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Despite numerous legal and policy frameworks protecting the cultural rights of Indigenous children, the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care is almost ten times that of other children, and continues to grow.
When the ground-breaking Bringing Them Home report into the Stolen Generations was released in 1997, Australia was shocked to learn that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children represented one in every five children living in out-of-home care.
Today – nearly 20 years later – the figure of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care is one in every three.
The causes of over representation are complex, including the legacy of past policies of forced removal, intergenerational effects of separations from family and culture, poor socio‐economic status and perceptions arising from cultural differences in child‐rearing practices. The consequences of child removal are even more profound: devastating families; deepening intergenerational trauma; too often severing children’s cultural bonds and triggering poor life outcomes; and eroding culture and community.
There is a clear and urgent need for change.
We need a new approach. An approach that trusts Aboriginal people to deal with Aboriginal business, one that includes genuine collaboration and partnership, empowers communities and involves long-term all of government support across the country. We must secure access to quality universal and targeted services necessary for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to thrive.
We need to make sure that our laws, policies and practices are culturally safe and responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and to ensure this happens, governments and services need to be held accountable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have grown up safe, well and cared for in their families, communities and cultural traditions, for thousands of years. Evidence shows the value of unique Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child rearing practices, alongside the critical importance of continuity of cultural identity to the wellbeing of Indigenous children.
Without real change now, the story remains the same. It’s time for new approach.