26 February 2015 | General Interest
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) has expressed serious concerns about the Northern Territory Government’s new legislation on permanent care orders, which NAAJA claims was rushed and enacted without proper consultation.
The NT parliament passed the legislation on 18 February. Minister for Children and Families John Elferink said a Permanent Care Order aims to offer a more permanent option for children who are unable to be reunited with family.
“A Permanent Care Order will be in effect until the child is 18 years and allows a carer to make everyday decisions about the individual in their care, such as providing approval for a child to attend a school excursion or travel on a family holiday,” Mr Elferink said.
“This new type of order transfers parental rights to a third party, in a very similar way to adoption, however, unlike adoption, a Permanent Care Order will not change a child’s surname, birth certificate, birthrights or entitlements.”
However, NAAJA believes the proposed regime does not have sufficient safeguards to ensure that permanent care orders are made only as a last resort and Aboriginal children are able to maintain their connection with family and culture.
“We know the intergenerational effect of cultural dislocation on Aboriginal people and the government needs to take more care before attempting to introduce this type of legislation,” said NAAJA CEO Priscilla Collins.
“Under permanent care orders there will be no monitoring of the permanent placement and an Aboriginal child’s relationship with their family and culture will be left to the discretion of the carer.”
SNAICC has come out in support of NAAJA, echoing concerns that the new legislation is hurried.
Speaking with 783 ABC Alice Springs, SNAICC CEO Frank Hytten said fears that Permanent Care Orders will see children lost in the system.
“The order allows for children to be removed until they’re 18, so let’s say a young mum has an alcohol problem, the child can be removed from the mother from the hospital ward at birth and disappear into the system never to be returned,” Mr Hytten said.
Mr Hytten said that families should be supported first and foremost, questioning the lack of detail regarding how the orders would be applied and the extent to which cultural ties would be maintained under the new system.
“Before any such decision is made…the families should be worked with, the families should be supported, there needs to be a period of time where staff and resources are put into the families…to ensure that whatever the problems are, the parents have got ample time to do something about it,” he said.
“Nothing’s been said about connecting these kids to culture, nothing’s been said about making sure these children don’t lose relationships with their Aboriginality or the community or the family they come from.”