The Federal Child and Youth Welfare Act (B-KJHG) of 2013 governs instances in which youngsters are unable to remain in their own family due to a risk to the welfare of the child. Where it is possible to „avert this risk only by means of care outside the family or other current living environment, children must be put into care“ (Section 26 Subsection 1 B-KJHG 2013). This care – generally long-term in nature – takes the form of accommodation with close relatives, foster parents or in a social education institution (children’s home). There are currently no statistics for children who go to live with close relatives.
In 2016, 13,646 children and adolescents were accommodated in the Austrian care system. Referred to the population under the age of 18 years, this represents 9 per 1,000 minors. A good three-fifths (8,423 youngsters or 61.7%) were accommodated in a children’s home (5.5 per 1,000), and 5,223 with foster parents (3.4 per 1,000). In terms of gender, boys predominated with a figure of 54.6%. Only the share of boys in children’s homes was above average at 56.9%: at 51.0% for foster children, it largely corresponded to the number of males in the population under the age of 18 years (51.5%).
Figures from 2015 onwards can only be compared with those for previous years to a very limited extent as there has been a radical change in the method of data collection.
Until 2014 statistics on children in care were published in the youth welfare reports known as the Jugendwohlfahrtsbericht (in 2014 called the Kinder- und Jugendhilfebericht or child and youth support report). Following introduction of the 2013 Federal Child and Youth Welfare Act, it has been replaced since 2015 by child and youth welfare statistics (Kinder- und Jugendhilfestatistik). Until 2014 the reference date for surveying the number of children and adolescents in care was 31 December of each year, but the procedure was altered in 2015.
From this date it changed to the annual total, with a child or adolescent only being counted once to avoid being included several times where a child was taken into care multiple times during a year. This results in a more precise, more realistic picture, and is also the reason why the figures up to 2014 cannot be compared with those from 2015 onwards. The age groups have likewise been adapted, so making comparison more difficult. In particular, it should be noted here that until 2014 adolescents aged 18 years were also included in the statistics, but from 2015 they have been excluded, i.e. only children up to the age of 17 years are registered. This means that the parts of the resident population to which the figures relate are not identical.
As data from the new method have only been available for the last two years, it is at present generally only possible to base conclusions about trends on figures for the period 2002-2014. During this period there was initially a nationwide rise in the number of the youngsters in care until 2011, then followed by a slight fall. Totalling 10,810 on the reference date in 2014, the number of children living in care was up by a fifth (+20.2%) in 2002 (8995), peaking at 11,343 in 2011 – an increase of 26.1%.
Given the simultaneous reduction of approx. 7.7% in persons aged up to 18 years in the resident population, the relative increase is even more significant here. In 2002, 5.2 per 1,000 children and adolescents under the age of 19 years found themselves in care, peaking at 7.0‰ in 2011 (+34.6%). In 2014 this figure stood at 6.8‰ (+30.8% compared with 2002). The greatest increase here was the number of youngsters living in children’s homes: between 2002 and 2014 this grew by a quarter (25.2%).
In 2002, 2.9 per 1,000 children and adolescents under 19 years were accommodated in homes, and at 3.9 by 2014 this was up by 34.5%. The peak during this period occurred in 2011: 4.2‰ (+44.8% compared with 2002). Although the number of children in foster care was lower, the increase seen here was continuous. In absolute figures, 14.1% more children and adolescents were living with foster parents in 2014 than in 2002. In relative terms, this represents a 20.8% increase, rising from 2.4 to 2.9 per 1,000 youngsters under 19 years.
To offer an insight into the age structure and differences between the Länder of Austria, figures from the 2016 child and youth welfare statistics have been used. In relative terms, the largest number of children and adolescents (here: under 18 years) living in care in 2016 were to be found in Vienna and Carinthia: 12.4 per 1,000 minors and 12.1‰ respectively. At 10.5‰ Styria was above the national average of 9.0‰. As regards the largest number of children in foster care, Vienna took the lead at 5.4‰, ahead of Styria with 4.6‰ and Salzburg with 3.5‰. Tyrol had the fewest children living with foster parents: 1.8 per 1,000 minors. The divergence between the different Länder for children living in foster care was thus 3:1. As regards accommodation in children’s homes, at 9.0‰ Carinthia was ahead of Vienna with 7.0‰. Salzburg, Burgenland and Styria were in the order of 6‰ and also exceeded the national average. The lowest number of children and adolescents living in a home was to be found in Upper Austria: 4.2 per 1,000 minors, i.e. a divergence of just over 2:1. Analysis of the data for 2016 broken down into the three age groups did not show any major difference for the numbers of children in foster care. While on average 3.4 per 1,000 minors lived with foster parents, this figure was 3.0 for the under-sixes, 3.8 for children aged between 6 and 13 years and 3.4 for teenagers of 14 -17 years. In comparison, with an average of 5.4‰, a significantly larger number of older children and adolescents were accommodated in children’s homes than infants. While only one per thousand of under-sixes (1.0‰) lived in a home, this figure was 5.3‰ for children aged 6 to 13 years and 12.5‰ for teenagers between 14 and 17 years. In total, 2,027 or 14.9% of children and adolescents in care were aged less than 6 years (4.0‰ of all under-sixes), 6,087 or 44.6% were teenagers between 6 to 13 years (9.1‰ of the population in this age group), while 5,532 or 40.5% were adolescents aged 14 to 17 years (15.9‰). Children are put into care either on the basis of an agreement or following a court order.
If the parents or other persons responsible for the care and upbringing of the child consent to such an offer of support, it is based on a written agreement between these persons and the child and youth welfare authority. If no agreement is reached, the court order will take effect. While the number of children in care following a court order was 40.4% in 2002, this fell to 35.3% in 2003. Since then it has fluctuated between 32.6% and 36.8%, bottoming out in 2010 and peaking in 2008. In 2016 agreements accounted for almost two thirds of all children living in care (65.8%).