More than a decade after the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, government policies and legislation are still facilitating the separation of Aboriginal children from their families.
New child protection legislation has been passed in NSW radically changing existing child protection policy, despite the fact that it directly contradicts other government policies and was opposed by peak Aboriginal bodies such as AbSec and Stolen Generations organisations. Although Aboriginal children make up 37 percent of children in out-of-home care, there was only minimal consultation with Indigenous communities on the policy shift.
This legislation will have a disproportionate impact upon Indigenous children, who are removed from their families at ten times the rate of non-Indigenous children. These laws also make it easier for children to be adopted without their parents’ consent.
Waminda is an organisation run by Aboriginal women and dedicated to supporting women’s key role in keeping their families and communities strong. The article below is by Bella Worner-Butcher, Faye Worner and the Waminda Board.
Bella Worner-Butcher, Faye Worner and the Waminda Board write:
Waminda South Coast Women’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation, located in Nowra on the South Coast of New South Wales, is a culturally safe and holistic service that provides Aboriginal women and their families an opportunity to belong and receive quality health and well-being support.
We offer a range of different services and programs including an Aboriginal Family Support Program, where we provide Aboriginal women and their families with tailored case management in relation to family preservation and restoration. It is our utmost priority that the women are supported in every way possible to keep their families and communities strong. Women are the backbone of Aboriginal communities – we are deadly, fierce and resilient in a society that is rife with systemic racism and sexism.
A radical shift
On Thursday the 22 November 2018, new child protection legislation was passed in NSW that represents a radical shift in child welfare policy and will undoubtedly have a disproportional impact on Aboriginal children and families. The new laws will make it easier for Aboriginal children to be adopted without consent from their parents and make it harder for parents to have their children restored to their care after removal.
The Bill was introduced on the 23 October, just a few days after the national apology to survivors of institutionalised child abuse. The changes were strongly opposed by peak bodies such as AbSec, Community Legal Centres NSW and Stolen Generations organisations. Hundreds of people protested outside NSW parliament to try and stop the changes. Unfortunately, the legislation has been rushed through parliament before the state election in March.
Despite Aboriginal children making up 37% of all children in out of home care in NSW, and while being removed from their families at a rate ten times that of nonIndigenous children, there was minimal consultation with Aboriginal community organisations about the proposed changes. The new laws will place a two-year maximum time limit for restoration of children to their parents. If the court decides that a child cannot be restored to their parents within two years, the court must propose either an order of guardianship or adoption.
A contradictory approach
These reforms have come about at the same time as the NSW Government implements Their Futures Matters, a key government response to the findings of the 2016 Tune Report. Their Futures Matters involves moving away from a placement-based system to one where children and families are at the centre and their needs are considered first. The new reforms directly contradict this approach and we question the government’s inconsistent approaches to child protection in NSW.
Aboriginal children are in contact with the child protection system longer, due to the cumulative complexities that Indigenous families experience. Documented evidence suggests that Aboriginal children who are not in their home are at a higher risk of suicide or self-harm.
Further to that, in NSW, Aboriginal children are in contact with the child protection system at a rate 10 times higher than non-Aboriginal children. The overrepresentation is a specific risk to Aboriginal children dying outside the home. Thus, the priority should be to ensure that Aboriginal children remain with family who are able to, or those whom can care for them in a culturally safe manner with strong, wrap around integrated services to support them.
Setting families up to fail
Every day at Waminda we work alongside Aboriginal women to help them fight to get their babies back. We know, from first-hand experience, that two years isn’t always long enough to address the challenges our women face as a result of intergenerational trauma and systemic abuse. The two-year time frame ignores the extensive delays and lack of supports facing Aboriginal families, particularly in regional NSW. These new laws will set families up to fail.
We are also shocked at how the new laws will enable parental consent to adoption to be dispensed with when a child is on a guardianship order. There are currently over 800 Aboriginal children in NSW right now that are on guardianship orders, who could potentially become adopted. Waminda strongly opposes the adoption of Aboriginal children.
Aboriginal communities have been looking after their children, collectively, for thousands of years. We have mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles, grandmothers, cousins – who are all willing to look after our kids. Adoption is something that could work for non-Indigenous children, but it has no place in our communities.
Waminda is frustrated that the NSW government has ignored the calls of Aboriginal community organisations to prioritise support for families through family preservation and support, and to recognise that cultural identity and family connection is absolutely essential to the wellbeing of Aboriginal children.
A matter of life and death
The statistics from the NSW Child Death Review Team report make it blatantly obvious that the decision to remove an Aboriginal child from their family is a matter of life and death. The fact that so many of our children could be placed on guardianship orders, and subsequent adoption, means that the Department of Family and Community Services no longer has the responsibility to work with the family. This lack of Department oversight that would result from rushing children into guardianship and adoption orders could have grave consequences.
Our children are not safe as it is in out of home care in NSW, and they will not be safe once they are moved ‘off the books’ of the Minister. We need our kids in our communities. The focus needs to be on family preservation and restoration, not on making it easier to make removals more permanent.
For more information please contact Marlene Longbottom firstname.lastname@example.org