Study finds Australia is failing to close the aboriginal child injury gap

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are almost twice as likely to be hospitalised for unintentional injuries such as falls, burns and poisoning than non-Aboriginal children, a new study has shown.

The analysis also revealed that there had been no overall improvement in injury rates since 2003 and that the gap between Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal children remained significant.

Researchers from The George Institute for Global Health, UNSW and the University of Wollongong said the findings highlighted the need for Aboriginal-led intervention programs.

The study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health analysed the records of almost one million children born in NSW hospitals between 2003-2007 and 2008-2012, of which around three per cent identified as Aboriginal.

Lead researcher Dr Holger Möller said:

“If you are an Aboriginal child you are much more likely to suffer an unintentional injury such as a burn, and this is despite nationwide safety campaigns and legislation. Children should not be turning up at our hospitals with preventable injuries and we need to recognise this inequality and put in place strategies that will start reducing this startling difference.”

Key Findings

  • Researchers found Aboriginal children were around 2.5 times more likely to have been treated for transport-related injuries and burns and have a three times greater risk of poisonings than non-Aboriginal children. However, rates for these three types of injury did drop for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children.
  • The records of 915,525 children born in NSW hospitals 2003-2007 and 2008-2012 were analysed, of which 31,290 were Aboriginal.
  • Aboriginal children had 1.7 times higher rates of unintentional injuries.
  • Falls were the leading cause of injury in Aboriginal children – making up one third of all injuries.
  • Rates of burns, poisonings and transport injuries did fall for Aboriginal children from 2003 to 2012 – by 30%, 23% and 30% respectively.
  • The rates of Aboriginal children being struck (for example by a falling object) rose by 29%.

Professor Rebecca Ivers, Head, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Sydney, added:

“There were some positives in our findings, but the fact is the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children remains the same. This demonstrates we need programs which are designed with, and led by, Aboriginal people and supported by governments.


“We need to create a society where all children have a safe environment to thrive in, so we need strategies that will address the wider social determinants of health and ensure Aboriginal families can access services and programs that could really make a difference.”

Co-author Professor Kathleen Clapham, Murrawarri, Professor (Indigenous Health), Australian Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI), University of Wollongong, pointed out that at the present time very few culturally acceptable injury prevention programs have been developed or evaluated. Professor Clapham said: 

“Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations have an important role in helping reduce the risk of Aboriginal child injury because they engage with Aboriginal people within local community contexts and deliver holistic programs that address underlying health and social issues. There also needs to be much stronger leadership and coordination of child injury prevention from government and other agencies.”