Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
The Koori Mail
Australia faces the very real prospect of another Stolen Generation unless it stems the tide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being placed in out-of-home care, the country’s lead Indigenous children’s advocacy body says.
And it says Indigenous children in care must be supported to remain connected with their families, communities and culture.
The bleak prediction follows new findings that Indigenous children are almost eight times as likely to be abused or neglected as non-Indigenous children and ten times as likely to be in out-of-home care.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Child Protection Australia 2011-12 report found that substantiated child abuse and neglect in Australia rose by about 20 percent in the 12 months to June last year.
The total number of children, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who were the subject of substantiated abuse (where an investigation has confirmed abuse) increased from 31,500 to 37,800, a rate of 7.4 per 1,000 children.
There were nearly 40,000 children in out-of-home care and most – 90 percent – were on care and protection orders.
Children aged just one year or under were most likely to be the subject of a substantiation. In 2011-12, 13.2 per 1,000 children under one were found to be the subject of substantiated abuse, up from 12 per 1,000 in 2010-11.
Older children, aged 15-17, were least likely to be the subject of a substantiation, with a rate of 3.2 per 1,000 children.
But the Indigenous figures were the most concerning, confirming the suspicions of many in our communities – that our already serious situation is getting worse.
Chairperson of the Secretariat of Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) Sharron Williams said it was “simply not acceptable” that one-third of all children in out-of-home-care were Indigenous.
“The financial cost of these continued policy failures is considerable. But the human cost to the individual children, their families and communities is devastating – and it will impact on generations to come,” Ms Williams said.
“ … Clearly current approaches have not worked, as the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children coming into contact with child protection systems in the states and territories continues to grow at an alarming rate.”
Indigenous families and communities had to be involved in finding new and long-term solutions and addressing the underlying causes of child abuse and neglect would be at their core, she said.
“Our children and families continue to experience systemic discrimination and disadvantage in health, education and housing,” Ms Williams said.
“Any long-term and sustainable solutions to our children’s welfare must be based on ensuring the basic needs of our children and families are met.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities must be empowered to participate in a meaningful way in the design and delivery of programs that affect their lives.”
Ms Williams said there needed to be a greater focus on early intervention and prevention measures – improving access to Indigenous community-based early childhood, child care, family support and child welfare programs.
“We need to recognise and build on the strengths of Indigenous families and communities to support and nurture their children,” she said.
Once in care, many Indigenous children lost connection with family, community and culture. Their right to that connection needs to be met, SNAICC says, through better application of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, especially in the Northern Territory, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, where a high percentage of our children are being placed with non-Indigenous caregivers.
According to the report, the time a child has spent in out-of-home care varied. While 38 percent of children in out-of-home care had been in a continuous placement for five or more years, 19 percent had been in their current placement for less than 12 months.
Across Australia, the vast majority (93 percent) of children in out-of-home care were placed in home-based care, such as with foster carers or relatives/kin.