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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

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5 minutes

Keep children & young people connected

Sue-Anne Hunter
Last edited: March 8, 2024

In 2019, the UN Committee on the Right of the Child handed down its Concluding Observations in response to Australia’s 5th and 6th periodic reports. These contained many recommendations on the protection of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and identified discrimination, exclusion and the failure to provide services and resources as major problems.

Sadly, these rights of our children and young people continue to be violated. Our kids deserve to live happy and healthy lives, with equal access to education and support services, with strengthened connection to identity and culture. Since its first release in 2016, the Family Matters report has continued to expose the growing numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care when compared with non-Indigenous children. Sadly, this year’s report is no exception.

In 2019, 20,077 of our kids were in out-of-home care. They were removed from their families at a record rate of 13 children in every 1,000. They are 9.7 times more likely to be removed from their families than non-Indigenous children. If we cannot radically change course, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care will more than double by 2029.

As the report reveals, once our children have entered the protection system, their chances of returning to family are very low. In the 2018-19 year, 81% of our children in the child protection system, 16,287 children, are currently on long-term or permanent orders until they are 18 years old. This is a far higher rate than for non-Indigenous children.

In the past year, there has also been a concerning trend in some jurisdictions towards permanent care and adoption of our children, particularly with non-Aboriginal carers. In fact, over the past year, 95% of adoptions of our children have been to non-Indigenous carers.

For governments, this permanency removes that child from statutory protection of the state. It removes them from responsibility. And it removes much more from our kids. Without meaningful relationships with family and community, there is nothing to anchor our kids to their culture.

Without a clear sense of what it means to be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, our children are denied a crucial part of their developing identity, connection and belonging – all things that contribute to long-term resilience and sense of self. We must overhaul the current child protection systems, that are based on rigid statutory interventions that are proven not to work for our children or our families.

The new National Agreement on Closing the Gap commits to reducing the over representation of our children in out-of-home care by 45% by 2031. By supporting our families to stay together and reducing the rate of removals of our children by just 5% each year, we can reach that goal.

On that trajectory, our Family Matters goal to end the over-representation of our children in child protection by 2040 can be a reality. Our partnership with governments and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations in the National Agreement is one opportunity to make that change.

Poverty, discrimination and injustice, poor health outcomes and intergenerational trauma – they all contribute to our kids being removed from their families. We know from the Stolen Generations removal is not the answer.

We must support our families, our Mob. We must refocus policy and investment on prevention and early intervention to support and strengthen our families and communities – as outlined in the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, which is now up for review.

In 2018-19, only 16% of child protection funding in the states and territories was invested in family support services for children and their families, while 84% was invested in child protection services and out-of-home care.

The answers can only come from us. We need to be empowered and we need to be heard, in order to have meaningful participation in the design and implementation of policies that affect our kids.

Because every number in The Family Matters Report 2020 is a child. A child who is not going to sleep near their mother or father. A child who may not be seeing their Grandmother or Grandfather. Listen to their stories. Walk on their Country. It is integral that we take immediate action to work towards the solutions.

Family Matters continues to call for a dedicated national strategy as a blueprint for states and territories to implement national standards of practice for our children.

SNAICC and Family Matters jointly call on a national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people with the power to enable real change and ensure accountability on policy reforms.

Our children are the custodians of our Country and our culture – we must do everything we can to empower them to carry that responsibility for another millennia. It is our right, and yours.

Family Matters is Australia’s national campaign to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people grow up strong, safe and cared for in family, community and culture. Through our campaign, we aim to end the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in these systems within one generation, by 2040.

Sue-Anne Hunter
Chair for the Family Matters campaign

Sue-Anne Hunter is a proud Wurundjeri and Ngurai illum wurrung woman. At the time of writing, she was Chair for the Family Matters campaign to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, and keep them connected to family, culture and kin.

She is Deputy Chair and Commissioner of Australia’s first truth telling process – the Yoorrook Justice Commission. Sue-Anne is an Adjunct Professor of Global and Engagement at Federation University and a member of the National Centre for Reconciliation, Truth, and Justice Advisory Board.

A child and family services practitioner by trade, Sue-Anne has over twenty years’ clinical experience responding to developmental, transgenerational and community trauma.