To help raise awareness of the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being removed from family, Family Matters asked leaders from across the country to share their reflections during the National Week of Action – on what a new government should prioritise, on what a national strategy to solve this issue should look like, and on what future they’re working to help build for our children.
Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to grow up strong in their communities and culture lies at the heart of justice for our people.
To act on our collective commitment to end the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care within a generation, we need the Federal Government to put the voices of our children and communities at the forefront of policy and programs.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples know our communities best; that’s why we need self-determined solutions that address the root causes of disadvantage. We call on the Federal Government to fully resource localised, community-controlled programs that build on the strengths of our communities with holistic supports. By supporting families early – with needs like housing, poverty and health – these programs help keep families strong, prevent family violence and keep kids in community.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle exists to keep our kids happy and healthy in their families. The principle is a decision-making guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child protection cases but is rarely followed by law and policy-makers. This results in governments taking more of our children from their families, communities and culture. The Federal Government can end the trauma of removal by developing national standards for compliance with the Child Placement Principle. Measuring and enforcing adherence to the Child Placement Principle means putting our children’s needs first by supporting families and communities to be heard, informed and connected.
The Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have access to justice. Our communities have a high level of unmet legal needs that lead to higher numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system, including child removal cases. The Federal Government can change this by sustainably funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services so that every member of our communities can access culturally-safe legal advice when and where they need it.
Our communities are strongest when all members are supported. Too often, the criminalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women results in their children being removed. State and territory governments can change this by reviewing laws and policies that target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, including decriminalising minor offences that can be managed in non-punitive ways, and implementing non-punitive responses to low-level offending and public drunkenness.
Positive change for our people must be supported with measures to track progress. NATSILS and Change the Record call for the introduction of national Closing the Gap targets and accompanying whole-of-government strategies to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rates and end disproportionate rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (with priority strategies for women and children) by 2040, as well as disability and housing targets.
Family Matters is a call to action. NATSILS and Change the Record call on the incoming Federal Government to act in support of communities to ensure our children grow up safe, connected and cared for in their culture.
Because of Them, We Must.