Thursday 11 February 2021, 9:00 am
Ahead of the 13th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, experts across the child protection sector are calling for a greater role for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander expertise in court proceedings, to better protect kids and keep them connected with community and culture.
A diverse group of child welfare practitioners including social workers, legal professionals, psychologists, academics, and community advocates will meet today to call for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander expertise to be recognised, and for child protection systems to be transformed to reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and values. They are coming together at a virtual symposium, Aboriginal Voices in Child Protection Decision-Making, convened by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, UTS Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, UTS Law, and Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
Despite then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promise that “the injustices of the past must never, never happen again”, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed from their families by government authorities has more than doubled since the Apology.
Today in NSW, Aboriginal children and teens are almost 10 times more likely to be living in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children, and less likely to be reunited with their parents.
The Apology called for “new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed”. However, the recent Family Is Culture review noted the ‘historical continuity’ of child protection systems and their ongoing intervention in the lives of Aboriginal children and families, a reality that provides the background for today’s symposium.
The symposium will cover issues including incomplete cultural care plans for Aboriginal children removed from their families; the current push towards adoption and guardianship orders in the NSW child protection system; the intersections between out-of-home care, homelessness and domestic violence; cases of children previously identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander having their cultural status changed to ‘Australian’ by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice; and other structural and practice challenges that undermine the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people.
The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT provides legal representation and advice for First Nations families dealing with the child protection system. Parents and families can call 1800 733 233 for support.
Comments from Karly Warner, palawa woman and CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT:
“Aboriginal expertise is rarely called upon in child protection court proceedings. While there are plenty of accomplished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with doctorates and professional standing, courts need to recognise that people like our Elders and grandparents are also experts with decades of experience and generations of passed-down knowledge.
“Determinations about the interests and wellbeing of our children are being made without any meaningful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander input. Across Australia and certainly here in NSW and the ACT, we need practical ways for Aboriginal expertise to be heard in courts on critical children’s issues such as permanency, attachment theory and cultural connection.”
Comments from Dr Paul Gray, Wiradjuri man and Associate Professor at the UTS Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research:
“We know that connection to family, community, culture and Country provide the foundations for the lifelong wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Understanding what these elements mean for Aboriginal children is critical to making good decisions about their future, and yet Aboriginal perspectives are routinely marginalised across the child protection system. Aboriginal expertise must be at the centre of decisions about Aboriginal children.”
Comments from Jonathon Hunyor, CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre:
“We are pleased to support this symposium, which brings together experts across the child-protection field to discuss this important issue.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and community organisations have the answers about how best to provide and care for their children, and how best to maintain connection to culture and family, as demonstrated through the recommendations of the Family is Culture Report in 2019 and again through today’s presentations and conversations. We need to listen to and amplify those voices and calls for change.”
Alyssa Robinson (Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT) – 0427 346 017 / [email protected]
Gemma Pearce (Public Interest Advocacy Centre) - 0478 739 280 / [email protected]
Statistics are drawn from the Family Matters Report 2020: https://www.familymatters.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/FamilyMattersReport2020_LR.pdf
Family Is Culture review (2019): https://www.familyisculture.nsw.gov.au/?a=726329