Nearly one-in-six Indigenous children in Queensland have been reported to authorities as their over-representation in the child protection system continues to grow, according to data released by the Queensland Family and Child Commission.

Fresh figures show a 21.7 per cent increase in the number of Indigenous children in residential care from 2019-20 to 2020-21, as well as a large increase in the length of time spent in care.

Commissioner and Gamilaraay woman Natalie Lewis said the QFCC had compared annual data of the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children entering and exiting the child protection system, as well as the length of time they spent in the system, for the first time.

“Our analysis of data over a two-year period between 2019–20 and 2021–21 highlighted a number of concerning trends, with the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children within Queensland’s statutory child protection system increasing at every point,” she said.

“The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in Queensland grew by 7.6 per cent over the period.”

Ms Lewis said Indigenous children in care for between two and five years increased by 14.5 per cent between 2019–20 and 2020–21, and those in care for longer than five years increased by almost five per cent.

The data showed Indigenous children were disproportionately reported to Child Safety.

“In 2020–21, 15.6 per cent of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Queensland had a report recorded about them,” Ms Lewis said.

“When these concerns were investigated, 63 per cent were unsubstantiated.”

While the data showed a slight improvement in the number children reunified with parents in 2020–21, the raw figures show just 172 children were placed back with their parents out of 4,882 Indigenous children in out-of-home care.

A Queensland Department of Children spokeswoman said the number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care had stabilised below the national average in recent years.

The spokesperson said the government was working to eliminate over-representation of Indigenous children in the system by 2037.

“This includes funding and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled organisations to deliver Family Wellbeing and Family Participation Program services to help prevent children from entering the child protection system in the first place,” she said.

“To date, the Queensland Government has invested an estimated $535.48 million to address disproportionate representation across 10 years from 2016–17 to 2025–26.

“The government is also committed to working with the Australian Government and other states and territories on developing a plan to reduce disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (0–17) in out-of-home care by 45 per cent.”

Ms Lewis said more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations needed to be engaged to provide family support.

“We also have regional data that identifies specific areas in Queensland that require urgent attention, as well as those that are making some progress in reducing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care,” she said.

The Commission will continue to publish data annually to better understand the drivers behind the over-representation of Indigenous children in Queensland’s child protection system.