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19 Jun 2017 - 1:36 PM  UPDATED 19 Jun 2017 - 5:32 PM

The number of Aboriginal children coming to the attention of the Northern Territory's child protection system is at epidemic proportions and likely represents a humanitarian crisis, an inquiry has heard.

The NT child protection system is struggling to cope with a more than doubling in notifications and substantiated concerns since 2007, the year the federal government launched its controversial intervention in remote Aboriginal communities, a royal commission heard.

Half of Aboriginal children born in the NT have had at least one notification of a child protection concern by the age of 10 and one in four have had a substantiated concern, clinical child psychologist and researcher Professor Sven Silburn said.

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"In public health terms you'd consider that to be of epidemic proportions," he told the NT child protection royal commission in Darwin on Monday.

"And as a public health concern (given) what we know about the detrimental long- term effects on health, behaviour and learning, we'd see this as a public health if not a humanitarian crisis.

The commission heard child protection notifications, substantiations and out-of- home placements have all more than doubled since 2007, in what Prof Silburn said was a sobering indication of the continuing severity of the issue.

He said the fact that half of NT Aboriginal children have had notifications to child protection showed why it should be an issue of national concern.

"I think it also highlights why the department is clearly struggling and that if this trend continues the current system is clearly not sustainable."

Prof Silburn, of the Menzies School of Health Research, said radical changes were needed.

He said the child protection system's capacity to respond to the increasing volume of notifications will become unsustainable unless there is a substantial investment in primary prevention and early intervention.

In 2014-15 there were 7365 Aboriginal children notified to the child protection system, 1439 with a substantiated concern and 1067 who had an out-of-home care placement.

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Prof Silburn said the marked increase since 2007 could reflect increased awareness and changes in reporting after the Little Children are Sacred report, changing legislation and the introduction of mandatory reporting of family violence.

But he said the widening gap between notifications and substantiations could indicate the number of children at risk of harm is increasing and/or that the investigative capacity of the child protection system is being overwhelmed by the increasing volume of notifications.