There is no greater evidence of our failure to address Indigenous disadvantage in Australia than the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children represent one in every three children living in out-of-home care.
Many of these children are growing up without close connections to their family and outside of their language and culture.
We have known for at least two decades of the many devastating and long-term effects of removing children from their families and communities.
Yet 20 years after the release of the Bringing them Home report, few of the recommendations in the report have been implemented and record numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are being taken away from their parents.
SNAICC – National Voice for our Children (known previously as the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care) – is one organisation working to reverse this disturbing trend.
SNAICC is Australia’s national non-government peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children: a representative body that works for the fulfilment of the rights of Indigenous children.
SNAICC exists to see all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children thrive, ensuring their safety, development and wellbeing. SNAICC’s vision is an Australian society in which the rights of our children are protected, our communities are empowered to determine their own futures, and our cultural identify is valued.
Following the recent 7th SNAICC National Conference, Geraldine Atkinson, Deputy Chairperson of SNAICC, outlines (below) the need for urgent action in this area and suggests some positive strategies to support and strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
Geraldine Atkinson writes:
— Jo Farmer (@JoannaFarmer) September 14, 2017
In 1997 the Bringing them Home report exposed the violations of fundamental human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families, and communities through the policies and practices of the Stolen Generations.
In the 20 years that have followed the handing down of the report, only a handful of the recommendations have been fully implemented. The reforms outlined in the report remain largely unrealised, and outcomes for our children are getting worse.
— Congress (@CAACongress) September 14, 2017
The actions that brought about the Stolen Generations completely undermined the rights of our children. The devastating impacts of these events on cultural and family connections have caused direct and intergenerational trauma that remains unhealed and continues as a driving force for contemporary child removals.
20 years on and current child and family welfare systems across Australia continue to fail our children, robbing them of their rights to grow up in nurturing environments, with loving and supportive families, in the richness and beauty of their cultures.
SNAICC National Conference
— CoLab For Kids (@CoLabForKids) September 14, 2017
Coinciding with this anniversary was the 7th SNAICC National Conference, held on Ngambi-Ngunnawal land in Canberra.
With this gathering SNAICC was able to create a space where over 1000 experts from our child welfare sector could come together, providing us with the opportunity to listen to many of the inspiring and best-practice ways our communities and organisations are successfully addressing these issues that continue to impact the lives of our children.
The reality is that outcomes for our children have not improved since the Bringing them Home report was published. When the report was released Australia was shocked to learn that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children represented one in every five children living in out-of-home care. Today they are one in every three.
Never before have so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children been removed from family and culture.
Our children are almost 10 times more likely to be removed by child protection authorities than non-Indigenous children. If no new action is taken today, the number of our children removed from family will triple by 2035.
— 𝚂𝚑𝚊𝚛𝚘𝚗 𝙳𝚊𝚟𝚒𝚜 (@Sharon_Davis_) September 14, 2017
However complex this current state of affairs may seem, the solutions exist, and they exist within our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The SNAICC Conference was centred on the anniversary of the Bringing them Home report to raise awareness and discussion of ongoing child removal.
While this gathering was an opportunity to honour and learn from the experiences of the Stolen Generations, an equally important aspect was the opportunity for experts from all corners of the country to come together to collectively strategize about our next steps.
We heard from many people with the knowledge, experience, and authority to provide us with best-practice direction on our way forward.
Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett AM, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, told us: “We know strong families and strong culture raises strong children. We need to work with our children in the system to ensure they remain connected to their culture.”
Dr Sarah Kastelic, our international guest from the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), shared her learnings from her work in America and the parallels we can draw here in Australia. As Dr Kastelic told us: “We have a sacred responsibility and our children cannot afford to wait.”
Developing a communique
— Brigitte Mitchell (@bridgy12) September 14, 2017
These messages were echoed across more than 70 presentations, where we heard from dedicated people making a difference – be it locally, jurisdictionally, or nationally – to see our children grow up safe and cared for within family, community and culture.
After three days of sharing and learning from one another, those who gathered have released our communiqué, which outlines our calls to action. It is our hope that this can inspire action across all levels of government and department leadership.
As Professor Mick Dodson, Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University, told us: “There are recommendations that are fully informed by the people who have endured the challenges themselves – who are best placed to formulate the answers to these problems – but those solutions sit on the shelves and gather dust.”
A shift in direction is clearly required. Our communities hold the solutions to create a better future for our children, and our strengths must be recognised.