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Report urges action on soaring rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care

Introduction by Croakey: Yesterday, the 2019 Family Matters Report was launched in Canberra.

Led by SNAICC – National Voice for our Children, and supported by an alliance of more than 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous organisations, academics and educational institutions, Family Matters’ goal is to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 2040.

But as the post below indicates, things are going backwards.

There are many concerning aspects to the report, the most obvious of which is the upward trend in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.

More than 20,000 children are in this situation right now but, combining seven years of Australian Institute of Health and Welfare child protection data with data from the Productivity Commission Report the authors project that the population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care would more than double in the next 10 years – if nothing changes.

There are data gaps that make planning and intervention very difficult – for instance, we lack reliable national data on what proportion of children are restored to family – placement decision-making remains opaque, and longitudinal tracking of families’ interactions with the system is not always available.

The report also highlights that only 17 percent of all funding for child protection is spent on family support services.

In an article in The Guardian, Noongar woman and social work academic, Jacynta Krakouer, wondered if “the Stolen Generations never ended, but instead, just morphed into child protection”.

She wrote:

The lopsided investment in tertiary child protection systems is staggering.

new report shows the cost of child protection in Australia is just under $5.9bn annually, while only 17% of this expenditure goes to family support services.”

The report highlights promising, Indigenous-led, community-based family support initiatives around the country that could point to areas for further evaluation and investment.

A key recommendation, underpinning much of the report, is to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child, family and community participation in decisions for children.

ABC’s The Drum aired a segment on the report last night (17 September), which combined the lived experience, passion and considerable expertise of panelists Amy Thunig, and Richard Weston, CEO of SNAICC and Co-Chair of Family Matters (see tweets below).

In the leadup to the report’s release, @IndigenousX encouraged people to tweet using the hashtag #blackfullafamilymatters, and to share images of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

It’s worth checking out this hashtag, for the stories of resilience and the importance of family: a reminder of why the Family Matters’ goal really does matter, and why we urgently need to turn this situation around.


NACCHO communique 17 October:

(First published here)

Family Matters Co-Chair Richard Weston:

If we do not change our course of action the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care will more than double in the next 10 years.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are seven times more likely to be on a permanent care order until 18 years. They are at serious risk of permanent separation from their families, cultures and communities.

The trauma associated with child removal is intergenerational.

It affects a person’s functioning in the world, has an adverse impact on family relationships and creates vulnerability in families.

Healing is an important part of reclaiming the resilience we need to deal with life’s challenges and address the burden of trauma in our communities.”

The crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being over-represented in the child protection systems continues to escalate at an alarming rate, reveals The Family Matters Report 2019.

The report also shows a growing trend towards permanent placement away from their families and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to experience high levels of disadvantage.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 37.3% of the total out-of-home care population, including foster care, but only 5.5% of the total population of children.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are now 10.2 times more likely to be removed from their families than non-Indigenous children.

The rate of placement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with Indigenous carers dropped from 49.4% to 45% in a year and has declined from 65.3% in 2006.

The Family Matters Report 2019 also reveals poverty and homelessness has a profound impact on children being removed from their home.

Nearly one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living below the poverty line. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander householders are almost twice as likely to experience rental stress.

“Household income and access to safe and healthy housing have a substantial impact on the capacity of families to provide safe and supportive care for children,” says Family Matters Co-Chair Natalie Lewis.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience disadvantage across a range of early childhood areas, are more likely to be developmentally delayed at the age of five and attend childcare services at half the rate of non-Indigenous children.

“We stress the need for an increased investment in prevention and early intervention to redress the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of- home care. Consistently, more funding is invested in child protection services than support services,” says Ms Lewis.

The Family Matters Report 2019 calls for:

  1. A national comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s strategy that includes generational targets to eliminate over-representation and address the causes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child
  2. Investment in quality Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled integrated early years services through a specific program with targets to increase coverage in areas of high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and high levels of disadvantage.
  3. Establishing state-based and national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s commissioners to enable improved government accountability and oversight.
  4. An end to legal orders for permanent care and adoption for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, replaced by a focus on supporting their connections to kin, culture and community.

Family Matters is Australia’s national campaign to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people grow up safe and cared for in family, community and culture. It aims to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 2040.

Family Matters – Strong communities. Strong culture. Stronger children. is led by SNAICC – National Voice for our Children and a group of eminent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from across the country. The campaign is supported by a Strategic Alliance of over 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous organisations.

Since 2016, the campaign has released an annual Family Matters report that examines how Australia is faring in improving the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.


Just a few of the Tweets: