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.
I stand with the national collective of voices supporting the Family Matters. Strong Communities. Strong Culture. Stronger Children campaign to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children safe and cared for in family, community, and culture and to call for the incoming federal government to take action to eliminate the over-representation of our children in out-of-home care by 2040.
It is time for a national approach. I call on Scott Morrison and his government to indeed make Australia great, as he proclaimed it to be on election night, but for all Australians.
An urgent priority is the development of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Strategy. We must address the causes of removal and change the way we respond to ensure and enforce adherence to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle.
More of our children are removed from their families than there ever were under the policies of the past governments, including the Stolen Generations. Western Australia removes more children than any other state.
Given that the National Inquiry into the Removal of Aboriginal Children from their Families concluded that past discriminatory practices amounted to cultural genocide under international human rights law, what does this say of our present day situation?
As a Noongar woman (or yorga) with personal and professional experiences of the child protection system, I have seen many things in my time. I was placed in children’s homes and institutions when I was growing up and they were very unsafe places. Now I try to prevent these experiences happening to my extended family, as a relative foster carer, and to other families as an advocate.
Last year I fought until successful to be given an Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making (AFLDM) process, which is a standard practice in other states and is consistent with WA legislation on child protection. I found the AFLDM process changed the usual dynamic where Department of Child Protection officers have power over Aboriginal people, instead generating a sense of empowerment, positivity and good decision making.
Despite the positive outcomes and experiences recorded in my case by family and the Aboriginal facilitator, the Department of Child Protection made it clear that they have no intention of introducing AFLDM and that our case was a “one off”.
Federal, state and territory governments all have responsibility to ensure the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle is being adhered to, including the right to participate in and have a say in child protection decisions. In my experiences – professionally as an advocate and personally as a relative foster carer – I do not witness in practice any real acknowledgement or practical application of these principles.
An independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner is needed to have oversight of implementation of the principle, and to ensure that every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child that is removed from their family through child protection is given a fair and just process that upholds their rights.
Our families and communities in Western Australia are strong and supported when treated with dignity and respect, and when their human right to self-determination is upheld in all aspects of life, including matters affecting their children’s safety and wellbeing.
We must stop punishing our families for being in poverty. All people have the right to adequate housing, yet our people are punished in the most cruel and dehumanising way by the removal of their children for the state’s failure to fulfil this basic international human right.
I have also engaged with United Nations treaty bodies about the development of a specific national action plan to address violence against women. Children are being removed because their mothers are experiencing family violence yet Western Australia is failing to properly invest in solutions led by Aboriginal women to end this violence.
Our children’s future does not lie in working in solitude, but in working in solidarity. We can learn from other states and territories that are making changes to their child protection systems – evident in our annual Family Matters reports.
If we do not act now, the next reports will see this same story repeated by another young person in care:
The reality of contemporary Aboriginal children is unquestionably distressing and shocking. Our children deserve far better than this. It is for them that we must all act now.