Numbers of Indigenous children in care 'a national disgrace'


By Robyn Powell

The growing number of Indigenous children being put into government care is a national disgrace, a group representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families says. Figures indicate one third of children in care are from Aboriginal backgrounds, which the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) says risks creating another Stolen Generation. A forum held today in Adelaide has looked at the issue of Indigenous children in care.


Sharron Williams of the SNAICC told delegates something must change.


"It's a national disgrace when we allow for Aboriginal children, all children, to come into care at such high levels," she said.


A woman in the audience of a forum, who did not want to be identified publicly, told the ABC she had faced the trauma of her grandchildren being taken away to a government-run facility.


"I had the middle one begging 'Please don't let them take me away' and the youngest one went and hid under the bed," she said.


The forum has been told the answer to breaking the cycle hurting Indigenous families lies with empowering communities.


Former judge Robyn Layton, now working with Reconciliation SA, said Western ways were failing Indigenous people.


"Well-intentioned non-Aboriginal people have been doing things the Western way," she said.


She said policies allowing children to be taken from their families dated back to colonisation, meaning many current parents had themselves suffered trauma earlier in their lives.


Ms Layton said providing more resources was not necessarily the way to break the cycle.


"What we need to do now to find solutions is to empower them to do things the cultural way, the Aboriginal way," she said.


Child protection authorities said they hoped to change policies so the number of Indigenous children in care could be halved by 2018.


SNAICC CEO Frank Hytten said there needed to be clearer policy on when to remove children from families over problems such as neglect.


"There isn't a clear understanding or a clear definition of what neglect is, so some issues that are labelled as neglect could often be poverty," he said.


"Therefore we start to punish the people who are living in poverty or who are living with that dysfunction for reasons that are not of their own making.


"We need to involve Aboriginal people in the decision-making around why their children are being removed and how best to work with families that are not working very well."