With a growing focus on the large number of Aboriginal children being removed into ‘out-of-home care’, a peak body has welcomed the announcement, saying it aligns with the need to focus on early intervention. Max Chalmers reports.
The Greens have outlined a $20 million set of policies to help prevent “another Stolen Generation”.
The package responds to the alarming rate of removals of First Nations children, which currently occurs at 10 times that of children from non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, and emphasises early intervention to support at-risk families.
Announced to coincide with Sorry Day, the Greens’ commitment outlines four years’ worth of funding for a range of initiatives, with half of the money set aside for improving the general out-of-home care system. Included in the announcement is a commitment to develop a nationally consistent complaints system, as well as improving the participation of children and families in the decision making processes relating to out-of-home care placement.
The policy also calls for an allowance paid to young people transitioning from out-of-home care to independent living to be doubled from $1,500 to $3,000, a change that would cost $5.4 million over the forward estimates period. Introduced in 2003, the Greens say the payment has been increased only once before.
Gerry Moore, CEO of peak body Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Children (SNAICC), welcomed the announcement.
“Currently, over 80 per cent of government investment in child protection across Australia goes into statutory out-of-home care,” Moore said in a statement to New Matilda. “This policy, and existing work taking place in the sector, challenges this investment by prioritising prevention and early intervention, as per the focus of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.”
“We commend the Greens’ focus on improving participation by children, young people and families in decisions that affect them, and on building the capacity of Aboriginal community controlled agencies to provide support for Aboriginal children and their families.”
The issue of child removals has gained increasing prominence in the past year, with community groups like Grandmothers Against Removals calling for independent bodies to oversee decisions made by state departments responsible for child welfare services.
Pointing to the findings of the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report, Grandmothers Against Removals has developed a set of guiding principles which it hopes can be used to help “support Aboriginal families and reduce the number of forced removals of Aboriginal children from their immediate and extended families”. Self-determination and the active involvement of communities are key components.
The Greens have also said they will work to implement the recommendations of a senate inquiry examining out-of-home care, outlined in an August 2015 report. The inquiry concluded that certain systemic factors were contributing to the high number of children remaining in out-of-home care.
“In particular, the lack of family support services means there is limited scope for at-risk parents to get the support they need to build safe and resilient families for their children,” the report noted. “The lack of available supports and understanding of the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, and families with disability also contribute to an overrepresentation of these groups in out-of-home care.”
In additional comments, Coalition Senators argued more emphasis should be put on increasing the number of adoptions.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said that in her home state of Western Australia, Aboriginal children now made up more than 50 per cent of all children in out-of-home care.
“There are far too many Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, they are disproportionally represented in the system,” Siewert said in a release announcing the new policy. “Time and time again I have heard that we are at risk of creating a second Stolen Generation, it must be addressed. We must reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids going into out-of-home care.”
“The Government has not responded to 39 recommendations of a senate inquiry into out-of-home care and it has largely gone ignored.”
At a Sorry Day protest last week, members of Grandmothers Against Removals told of the pain caused by having children taken from their families.
Among them was Debbie Swan, a Moree woman who left NSW’s Department of Family and Community Services after witnessing the large volume of Aboriginal children being removed, BuzzFeed reported.