SNAICC – National Voice for our Children welcomes recognition of the importance of Aboriginal-led decision making in the South Australian Child Protection System’s Royal Commission Report released this month. However, SNAICC believes the Report does not do enough to address the unique child protection needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
SNAICC welcomes the recognition of the Report that Aboriginal Family Support Services (AFSS), the largest community-controlled support agency for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in South Australia, has the expertise and knowledge that is pivotal to effectively addressing the high numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.
Significantly, the report recognises that the South Australian Department for Education and Child Development (the Agency) has adopted too narrow an interpretation and failed to meet legislative requirements to consult with a recognised Aboriginal agency in child protection cases. It calls for a review of both practice guidance and funding arrangements to ensure consultation is made on all out-of-home care placement decisions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. In keeping with best practice standards applied in other states and international human rights standards, SNAICC believes this recommendation must be extended to require consultation on all significant child protection decisions, not only those that relate to placement.
SNAICC also welcomes critical recognition of the need to strengthen early intervention and prevention supports to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. This includes recommendations to “identify evidence-based service models for early intervention that meet the needs of Aboriginal children and families” and to commission non-government agencies to develop service models that can respond to Aboriginal families with complex need, as well as an early intervention service to address lower-level concerns in remote communities.
However, the report has missed a significant opportunity to provide strong recommendation on the targeted supports and investment needed to build the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to deliver these services in a quality and culturally strong way for their communities.
SNAICC is particularly concerned about measures recommended in the report to promote permanency planning and address inadequate implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP).
The ATSICPP is the cornerstone of best practice in managing the child protection needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Application of the ATSICPP is critical to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have every opportunity to retain their cultural identity.
The report identifies a failure to adequately implement the ATSICPP, recognising that the Agency has not always “embraced its obligation”. Yet the recommendations arising out of the commission do not adequately respond to this failure.
SNAICC has deep concerns that the consideration of permanency planning in the report is not evidence-based – it presents permanent care orders and stability for children as identical, without considering the holistic factors that contribute to stability of relationships for children in out-of-home care. Stability for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is identified by a broader communal sense of belonging; a stable sense of identity, where they are from and their place in relation to family, mob, community, land and culture.
The report recommends expedited timeframes for permanency planning, limiting the time spent to pursue reunification. Astonishingly, the report emphasises the dangers of reunifying children with their families, while ignoring the well-established evidence on the benefits of children being brought up within their own families. It fails to highlight that unsafe reunifications result both from poor decision-making and from inadequate support for families to address the issues impacting safe care for their children.
SNAICC is particularly concerned by specified maximum timeframes of 6 months to reunify children under two, and 12 months for other children. We believe this will lead to perverse outcomes that sever critical connections for children to their families and cultures, deepen inter-generational trauma to children and families, and present harrowing echoes of the experiences of the Stolen Generations. This is even more likely and unjust given the gross inadequacy of early intervention and reunification supports provided to families in South Australia. For a report that recognises repeated failures of child protection decision makers to then recommend expediting timeframes for making those decisions permanent is entirely irresponsible and likely to cause more harm.
In examining the connection between permanency and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, the report presents an unbalanced view. For example, the report criticises the Agency for restoring an Aboriginal child to the care of her extended family following 18 months of care with a non-Indigenous family on the basis of interruption to the attachment needs of the child – it fails to properly address the rights of the child to cultural connection and the importance of cultural identity to the wellbeing of the child.
SNAICC is concerned that the permanency planning measures proposed in the report will likely cause more harm to children and exacerbate inter-generational harm to families and communities. The Report recommends legislative change to the Children’s Protection Act that is in direct contradiction with the ATSICPP by entrenching permanency planning measures that do not recognise stability of cultural identity as a key component of permanency for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
SNAICC has recently completed a paper that addresses our concerns with permanency reforms across Australia, and proposes alternative, evidence-based solutions to achieve stability for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
SNAICC welcomes the call in the report for improved accountability and oversight of the child protection system through the appointment of a Children’s Commissioner, independent of government, with a focus on promoting children’s rights. We believe the recommendation should go further to require the appointment of an Aboriginal Co-Commissioner, learning from the early success of the Victorian Aboriginal Commissioner for Children and Young People who has brought attention to the specific needs of Aboriginal children in the state and promoted critical reforms.
Importantly, the report recognises the obligation of the South Australian Government to work in partnership with Aboriginal communities and organisations to provide child protection services and to implement the report recommendations. SNAICC has partnered with over 100 non-government organisations to develop the Family Matters: kids safe in culture, not in care campaign that advocates evidence-based solutions that could end the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care within a generation. SNAICC encourages the South Australian Government to work in partnership with the South Australian Family Matters working group to ensure the response to this report aligns with best practice to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
Aboriginal Family Support Services (AFSS) has seen a genuine commitment from the South Australian Premier to engage in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.
It will be critical that the Premier’s engagement extends to consultation on how the recommendations are implemented and a critical examination of the report recommendations that are currently inadequate to meet the needs of our children.”
Sharron Williams, CEO of AFSS and Chair of SNAICC