The latest annual Aboriginal Affairs report from the Victorian Government has delivered good news on a number of Closing the Gap targets and alarming news on child protection for the state’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.
Tabled in Parliament on 2 April, the 2013 report shows that progress has been made in several areas, particularly in education where progress has been made in achieving a 100 per cent statistical retention rate for Aboriginal students from years 7 to 10, substantial increases in the number of students completing year 12 and who completed Certificate III or above in the Victorian Education Training sector.
However, NAPLAN results for the state’s youngest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children show that the reading, writing, and numeracy standards of Indigenous children in year 3 — the youngest age group tested through NAPLAN — have steadily decreased over the last three years.
These figures further illustrate the importance of early years learning, and the need for much greater long-term investment in this area by government.
The report shines a light on the important work and vital services provided by the Dala Yooro Aboriginal Children and Family Centre in Bairnsdale, which has been operating for just over a year and had its official opening on 5 March 2014.
Dala Yooro is one of the 38 new Aboriginal Children and Family Centres across Australia that has an uncertain funding future, with state-territory governments and the Australian Government in a stand-off about funding beyond 30 June 2014.
The report has also revealed that rate of child protection substantiations in Victoria has worsened over the past 12 months.
One of the most alarming areas highlighted in the report is the unacceptably high rate of Aboriginal children in Victoria’s child protection system. The report shows that in the past year there has been yet another significant increase in the rate of child protection substantiations amongst Indigenous children.
Figures show that 1,048 Indigenous children and young people experienced substantiated neglect and/or abuse in 2012-13 at a rate of 64.7 Indigenous children per 1,000, compared with the non-Indigenous rate of 7.2 children per 1,000. An Indigenous child in Victoria is 9.4 times more likely to be subject to neglect or abuse than a non-Indigenous child.
The Victorian rate, which has steadily increased over the past four years, is also significantly higher than the national rate for Indigenous children, which sits at 41.9 children per 1,000.
Although not reported, there was good news on the number of Indigenous children in out of home care in the 12 months between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2013: the figure decreased from 1,028 to 922.
In another positive development in 2013, the Victorian Government appointed Mr Andrew Jackomos as the inaugural Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People.
The first such position in the country, the Commissioner provides advice to the Government and service providers about policies and practices that promote the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria.