In March 2016, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released an overview of the results from the pilot survey of children and young people in out-of-home care across Australia. The survey provides data for eight indicators in the National Standards for Out-of-Home Care. The indicators centre on what children self-report about their security, participation in decision-making, participation in community activities, connection with family members, family contact, connection with their local community, a significant adult in their life, and assistance to prepare for adult life. A total of 2083 children and young people, aged 8 to 17 years, subject to custodial orders to the State and living in a range of out-of-home care settings completed the survey electronically or asa hard copy where internet access was unreliable between 1 February 2015 and 30 June 2015. The survey will be conducted on a biennial basis.

The questions were based on Western Australian, New South Wales and Queensland surveys of children’s and young peoples views. For example, the question about the means by which children have contact with family (i.e. visits, talking, writing) was modified from the former Queensland Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardians survey of children in foster care. Most other questions were based on the Western Australian child protection agency’s ongoing process of surveying children aged 5 to 17 years as part of their care planning process. Every state and territory administered the survey as part of their case management process, and therefore arrangements were different across Australia. All children were offered support to complete the survey by their case manager. In Victoria and New South Wales, where case management for some children has transferred to non-government organisations, surveys were administered by government and non-government case managers. In Queensland, a sample of children was identified and each of the seven regions was expected to complete a minimum number of surveys across service centres based on population share and responses being representative of age, sex, Indigenous status, and living arrangements. Child Safety Officers largely administered the survey using dedicated iPads, although children had the option to complete the survey using their own device.

While over 2000 children responded to the survey, the total number of children who were eligible to complete the survey is not available. Specifics about the level of survey take-up or refusal by children and young people to participate, and breakdowns by age or Indigenous status are also not available. The AIHW noted however that the characteristics about age, sex, Indigenous status, and living arrangements were similar for the survey population and the child protection population across Australia. Of the survey respondents, 34.2% were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. On the night before completing the survey, around 44% resided with foster carers and around 40% with kinship carers. About 10% lived in residential care and 5% were, for example, residing with their parents, in detention or living independently. Of the 2083 responses, 396 (19%) were completed by children in care in Queensland. Fewer responses were received from children in New South Wales (369, 17.7%).

An overview of the results includes that 91% of children reported feeling both safe and settled in their current placement. When asked about why they did not feel safe, children talked about the behaviour of other residents (eg. bullying and fighting) concerns about the neighbourhood, and difficulties in expressing why they didn’t feel safe. In addition to being new to a placement, feelings about being unsettled were related to bullying and fighting, missing family or the previous placement, and views about rules being unfair or strict.

In respect to participating in decision making – having a say, being listened to, having decisions explained – 67% of children and young people reported they usually get to have a say in what happens to them and people usually listen to what they say. Around 17% reported that they don’t usually get to have a say but usually feel listened to. Most children said that decisions made about them are explained to them.

Children and young people were very positive about the support they receive from carers or others to participate in community, sport or cultural activities, with almost 87% describing support as adequate. When asked about whether and what other activities they would like to try, most responses referred to sport and outdoor activities (59%), and creative activities such as art or music (10%). Around a third of the children reported that they were already doing the activities they wanted to do and / or could not identify something else they’d like to try. The majority of children (87%) reported that they received adequate support (from their carer or someone else) to participate in sport, community or cultural activities, and 97% of children reported that they had a significant adult who cares about what happens to them now and in the future.

Family connection was queried in respect to closeness: how important and special the child felt to the people with whom they were living at the time of the survey and to (other) family members with whom they were not living. Over 90% of children in foster care and over 90% of children in kinship care reported feeling close to the people they live with. Over half felt close to both the people they lived with and (other) family members with 94% reporting feeling close to at least one family group.

Responses about satisfaction with the amount of family contact by visiting, talking or writing showed that most children (70%) were satisfied with one or more types of contact. Over 50% said they were happy with current arrangements and did not want to change anything. Other children articulated preferences for different arrangements for contact with different family members. More contact was desired by some children (32%) with a small percentage (3%) wanting less or no contact with particular family members.

A child’s sense of community was queried in respect to ‘at least some’ knowledge of family background and culture (86%); perceived support to follow religion, beliefs and customs (85.8%); satisfaction with contact with friends (85.3%); and life history recording (72.3%). For each topic, ‘at least some’ includes the most positive satisfaction rating (eg. a lot) and the second most positive rating (eg. some but I want more).

Children and young people were also asked about whether they could identify someone – a significant adult – who cares about what happens to them now and in the future. Almost 97% reported ‘yes’. Of the children who were not able to identify an adult, around 2% could identify another child or young person, and 1.5% could not identify either a significant adult or other child.

Targeted questions to young people aged 15 to 17 years asked about whether they felt they were receiving the assistance they wanted to prepare for post-care, adult life. Of the questions about satisfaction with the level of help across eight domains and which were asked of young people across all states and territories, between 60% and 80% reported they were getting as much help as they needed. The domains that young people expressed the least satisfaction with the assistance provided were ‘staying in touch with culture and religion’ (60%) and ‘managing money’ (63.9%). Almost 80% were satisfied with assistance to ‘keep healthy’ and ‘learning household skills’.

The AIHW has developed dynamic data displays for 19 of the indicators under the 13 National Standards for Out-of-Home Care and includes the self-reported responses of children and young people for five of the standards.

Click here to read a bulletin about the findings from the pilot survey.