On the 12th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, it is important to reflect on the wrongs of the past and the longstanding impacts the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children has had on our children, families and communities today. We must also acknowledge that we still have a long way to go to address the intergenerational impacts of child removal and assimilation policies of the past.
In 2008, the Australian government said sorry for unjustly removing generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families – breaking up families and contributing to adverse childhood experiences.
SNAICC CEO Richard Weston said,
We have learnt from the Stolen Generations what the impact is on the children going into care systems. They become disconnected from their culture, their families and communities and so they’re at greater risk of poorer outcomes through their life.
The trauma associated with child removal is intergenerational. Children living with members of the Stolen Generations are 1.8 times more likely to have poor self-assessed health and 1.6 times more likely to have cash-flow problems in comparison to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”
– Richard Weston, SNAICC CEO
In the 12 years that have followed the national apology, the number of our children removed from family and kin continues to grow.
As at February 2020, there are 17,979 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in out-of-home care (an increase of 39% from last year’s Review on Government Services report). This number does not include large numbers of children on permanent care orders or who have been adopted so the actual number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who have been removed from their families is far higher.
Our children are now 10.6 times more likely to be removed from their families than non-Indigenous children. If urgent action is not taken, that rate is projected to double in the next 10 years.
SNAICC recently released its review of all states and territories compliance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. The Principle was founded to implement systemic change to counter embedded racism that caused the Stolen Generations. A guiding principle in child protection, it aims to enhance and preserve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s connection to family and community and sense of identity and culture.
While there is significant reform occurring across Australia in states such as Queensland, the overall implementation of the Principle remains “poor and limited”, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continuing to be separated from family and culture at alarming rates.
Co-Chair for the Family Matters campaign, Natalie Lewis said,
In Queensland, there are 33 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled Family Wellbeing Services proving every day, what we have known for decades – that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are empowered to lead, the change that we all imagine for our children and families becomes possible.
We know that ensuring our children’s connection to kin, Country and culture keeps them safe and establishes a community of care that enables them to thrive.”
– Natalie Lewis, Family Matters Co-Chair
Similarly, Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria continues to progress its commitment to transfer case management of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care to ACCOs by the end of 2021.
ACCOs are reporting high rates of success in reunifying children to their birth parents or placements in kinship care. This will ensure that our children grow up connected to their families, cultures and communities.
Yesterday’s 12th Closing the Gap report finds there has been very little progress across the targets – employment, school attendance, life expectancy, child mortality rates, and literacy and numeracy show little improvement. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families experience multiple forms of disadvantage that make our children vulnerable in their early years.
SNAICC CEO, Richard Weston said,
Many of our communities are affected by a range of adverse experiences from poverty, through to violence, drug and alcohol issues and homelessness. Without an opportunity to heal from the resultant trauma, its impact can deeply affect children’s brain development causing life-long challenges to the way they function in the world. It is experienced within our families and communities and from one generation to the next. We need urgent action to support better outcomes and opportunities for our children.”
SNAICC welcomes the announcement by Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, of a whole-of-government Indigenous early childhood strategy. We look forward to working with the government towards Aboriginal-led solutions to support our children and families, and enable genuine reconciliation and healing from the trauma of the past.