Indigenous leaders plead for action on rising out-of-home care numbers
13 December 2021 at 5:35 pm
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 10 times more likely to be in out-of-home care or permanent care than non-Indigenous children
Experts say the out-of-home care system is “structurally wrong” and must be flipped entirely if government targets of halving the number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care are to be achieved by 2031.
Released by SNAICC Voice of Our Children on Friday, the 2021 Family Matters report found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 10 times more likely to be in out-of-home care or permanent care than non-Indigenous children, a figure that is increasing each year.
At 30 June 2020, there were 21,523 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care and permanent care with 79 per cent (17,068) permanently living away from their birth parents.
This equates to one in every 15.6 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in Australia.
Catherine Liddle, the CEO of SNAICC and the co-chair of Family Matters, said that the damage done to not only the children being taken from their families, but their families and surrounding communities was devastating.
“I can’t even describe the level of trauma,” Liddle told Pro Bono News.
“We hear a lot of evidence that there are families on the ground who would do anything to be able to support their children, but they’re not brought into the conversation.”
The report also found that the number of children placed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers had dropped from 53 per cent to 42 per cent between 2013 and 2020.
Liddle said that placing an Aborginal child in a non-Indigenous home resulted in a lost connection to culture, language and community.
“When you take on an Aboriginal child and you are non-Indigenous and you are not connected to their families or you’re not connected to their communities in a meaningful way, you have no way of bringing that child up as an Aboriginal person,” she said.
“Fundamental to our wellbeing is the fact that we know who we are. We know what language we speak, we know who our Mob are, and we know how to connect with each other.”
All talk, no action
Despite Commonwealth, state and territory governments committing to halve the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 2031, according to the report, the number of kids in care is actually expected to increase by 54 per cent by 2030.
Wiradjuri man and Family Matters co-chair Dr Paul Gray said that while there had been no shortage of commitments from governments, not nearly enough action had been taken.
“We continue to hear from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who report that their voices are marginalised. They are increasingly concerned that there is lots of talk, but communities are not being heard,” Gray said.
“With 84 per cent of government child protection funding spent on intervention and out-of-home care, and only 16 per cent invested in supporting our children and families with early intervention and prevention services, we have a fundamentally flawed system that urgently needs fixing.”
Liddle said that it was critical government spending went into actually addressing the root causes of the problem instead of just child removal services.
“Those are things like poverty, family violence, drug and alcohol misuse, and mental health… issues that are all compounded by the fact that our families are dealing with the impacts of colonisation,” she said.
She said that if anything was going to change, the government needed to change the way it delivered projects and programs so that Aboriginal people were making decisions about their own lives.
“We need to flip the entire model to empower the voice of children, to empower families to be able to make decisions about their own lives, as opposed to having a whole heap of different systems that talk to each other and then come up with a solution for them,” she said.
Supportive partnerships are needed
Liddle added that the broader community sector had an important role to play in championing and supporting community-controlled organisations.
“We know that a fraction of [government] dollars is actually invested into Aboriginal community-controlled organisations… so we really do need a big push from other community organisations to ask how they can help build and support this sector,” she said.
“Community controlled organisations are more likely to employ Indigenous people with lived experience and with connections to their community, and as a result, they get very different outcomes to what we are seeing now, which is more rehoming of our children.”
Read a full copy of the report here.