SNAICC was honoured to host the key founders of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) for strategic policy meetings in Melbourne recently, before helping to facilitate an open forum that enabled the GMAR leaders to connect with several leading Victorian services.
GMAR is a movement of grandparents that seek the restoration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander grandchildren to their families and systemic change to the child protection systems across Australia. Established in early 2014 in New South Wales and quickly expanding across jurisdictions, GMAR has a vision that no Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child is removed into out-of-home care. Their slogan captures the drive of the movement: Sorry means you don’t do it again.
With foundations for a promising alliance in place SNAICC looks forward to building concrete collaboration in the next period to strengthen pressure for change.
Holding a forum on the shocking and increasing number of children being removed from their families across the country, the message from GMAR was clear: urgent action is needed now.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are drastically overrepresented in out-of-home care, removed at a rate of over 9 times that of non-Indigenous children, and with that number continuing to climb, we need to keep asking ourselves –– what more can we do, or what can we do differently, to help change this reality?
GMAR demands an immediate restoration and exit program for the return of children to their families without any prejudice. But as Aunty Debbie said, “This is not just about restoration; it’s about the practices of removing children.”
And it is about where decision-making powers lie: “Are we involved in making these decisions, or are we merely notified of these decisions?”
The forum discussed the entrenched problems with child protection policies and practices that require immediate attention – front and foremost is a false dichotomy between children being in safety and children being in culture. There is a misconception that these two items are mutually exclusive – that a child cannot be brought up in culture and be safe. This is a myth that we need to take head on. Connection to culture is not only a key strength and protective factor, it is a vital safety net for so many of our children.
“We all want to keep our kids safe – being in culture does not mean our kids aren’t safe.”
“Aboriginality is the first and most important strength.”
Amongst attendees at the forum were representatives from Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), Reconciliation Victoria, Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS), Aboriginal Community Elders Services (ACES), and Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Service (FVPLS), as well as local grandmother carers who have had first-hand experience with child removal.
One returning point throughout discussions was the need for greater awareness – we need to empower our parents, grandparents, and carers by informing our communities of their rights when a child is at risk of being removed from their family.
GMAR encourages all supporters to reach out, form community groups, and join the chorus demanding change.