Family Matters Report 2022


The Family Matters report has always been a story about children. As you read Family Matters Report 2022, we urge you to remember that every number you see is a child with a name and dreams for their future. These children are separated from their families in numbers that have not been in seen history. This simple fact presents a stark reminder that on the 25th Anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report most of its recommendations remain unrealised, and with them, a promise of healing unfulfilled.

The National Inquiry laid bare the pain and suffering caused by government policies of forced child removals across generations. Today, child protection systems continue to inflict pain, severing families and re-opening deep wounds. Daily our communities experience the great sadness, anger and frustration that policy and practice cause. And every day our communities demand change, calling for accountability and healing, so that we can shape a new story, a different future for our children.

Since its inception, the Family Matters report has endeavoured to catalyse that change. This annual review highlights the impact of the ongoing dysfunction of the child protection system. It recognises and promotes the development and implementation of promising policies, programs and practice. Lastly, it offers clear solutions that seek to transform systems to better respond to the needs of our children.

Fundamental to its development is the irrefutable understanding that while policies and practices are shaped by governments, and not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, they will continue to fail our children. Systems built on discrimination, dispossession and the destruction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families will never safeguard the rights and interests of our children. Our communities understand where the challenges lie and what is needed to address them.

Target 12 in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap aims to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45% by 2031. It is deeply distressing that this target remains significantly off track. This policy failure undermines our children’s wellbeing and life outcomes across all domains, including health, education, employment, contact with justice systems, and social and emotional wellbeing. Not only is the number of our children in out-of-home care continuing to rise, these children are less likely than ever to be placed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family and carers. Far too few are restored to their families. The impacts of separation and removal cause great distress. We hear about this impact on our families and communities every day.

Central to the Family Matters campaign are our Building Blocks for change. We know that when our families enjoy equitable access to high quality, culturally safe supports, our children will thrive. We know that when our communities have control over decisions, our children will thrive. We also know that for this to happen it requires laws, policies and practices that are culturally safe and responsive to our needs, and governments and services that are accountable to our communities. We know that at the very heart of effective systems is our right to self-determination – the right of our communities to determine their own futures.

Our ways of caring for children through systems of care, support and reciprocity have raised our children safe and strong for thousands of generations. We know what our children need to feel loved and safe. We know what they need to belong. This is Grandmothers’ Lore.

Our community-controlled organisations are doing the work to support our families, often despite having to navigate unhelpful government systems and unreliable, inadequate and poorly targeted funding streams. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that are able to exercise authority in child protection are achieving better results. This includes higher rates of keeping families safe and more of our children being reunified with their families. New community-controlled commissioning models are enabling our communities to direct funds to where we know they are most needed, delivering outcomes that align with our aspirations. We’re also seeing new investments in community-controlled organisations to provide culturally safe and strong family services being prioritised under Closing the Gap. These successes demonstrate that if we have the courage to transform systems, we can tackle these challenges and improve the lives of our children. But current investment in our approaches still represents a drop in the ocean.

There is progress being made on some of our key calls for change – genuinely empowering communities and establishing more robust processes for accountability. Governments in Victoria and Queensland are transferring authority to ACCOs to lead child protection decisions and practice about their children. Queensland has legislated requirements for active efforts to implement the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle’s five elements, and the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia are progressing legislative reviews to bring their legislation into line with the Principle. New South Wales has bowed to community advocacy and brought forward legislative change initially proposed for 2024, and has also increased investment in community-controlled Aboriginal Child and Family Centres to provide integrated early childhood and family services. South Australia has progressed community-led design for a new children and families peak body and has established a fully legislated and empowered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner, while the Australian Capital Territory is progressing establishment of its new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner. The Northern Territory has funded new ACCO-run family support services and is preparing to launch a 10-year Generational Strategy to improve services for children and families. Finally, Western Australia has embarked on a process to design a 10-year roadmap to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in partnership with Aboriginal communities and organisations.

For the first time, at the national level, we have a framework for protecting children that was designed with us: Safe and Supported. The fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had a say in shaping this framework makes a huge difference to national policy. Through Safe and Supported, all governments have committed to further action to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, including the transfer of authority to our communities and organisations in child protection, full implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle to the standard of active efforts, and greater investment in our community-controlled service providers, proportionate to the needs of local communities.

In another first, this framework will include a stand alone five-year national action plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, expected to be released in the coming weeks. If fully and faithfully implemented the action plan has the potential to kick-start the transformation of child protection systems, based on our right to self-determination. To achieve this, governments must invest heavily in the actions and follow through with their commitments. If they do this, our families and communities will see and experience the change that they have asked for and that is long overdue.

To help ensure this happens, this year the Report has focused on the clear steps that can be taken towards self-determination in child protection systems. Further, we have put a spotlight on the intersection of child protection and criminal justice. The collision of these systems drives the disproportionate removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, the consequences of which are life-long. To address this, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led approaches to supporting new and expectant parents in these settings are urgently needed, alongside greater transparency and accountability.

The transformation that is needed is not the sole responsibility of a single agency or government. We are calling on governments and agencies to push beyond their traditional siloes, to collaborate, and to expand their scope and their efforts. The issues driving removal of children cut right across the social and political determinants of health and wellbeing. They require focus and reform in housing, justice, disability and developmental delay, family services, education, child and maternal health and many other areas, and they require coordinated action. This action will only be successful if governments partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and ensure we lead the way.

While Family Matters Report 2022 shows some signs of real progress, the unmistakable fact remains that too many of our children suffer the consequences of failures of successive governments to address the ongoing harm caused by child protection systems. Our children and families can no longer be expected to pay the price for government inaction. Twenty-five years after Bringing Them Home there can be no more excuses.

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