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An annual national report has found child protection systems are failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, exposing them to ongoing harm and trauma at increasing and unacceptable rates.

SNAICC – National Voice for our Children today released the 2023 Family Matters Report, highlighting progress towards achieving the outcome that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people grow up safe and cared for in family, community, and culture.

Tragically, that goal seems to be further out of reach, with the Family Matters report finding the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care (OOHC) continue to grow.

At 30 June 2022, there were 22,328 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care (OOHC), with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children 10.5 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children. This is an increase in both the number and over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care.

SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle said the current trend was completely unacceptable, calling on all governments to take substantial and immediate action to keep children safe and turn around the rising tide of family separations.

“Removing our children from family, culture and community causes ongoing harm, and too often does not lead to safer outcomes,” Ms Liddle said.

“It is devastating that less than half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care are living with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers, which is a sharp decline from over 65% ten years ago.

“The over-representation of our children in out-of-home care is increasingly frustrating because we have the evidence and the solutions to turn this around.

“This report shows the immediate and effective impact Government can make by appointing a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner. It is critical this Commissioner has the legislative power to investigate and make recommendations on issues impacting our children.

“The report also calls for the Commonwealth, States and Territories to co-invest in a new national program for ACCO family support services that shifts responses towards prevention and early support services that will help to reduce child removals.

“It’s time we change the story and do things differently if we want to see brighter futures for our children.

Current trends indicate that the National Agreement on Closing the Gap’s Target 12 (to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45% by 2031) will not be met. A substantial transformation of child protection systems and practice is needed to change course and achieve this target.

“Closing the gap for our children requires genuine effort from Governments and mainstream organisations to transform the way they work with us.

“With increased ACCO leadership, models like the Connected Beginnings Program are changing these outcomes for the next generation by leveraging the expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to support children and families with school readiness and educational support to close the gap.

“We have seen positive changes with non-Indigenous organisations like Life Without Barriers starting to transition the care of around 900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children to community-controlled organisations.

“The transfer of authority to ACCOs to make child protection decisions in some jurisdiction is also having a huge impact, increasing reunifications and connecting children to family, community and culture.

“The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021–2031, Safe and Supported, offers a framework for protecting children that was designed with us. The Framework and its Action Plans require substantial new resources and dedicated effort to be fully implemented.

“We know community designed and led initiatives produce better outcomes for our children.”

SNAICC urges all governments, State, Territory and Federal, to take urgent action on the evidence and solutions outlined in the 2023 Family Matters Report or risk causing further harm to generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

 

Media contact: Mandy Taylor: 0414 634159 | media@snaicc.org.au

 

Background: The Family Matters report is an annual report that highlights progress towards ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people grow up safe and cared for in family, community and culture. Eliminating the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care within a generation, by 2040, is a core part of achieving this goal.

The report describes data relating to children’s interactions with child protection systems and provides a projection of how over-representation is likely to increase over the next 10 years if current conditions are maintained. It analyses and presents data relating to the structural drivers that contribute to children and families encountering the child protection system (including trauma, systemic racism, socio-economic disadvantage, access to safe and stable housing, exposure to family violence, access to disability supports and substance use) and identifies barriers and opportunities in responding to issues impacting children’s development, wellbeing and safety.

Conclusion and recommendations: Family Matters highlights the need for action and accountability to deliver solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. Data presented in the report highlight the need for transformative change and highlight the solutions that need systematic support and sustainable funding. Critical to achieving better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families are accountability mechanisms that centre children. This is why SNAICC is calling for a National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children that can be a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people and hold governments to account.

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Family Matters Report 2023

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Family Matters Report 2023 shows that child protection systems continue to fail Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, with the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children entering out-of-home care continuing to rise, exposing them to ongoing harm and trauma. This report highlights, in particular, Aboriginal-led solutions to what is working best for our children and communities.

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