Child protection profiles for children with special health care needs: A population record linkage study

Dr Gabrielle Hindmarsh1, Associate Professor Kristin Laurens1,2, Professor Ilan Katz3, Merran Butler4, Ms Felicity Harris1, Professor Vaughan Carr1,5,6, Professor Melissa Green1,6

1School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2Queensland University of Technology (QUT), School of Psychology and Counselling, Brisbane, Australia, 3Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 4NSW Department of Communities and Justice, Sydney, Australia, 5Department of Psychiatry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, 6Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, Australia



It is well established that children with disabilities experience elevated rates of contact with child protection services compared to children without disabilities. However, little is known about child protection contact for a broader group of children with special health care needs (SHCN).


Data for 65,349 children were drawn from the New South Wales Child Development Study (NSW-CDS: The NSW-CDS is a longitudinal study of a population cohort of children who were assessed with the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) in NSW in 2009, with linked data for the child and parents available from health, education, child protection, and justice agencies. Using the 2009 AEDC, we identified children with SHCN using two indices. First, children identified by their school teacher as having special needs and, second, those with impairments of concern (any from a list of seven impairments) which affect their learning in the classroom.


Among the children included in this study, 4.1% were identified as having special needs and 8.6% as having impairments of concern (both referred to as having SHCN). Children identified with SHCN in their first year of formal schooling were more likely to have had contact with child protection services before the age of 5-6 years. Around 30% of children with SHCN had been in contact with child protection services before the age of 5-6 years, while the prevalence among their peers without SHCN was 16%. Children with SHCN had higher odds of a history of exposure to physical abuse and neglect, and higher odds of being placed in out-of-home care, compared to their typically developing peers.


These findings provide support for inter-agency collaboration (e.g. early intervention, health, education) to ensure the provision of appropriate services and supports for vulnerable children and their families.


Dr Gabrielle Hindmarsh is a postdoctoral research fellow within the NSW Child Development Study, in the School of Psychiatry at UNSW. Dr Hindmarsh holds a PhD in Health Sciences from the University of Sydney. Her research interests focus on the developmental outcomes and wellbeing of children who experience disadvantage, more specifically children with disabilities or who have parents with disabilities. Her work utilises population data to address inequities that these disadvantaged families experience.