SNAICC calls on NT Government to take immediate action and protect children in care

by Freya Lucas

July 01, 2020

The Northern Territory Government needs to take swift action to address the systematic failures that have led to the continued abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, SNAICC – National Voice for our Children has said, spurred on by a recent investigative report. 

 

Recently released by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner Northern Territory, the report found that 12 Aboriginal children placed with carers over the period of 2004 to 2018 were subject to abuse. Of these, eight children were under investigation, and four of these suffered emotional harm at the hands of their carers. An additional four children were subject to harm while in care, which did not proceed to investigation due to failings within the child protection system. 

 

This, SNAICC CEO Richard Weston said, highlights questions about who is accountable to ensure children are not vulnerable to abuse, and are kept safe.

 

“For a government agency to place a child in an environment that is unsafe for their emotional and physical wellbeing is unacceptable, and until these failings are addressed it will continue to happen to our children” he added.

 

SNAICC expressed ‘grave concern’ that, despite the number of issues raised around the carers under investigation, they continue to be authorised Territory Families foster carers, posing a threat to the safety and wellbeing of the children placed in their care.

 

As well as flagging concerns about the presence of the carers under investigation, SNAICC also expressed concern about report findings which the agency said “exposed failings” by the Departments and agencies, which included poor record-keeping; failure to report to the Police and investigate allegations of sexual harm, and the failure of Police to report an alleged sexual assault; failure to assess standards of care, even when raised as a concern; as well as the failure to investigate physical and emotional harm, and insufficient monitoring of children in care.

 

All of the children written about in the report are Aboriginal and have family and cultural connections in remote Aboriginal communities, predominately in Central Australia. The report details allegations of carers subjecting children to discriminate racial and physical abuse from hitting and padlocking children in their bedrooms, and preventing visits with families, something SNAICC termed “deeply distressing.”  

 

“SNAICC has long called on governments to adhere to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle that places priority on keeping a child connected to their kin and culture” Mr Weston said.

 

Currently in the Northern Territory, only 36 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care were placed with family, kin or other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers as at 30 June 2019. This is well below the national average of 63 per cent.

 

“Too often, our children are treated as a number, with limited training by case workers and insufficient efforts to ensure they are placed in the best possible care.”

 

SNAICC urged the Northern Territory Government to take swift action to implement the full recommendations outlined by the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner to address what it termed “the systematic failings” within and across agencies in child protection. 

 

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was established in 2016. The $54 million inquiry delivered a report with 227 recommendations to pave the way for a new system that delivers better outcomes for children in the Northern Territory. Many of the findings and recommendations in the report mirrored those of other inquiries such as the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report released in 1992. 

 

“It is concerning that despite the numerous recommendations of inquiries and reports over multiple decades in Australia, the system continues to fail to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from harm” Mr Weston said. 

 

More information about the advocacy work undertaken by SNAICC can be found on their website, here. 

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