JOINT MEDIA RELEASE
Issued in partnership with AbSec
Thursday 1 December 2022, 1:30 p.m.
More than 40 community organisations, legal centres and human rights defenders have penned an open letter urging the next NSW Parliament to reform the child protection system, saying it is actively harming Aboriginal children.
The letter comes a day after the latest Closing the Gap report revealed Australia is not on track to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 2031 – and is in fact going backwards.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children belong with their families and communities. They have the right to grow up safe and strong in their culture, with connections to Country,” the letter says.
Signatories are calling on successful parties to the March state election to urgently apply recommendations from the 2019 Family Is Culture Review, which found the child protection system is broken and unaccountable in its dealings with Aboriginal families.
Last week, New South Wales learned revelations of the “appalling neglect” of two young boys in out-of-home care, who had allegedly been left too cold and hungry to go to school. The matter prompted Families and Communities Minister Natasha Maclaren-Jones to bring forward an industry forum originally scheduled for February 2023.
While the boys at the centre of last week’s revelations are non-Indigenous, the issues plaguing the child protection system are far more likely to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on average. In NSW, Indigenous children are removed from their homes as 12 times the rate of other kids.
“For three years since the Family Is Culture Review, we’ve been calling on the government to take up its recommendations. This was the largest ever study into the over-representation of our kids in the child protection system. It set out an evidence-based roadmap to a safer, stronger future for Aboriginal children and families,” said John Leha, chief executive of AbSec, the NSW peak organisation for Aboriginal children and families.
While the NSW Government passed a Family Is Culture Bill through Parliament last month, AbSec and the Aboriginal Legal Service say it only represents the first step down a long road to reform. They say the legislation is very unlikely to result in success on the Closing the Gap target of reducing over-representation in out-of-home care by 45% by 2031.
“So far, we’re getting further from closing the gap instead of closer. If we’re going to succeed, the NSW Government and Parliament will need to embrace progress and commit to change,” Mr Leha said.
“We all want our kids to grow up with their family, happy, healthy and loved. But by cherry-picking just a few recommendations of the Family Is Culture Review, the NSW Government is damaging the best chance our kids have to thrive,” said Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited.
“We still believe the Closing the Gap target is achievable and more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids can be thriving in community, in culture and with their families. But it requires the Government to pick up the pace to implement the full roadmap of solutions from the Family Is Culture Review,” Ms Warner said.
That message is reflected in the open letter as well as the Aboriginal Legal Service and AbSec’s new report on the NSW Government’s progress towards reforming the child protection system. The report is critical of the government’s consultation process in the development of its bill and its initial plan to postpone legislative changes to 2024.
“We’re all sending a clear message that Aboriginal people designing and delivering the services they need is mandatory and requires the next NSW Government to do much better,” Ms Warner said.
AbSec: Mathew Mackie 0498 844 080 [email protected]
Aboriginal Legal Service: Alyssa Robinson 0427 346 017 [email protected]