Removal of children
ANTaR Qld is a founding member of the Family Matters Strategic Alliance. Family Matters aims to eliminate the unacceptable over-representation of Indigenous kids in the child protection system with a new approach, an approach that prioritises the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and calls on all Australian governments to commit to ending this over-representation.
Since the release of the Queensland Government’s Options Paper for changes to the Queensland Child Protection Act 1995 (CPA) in late 2016, ANTaR Qld has responded with two submissions.
Key recommendations were:
- CPA to include all five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Principle, prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection and wording that reflects its underlying intent
- self-determination be introduced as a recognised principle within the CPA
- an enabling power should be included in the CPA to allow for delegation of decision making authority to the chief executive of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agency
On Thursday 26th October 2017 all amendments contained within the Queensland Child Protection Reform Amendment Bill 2017 were passed, including the above recommendations.
These are very important steps forward however nationally we still need to do better. With the Closing the Gap refresh due in 2018, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples are calling for national targets to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care. In November, Sammi Lillie will attend the Family Matters Strategic Alliance meeting in Canberra to discuss what further action can be taken to address over-representation nationally.
On behalf of ANTaR Qld, Sammi Lillie also continues to support the grassroots organisation Sovereign Women United.
The issue historically
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have been forcibly separated from family and community since the first days of European occupation (HREOC 1997). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were, amongst other injustices: massacred in frontier disputes; kidnapped to work for the colonists (HREOC 1997); forcibly removed by government under absorption policies to “breed the colour out” (Fejo-King 2013); removed without establishing neglect through protectionist legislation (HREOC 1997) and removed under assimilation policies in even greater numbers during the 1950’s and 1960’s to be educated in “white” ways (HREOC 1997).
The issue contemporarily
As a result of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families the Bringing Them Home Report (HREOC 1997) identified the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children remaining connected to family and culture and made recommendations:
3.2 that there be guarantees against repetition and
43b.4 that removal of children is to be the last resort
Since the report was tabled child removal numbers have increased to the point of crisis.
‘It's so serious we now think it is about almost equivalent to another Stolen Generation. What will happen if we continue on this path is in about another 50 or 60 years we will have another person standing up in Parliament and apologising’ (Gooda, cited in Kembrey 2015)
This over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care at both a state and national level is one the most pressing social justice issues within Australia.
Whilst representing only 5.5% of the population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up nearly 35% of all children in out of home care nationally (AIFS 2015). In Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 8.5 times more likely to be in out of home care than non-Indigenous children (SCRGSP 2016) and as of June 30 2015 numbers had reached 3,512. This is an increase of 168% since Kevin Rudd’s apology (Channel Ten 2008) in 2008 and 640% since the Bringing them Home Report (1997) was tabled in parliament. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Queensland are also remaining in out of home care longer. During the 2005-2006 period only 8.8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children had been in out of home care for 5 years or more continuously in comparison to 41.5% during the 2014-2015 period (SCRGSP 2016).
Why is there an over-representation?
The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care is a complex issue with multiple factors impacting on why these children are removed. Lower socio-economic status, alcohol and substance abuse and family violence are contributing factors however these issues are linked to the intergenerational trauma caused by past policies of forced child removal away from family and culture (SCACS 2015). Cultural misunderstandings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child rearing practices (Ryan 2011) also contribute to the overrepresentation as does a system that is risk adverse (Queensland Government 2013) and relies heavily on tertiary intervention rather than preventative services (COAG 2009). In addition to these factors the most common reason for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be removed is due to neglect (AIHW 2016). Neglect has been found to be directly linked to socioeconomic disadvantage including inadequate housing and access to appropriate services and whilst these systemic issues lie beyond the control of the parents (SCACS 2015) the children are still removed.
What is ANTaR Qld doing about the removal of children?
ANTaR Qld recently signed the Family Matters Statement of Commitment and is a part of the Family Matters Strategic Alliance. On 9 November 2016, the Family Matters campaign released its inaugural report. This report revealed shocking results on the state of child protection in Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children including:
- Numbers of Indigenous children in the child protection system nationally is set to triple (from 15,000 to 45,000) by 2035 should current trends continue.
- Only 17% ($700 million) of overall child protection funding was invested in support services for children and their families, this means the bulk of spending is in reacting to problems ($3.5 billion) rather than solving them.
- Only 66 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia were placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.
- The report also details state specific data, revealing the worst performance by Western Australia with the highest rates of over-representation (16.2 times) and lowest take-up of evidence informed solutions. Victoria shows the most promise, investing in significant measures to improve Aboriginal child safety and well-being.
To turn the tide on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removal, the Family Matters campaign is calling for:
- A comprehensive COAG strategy to redress the causes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removal and improve child safety and well-being, backed by strong targets
- A minimum of 30 per cent of all investment in child protection be channelled into prevention and early intervention
- A new federal program for effective and culturally safe reunification programs across Australia
- State-wide Aboriginal family led decision-making programs
- A federal program to trial local community strategies to redress local risks for children and mediate child protection intervention, and
- State-based commissioners and peak bodies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in all states and territories.
What can you do?
Download the Family Matters inaugural report.
Individuals can sign up and show your support.
List of References
Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) 2015, Children in Care, CFCA Resource Sheet – June 2015, AIFS, viewed 14 September 2016, https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/children-care.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2016, Child protection Australia 2014–15, Child welfare series no. 63. Cat. no. CWS 57, AIHW, Canberra, viewed 31 July 2016, http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129554973.
Channel Ten 2008, Sorry, Kevin Rudd's Apology to "The stolen Generation", online video, viewed 14 September 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3TZOGpG6cM.
Council of Australian Governments (COAG) 2009, Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business: National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, viewed 14 September 2016, https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/pac_annual_rpt_0.pdf.
Fejo- King, C 2013, Let’s Talk Kinship, Christine Fejo-King Consulting, Australia.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), 1997, Bringing Them Home: National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, viewed 3 June 2015,https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/pdf/social_ju....
Kembrey, M 2015 ‘Rate of Indigenous children in child protection almost equivalent to another Stolen Generation’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 December, viewed 14 September 2016, http://www.smh.com.au/national/rate-of-indigenous-children-in-child-prot....
Queensland Government 2013, Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection, Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, Brisbane, viewed 14 September 2016, http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017....
Ryan, F 2011, ‘Kanyininpa (Holding): A Way of Nurturing Children in Aboriginal Australia’, Australian Social Work, vol. 64, no. 2, pp. 183-197, viewed 4 June 2015, doi:10.1080/0312407X.2011.581300
Senate Community Affairs Committee Secretariat (SCACS) 2015, Out of Home Care, Canberra, viewed 3 September 2016, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community....
Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (SCRGSP) 2016, Report on Government Services 2016, vol. F, Community services, Productivity Commission, Canberra, viewed 29 July 2016, http://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2016....