First Nations children increasingly disconnected from culture, SNAICC says, following new report

by Freya Lucas

October 19, 2020

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care who are placed with families outside of their cultural group is increasing, leaving them “at high risk of losing connections to culture, family and community that are vital to their safety and wellbeing”, SNAICC CEO Richard Weston said. 

 

Mr Weston said SNAICC – National Voice for our Children is “deeply concerned” about the issue, which is highlighted in a new report, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) on Friday.   

 

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle Indicators 2018–19 report measures progress towards implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle – a principle that aims to ensure the value of culture to the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is embedded in policy and practice. 

 

Central to the Principle is the aim of increasing self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in child welfare matters. It has five elements – prevention, partnership, participation, placement and connection.

 

The AIHW report only reports against two of the elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, ‘placement’ and ‘connection’, highlighting limitations in data.

 

Importantly, it does not account for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who have been removed by child protection authorities and are living away from their parents and families. Over recent years child protection authorities have removed children who have been placed into ‘permanent care’ with a third party (ordinarily a foster or kinship carer) from the count of children in out-of-home care.

 

This move has effectively made thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that have been removed, invisible in the system, and is strongly opposed by SNAICC and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations across the country.

 

The report “highlights many gaps in the available data that need to be urgently addressed,” SNAICC said, noting the finding that, as at 30 June 2019, of the 17,979 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in out-of-home care, 63 per cent were living with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or non-Indigenous relatives or kin or other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander caregivers. 

 

Only 43.4 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care were living with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers, which has fallen from 47.9 per cent over the two years previous.

 

The report also shows that only 19 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were considered to have a possibility of reunification, were reunified, compared with 26 per cent of non-Indigenous children.

 

Our children are not just numbers to be wiped off government books. We hope with the new Closing the Gap agreement, we can work with governments to ensure investment in prevention and early intervention is prioritised to support our children and families,” Mr Weston said. 

 

Without urgent efforts to safely reunify children to their parents, the new Closing the Gap target to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent by 2031 “could quickly move out of reach,” he added. 

 

The report also highlights that many vital data points cannot yet be measured against and require urgent attention. This includes access to prevention services, expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in ‘family-led decision-making’ in child protection.

 

To access the report in full, please see here

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