Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights groups have condemned as “regressive” proposed adoption reforms being considered by the New South Wales parliament this week, saying they present “harrowing echoes of the Stolen Generations for our communities”.
Under changes mooted to the Adoption Act 2000 (NSW), children in foster care will have to be placed in a permanent home within two years, and the consent of their parents will no longer be required where a long-term carer seeks the right to adopt.
In a joint statement, peak agencies representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families described the changes as tantamount to “allow(ing) the forced adoption of Aboriginal children”, and flying in the face of recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report which stressed the importance of growing up connected to family, community, culture and country.
“The permanent removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families presents harrowing echoes of the Stolen Generations for our communities,” reads the statement, from National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children.
“This regressive legislative change would further deepen the mistrust of families for a service system that has caused great harm to our communities in the past.”
With one in three children in out-of-home care in NSW Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, the groups said the proposed reforms would “enormously disproportionately impact” these communities, with lifelong implications from severing a child’s legal ties to their birth family.
“Adopted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children may never know about, or experience, their cultural rights and heritage if an adoptive parent determines this is not important,” the groups said.
“Permanence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is developed from a communal sense of belonging; experiences of cultural connection; and a stable sense of identity including knowing where they are from, and their place in relation to family, mob, community, land and culture.”
Condemning the lack of transparency and public dialogue over the bill as “deeply troubling”, the groups urged the NSW government to abandon the debate and commit to “meaningful and substantive consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities.”
Added National FVPLS convenor Antoinette Braybrook:
Family violence is the primary driver for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into out of home care. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who experience violence must be able to step forward and seek support for their safety and their children’s safety, without the additional fear of permanent and devastating removal of their children via forced adoption.