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Foster children mistreated, some sexually harmed, commissioner finds

Nearly 100 children were the subject of harm or exploitation in the Northern Territory's out-of-home care system in the past year, according to the Children's Commissioner.

The commission's annual report, released in the wake of the youth detention and child protection royal commission, raised particular concern about an increase in the number of children mistreated in foster care.

Children in the out-of-home care system have been removed from their families because of concerns for their welfare.

There were four cases of sexual harm or exploitation of children in out-of-home care, but Commissioner Colleen Gwynne said the majority of incidents were found to relate to emotional abuse, followed by neglect.

"The system requires much better screening, much better training and much better support of carers," she said.

"And ongoing training — [foster carers] need some skills to deal with some of those challenges of young people that are put into their care."

While Territory Families notified the commissioner of 91 cases of children being harmed in out-of-home care, a further 10 cases were discovered by her office.

"If we found another 10 it begs the question, how many other cases are there?" Ms Gwynne said.

"I'm concerned it's under-reported by a bit and we have to know the extent of the problem, we have to know what the issues are to be able to fix it."

Early intervention could prevent harm through neglect: commissioner

The commissioner also raised concern in her report about the nearly 60 per cent of child protection notifications 'screened out', or deemed not to warrant an investigation in the past year.

She said an audit of the screening process would be "highly desirable" to ensure notifications were not being screened out because of a problem of training or workload.

Indigenous children in remote NT community

There were 22,313 notifications in the 2016-17 period, an increase of 9 per cent on the year before.

2,216 cases were substantiated after investigation, with 90 per cent relating to Indigenous children.

Neglect remained the most common category of harm, and Ms Gwynne echoed findings of the royal commission by saying more intensive support for families could reduce the need for children to be removed.

"Try [a] really early intervention approach to families and put some services around them," she said.

"To make sure that the children don't end up in child protection after a number of reports, don't end up in the youth justice system, stay engaged in education, ensure that their cognitive levels continue to develop."

She also drew attention the low number of Indigenous children placed in kinship care, a problem also identified in the royal commission's findings.

Original Article

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