a press release on the university’s website, Gnanamanickam said, “Rates of hospitalisation for children who are placed in out of home care, because these cases are the most serious, are highest, and further research is required to unpack how the elements of abuse and neglect interact with removal from family, to ensure the negative outcomes for these children can be mitigated as far as possible.”

Our experience at Researching Reform suggests that the reasons behind this elevated risk are because of poor care these children receive inside the child protection system, inappropriate and dangerous out of home placements, and in many cases re-traumatisation caused by the permanent removal of children from their birth parents, causing long-term damage.

Given the universal nature of the impact of removal and poor protection mechanisms for children in place across other parts of the world, including the UK, this research should sound an alarm bell for the children’s social care sector in England and Wales.