SNAICC says Family Matters report reveals increasing crisis for children
A new report from Family Matters, an initiative led by SNAICC – National Voice for our Children and supported by a Strategic Alliance of over 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous organisations, leading academics and prominent educational institutions, has highlighted that “the crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being over-represented in the child protection systems continues to escalate at an alarming rate.”
The report findings are of note for the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, given the overarching goal of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians which, as quoted in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), ‘commits to improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and strengthening early childhood education’.
Additionally, there have been arguments made within the sector that, “given Australia’s past and our responsibility to Indigenous Australians, there needs to be a significant and sustained focus on embedding Indigenous perspectives in ECEC—first with educators, and, through them, young children and families.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 37.3 per cent of the total out-of-home care population, including foster care, but only 5.5 per cent 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.
Family Matters co-chair, Richard Weston, said the statistics are likely to worsen in coming years if significant change does not occur, predicting that without 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” he said.
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,” said Family Matters Co-Chair Natalie Lewis.
The role of the ECEC sector was again highlighted by Ms Lewis, who said “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.”
She stressed, on behalf of Family Matters, 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.”
The main outcomes of the 2019 report highlighted the need for:
- 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 removal.
- 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.
- Establishing state-based and national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s commissioners to enable improved government accountability and oversight
- 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.
The 2019 report is the third for Family Matters, who, since 2016, has released an annual report examining how Australia is faring in improving the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
The current report is available to review here.