A new national report has found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 10.5 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children, with its authors warning more must be done to turn the tide on current trends.
The Family Matters annual report, released today in Adelaide by the national peak body for First Nations children and families, SNAICC, highlighted the state of child protection across Australia and outlined a range of recommendations to improve the lives of Indigenous children.
According to the report, as of June 2022 there were 22,328 Indigenous children in out-of-home care – the highest number on record and an increase of 85 children from the previous year.
SNAICC chairperson Muriel Bamblett said it was concerning to see little traction in improving outcomes across all states and territories.
“To have so many children over-represented in the system, so many children are going to grow up away from their family, away from their community,” she said.
“They will often not be with their siblings, not know their own country – these are things that are important to Aboriginal [people].”
Ms Bamblett, a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman, said state and federal governments were not acting fast enough to shift control to Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations (ACCOs).
“It’s a very, very slow transfer of resources, transfer of power and authority, [yet] where we see resources and power back, we see better results,” she said.
“Many governments are actually running child protection … out of their government departments, and [there is] very little investment in Aboriginal community control.
“That speaks against self-determination — Aboriginal people need to be making decisions about their children on their land, on their country, and in their best interests.”
She described current child protection systems as “racist” and urged authorities to work more closely with Indigenous communities to better understand the sector’s complexities.
The report also highlighted that fewer than half of Indigenous children in care are living with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers, a sharp decline from more than 65 per cent a decade ago.
Its authors repeated calls for the federal government to appoint a national Aboriginal and Torres Islander children’s commissioner.
April Lawrie, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People in South Australia, said increases to funding had not resulted in better outcomes for Indigenous children.
“Where the funding is going is not hitting the mark,” she said.
“It reveals that much more effort is required in the right places to truly make a difference in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”
Ms Lawrie said the appointment of a national Aboriginal and Torres Islander children’s commissioner would create a “central, coordinated, leadership role”.
“[It would] ensure that the voice of the Aboriginal child is brought into the fold of policy development, into decision-making on key aspects of life that have [an] effect on Aboriginal children and young people’s life outcomes,” she said.
In a statement, national Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said the Family Matters report “reinforces the fact that child wellbeing is not a national priority, and that our piecemeal efforts are failing to achieve the reforms required”.
“We need to listen to what First Nations children and families say they need,” she said.
“We need governments to be accountable for action on the evidence-based recommendations from decades of royal commissions and inquiries.”
Commissioner Hollonds said governments around Australia needed to adopt a national approach to address “the evident systemic failures”.
According to the report, current trends indicate that Target 12 in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap — to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent by 2031 — will not be met.
The report also calls for the state and federal governments to invest in a new family support program for ACCOs to help shift responses towards prevention and early support services.
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