A recent forum held in Darwin has identified the creation of an Aboriginal Child Care Agency as an urgent initiative to improve the protection and wellbeing of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory and reduce the number of children being placed in out-of-home care.
The November forum, attended by over 140 participants from the NT child welfare sector, also:
- identified the child protection’s system lack of cultural understanding and failure to engage with vulnerable Aboriginal families as major issues,
- called for improved cultural competence of child welfare workers and greater participation by Aboriginal people in child protection decision-making processes, and
- urged for greater emphasis on prevention and early intervention programs, calling on the NT Government to boost integrated support services to keep more vulnerable families together.
The forum was told the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in the Northern Territory has tripled in the past 10 years, with the child protection system unable to cope.
Participants condemned the high number of children being removed from their families before every possible effort was made to support vulnerable families to stay together. Participants said this situation was unacceptable and must stop. They said if removal was unavoidable, every effort should be made to keep supporting families, until reunification was possible.
A number of Aboriginal participants shared moving personal experiences, expressing despair that children were still being removed from their families in such high numbers and without adequate consultation, a practice that had spanned a number of generations.
Participants called for the urgent establishment of an Aboriginal Child Care Agency to deliver integrated family support services, manage cases case and placements, drive the recruitment of foster carers, as well as provide more support for children in out-of-home care and family reunification services.
The need to improve cultural competence was also prominent in discussions, particularly cultural differences between child care workers and Aboriginal families over the definition of neglect, which had seen children being removed from families in disputed circumstances.
A number of other measures were identified at the forum to reduce the contact between vulnerable children and families and the child protection and juvenile justice systems.
These measures included the creation of resource centres in communities as safe places for women and children and to host parenting programs, and a greater role for Aboriginal men to mentor other men to reduce the incidence of violence in communities.
SNAICC Chairperson Sharron Williams said the current child protection system was failing to support vulnerable families and the situation would only get worse if different approaches were not taken.
“The NT Minister for Children and families, John Elferink attended the forum and said he would listen to proposals. The forum certainly identified a number of practical measures for his government, as well as for NGOs and SNAICC, that need to be considered and acted on as a matter of urgency,” Ms Williams said.
“The NT Government must invest more in providing integrated services to keep families and communities together and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, organisations and communities more say and more responsibility to deliver solutions at the local level.”
Ms Williams said SNAICC was keen to meet with Minister Elferink to discuss issues raised at the Darwin forum, while a local group has been formed in Darwin to progress the forum’s recommendations.
The Darwin event was the first in a series of meetings that will be held across Australia under an initiative titled Family Matters — Kids in Culture not in Care, which aims to halve the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 2018. The national initiative is being led by SNAICC in partnership with a number of other peak/national agencies in the child welfare sector.
More information on the Family Matters initiative, including SNAICC’s report on the Darwin forum, is available on the SNAICC website: www.snaicc.org.au
Media inquiries: Frank Hytten, SNAICC CEO, on (0432) 345 652;
Emma Sydenham, SNAICC Deputy CEO, (0415) 188 990
Giuseppe Stramandinoli, SNAICC Media Officer,
(0419) 508 125