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.
AbSec – NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation, is committed to ensuring that all Aboriginal children and young people are looked after in safe, thriving Aboriginal families and communities, raised strong in spirit and identity, with every opportunity for lifelong wellbeing and connection to culture, and surrounded by holistic supports.
While most Aboriginal children and young people are lovingly raised by their families and communities, too many continue to experience abuse and neglect as Aboriginal families struggle to overcome the impacts of intergenerational trauma, dispossession and marginalisation inflicted by colonisation, past policies and enduring practices of statutory systems.
We know that without urgent systemic change, the number of Aboriginal children removed from their families will continue to grow, and is expected to triple by 2035.
We also know that the best care for our kids is community – that Aboriginal children and young people are able to thrive and fulfil their potential when connected and supported in their own families, communities and culture, when Aboriginal families and communities are empowered to keep their children safe, and when Aboriginal communities are supported and resourced to determine the best supports for their children and families, and deliver them through their own Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.
Key structural and systemic changes are needed to realise this vision of an effective, holistic Aboriginal child and family system; a system that is accountable to the Aboriginal children and young people, families and communities it serves. These changes must be a priority for incoming governments at the federal and state level, working together for collective impact rather than in silos.
There is a need to ensure greater accountability of the administration of the child and family system, and the outcomes achieved for Aboriginal children and young people, their families and communities. This can be achieved by establishing – in partnership with Aboriginal peak bodies – appropriate child and family wellbeing measures as part of the Closing the Gap refresh, supported by an empowered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner. This will provide greater accountability and the opportunity for advocacy and support through an independent Aboriginal statutory officer. In NSW, we have likewise called for the establishment of an Aboriginal Child and Family Commission, to oversee child and family supports delivered to Aboriginal communities and direct investment to local Aboriginal-led solutions.
There must be an immediate end to policies and practices that have the potential to sever Aboriginal children and young people from their families, communities and culture. Such practices, including the imposition of adoption through statutory care, reflects an outdated ideological approach that is harmful to Aboriginal children, families and communities, undermining their rights and long-term wellbeing.
There must be a significant increase in investment directed to prevention and early intervention services. Governments should be embarrassed that nationally, more than 7 times as much is spent on out-of-home care than intensive family supports, and must immediately commit to increasing investment in the supports families need. For Aboriginal children and families, this investment must be commensurate with identified need and delivered through Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, properly resourcing Aboriginal communities to heal their families and communities and achieving equitable outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people.
Iin line with the need for equitable resourcing of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, there is a pressing need for the development and full implementation of an investment model that focuses on Aboriginal community-controlled approaches. More than 20 years ago, Bringing Them Home emphasised the need to properly resource Aboriginal communities to design and deliver Aboriginal-led solutions, however this intent has never been realised. This must be supported by a resourced strategy across federal and state governments to build the capacity and capabilities of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, achieving a national safety net of holistic Aboriginal child and family services.
In recognition of the transformative potential of education, and the importance of early access and engagement in later achievement, adequate investment in quality Aboriginal community-controlled integrated early years services, and access to a minimum of three days per week of high-quality, culturally-enriched preschool for all three and four year olds is needed. By embedding these services in community and culture, key social and cultural connections will be fostered, strengthening identity and belonging, as well as preserving language. Such a focus on integrated early learning will set a strong foundation for lifelong wellbeing.
Together, these five priority actions will strengthen the system of supports available to Aboriginal children and young people, their families and communities, providing the conditions for children to thrive and families to heal when and where they are needed. By placing these initiatives in the hands of local communities, approaches will be more accessible, more effectively tailored to the needs of children and families, and more accountable for the outcomes they are able to achieve. If governments are genuine in their commitment to Closing the Gap, structural and generational priorities such as these are essential.
Because of Them, We Must.