Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in suicide prevention and trauma recovery. They support hundreds of children removed from their families by child protection authorities. Here Megan and Gerry outline the need for a Royal Commission into child removal.
There is a cumulative swell of concern about an amendment Bill in front of the West Australian Parliament proposing changes to the Children and Community Services Act 2004.
The proposed powers may affect all of Australia’s children who come to the attention of child protection authorities but, in effect, enable more powers over First Nations children, and then thereafter over Culturally and Language Diverse (CALD) children.
The proposed amendment to Section 81 of the Bill will allow for child protection authorities to place a First Nations child away from their parents or carers, and similarly so for CALD children, following consultation with only one of the child’s family members.
This is a further erosion of children’s rights and First Nations self-determination, and deserves robust scrutiny.
We argue that for two decades, governments across this nation have been strengthening legislative powers to remove children.
From 1997, the year of the Bringing Them Home report, to now, there has been an enormous increase in the number of First Nations children removed from their homes by child protection authorities.
There were just over 2,000 removed in 1997. Currently, there are over 23,000 First Nations Children removed from their homes.
Western Australia is Australia’s biggest remover of First Nations children, with the nation’s highest representation of First Nations children in out-of-home care. Currently, 56 percent of children in out-of-home care in WA are First Nations, and First Nations children are almost 18 times more likely to be placed in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children.
There is an urgent need for a Royal Commission into these removal rates of children by child protection authorities. We work with many children at the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) who are in the care of the State but who have fled the State’s arrangements.
Many of these children are homeless. Despite the lives of many children that have been improved by child protection authorities, there are thousands of young lives that have fallen by the wayside or been abandoned.
Instead of an outcry over legislative amendments, there should be a relentless rally to tear apart an obviously broken child protection system.
The system has degenerated into an institution focused on child removals. A Royal Commission could shine the light on such an oppressive institution.
Child protection authorities no longer serve to support or keep families together where possible. We need departments of social services to replace departments of child protection. Their very title, ‘child protection’, appears to be some type of policing entity rather than armies of social workers and counsellors committed to psychosocial support through a whole of family approach.
In terms of the proposed amendments, it is a dangerous precipice that promises an even higher rate of children in out-of-home care. Each year, on average, 400,000 calls are taken by child protection authorities where complaints about other people’s families are lodged.
Nationally, funding to child protection authorities exceeds $6 billion but overall, it is estimated State and Territory Governments spend only 17 percent of this funding on family support services.
When we have a crisis to the magnitude of 60,000 children removed, 23,000 of them First Nations, and one in 32 Australian children coming to the attention of child protection authorities, do we showpiece arguments on an amendment Bill or do we call for the whole system to be dragged before a Royal Commission?
Governments must take responsibility for the catastrophic failure of child protection, for it is our governments that have legislated the powers one after another since the late 1990s, all the while reducing social services.
In only two decades, we have seen more children than ever before removed. Not just First Nations, but overall. Child protection workers must be freed up to become the social workers they aspire to be and not be defaulted to pseudo police.
If we do not speak up about a crisis that, in terms of numbers, has outstripped past generations, the future will condemn our generation as we condemn the past.
We are only a decade away from more than 100,000 children removed and with near half expected to be First Nations children.
Until a Royal Commission can hear the thousands of untold stories from children who were failed, from families ripped apart, from social workers within child protection authorities and from social workers, psychologists and counsellors working to the bone to repair broken lives, there should be a freeze on any additional funding to child protection authorities.
Furthermore, until a Royal Commission, no further amendments should be made enabling more powers within child protection authorities.
By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos