Child protection reforms won’t deliver for Aboriginal kids: advocates

Aboriginal groups say the NSW government’s child protection reforms don’t do enough to tackle the over-representation of Indigenous children and youths in state care, labelling the plans as unremarkable and leaving them feeling disrespected.

The government will appoint an Aboriginal children’s guardian, an expert advisory body and an internal taskforce in response to a damning review which last year made 125 recommendations to reform a child protection system that had “failed Aboriginal families and children”.

Aboriginal children make up almost 40 per cent of all young people in out-of-home care in NSW.

The guardian role has been broadly welcomed, providing the position has standalone powers, but critics say the government has ignored the bulk of the recommendations and failed to properly consult with Indigenous groups.

Hailed by Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward as “game-changing”, the response was labelled “unremarkable” by AbSec, the NSW peak body for Aboriginal children and families.

Members of Grandmothers Against Removals NSW, a grassroots organisation that was integral to the Family is Culture review, said they had been “disrespected” and excluded from the government response.

AbSec chairperson Dana Clarke said: “While there are some positives, many essential reforms have either been postponed or ignored, rather than providing the systematic change that our children need."

Ms Clarke said calls for an independent Aboriginal Child Protection Commission were overlooked, while “key” legislative reforms were delayed until a further review in 2024.

NSW Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Karly Warner said law reform was urgently needed to ensure “mandated early intervention” to support families before they reached a crisis point.

Mr Ward said the new measures were a starting point for ongoing consultation.

But several groups raised concerns about a lack of consultation, noting that Mr Ward hand-picked a five-person Aboriginal Knowledge Circle to provide policy advice, rather than seek community guidance.

Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward.

Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward.CREDIT:LOUISE KENNERLEY

The circle includes senior Aboriginal medical practitioner Ngiare Brown, Redfern community leader Shane Phillips and Aboriginal child protection specialist Dea Delaney-Thiele, along with the Aboriginal children’s guardian and a representative from AbSec.

Suellyn Tighe, a member of Grandmothers Against Removals NSW, said the group had been disregarded in the selection process.

The group has campaigned on behalf of Indigenous children and families since 2014, helping to shape guiding principles to strengthen Aboriginal participation in child protection decisions within the Department of Communities and Justice.

“We’re really insulted that we’ve done all this advocacy to try and change things, and we’ve achieved a lot of changes, and we are still deemed not experts,” said Ms Tighe.

A spokesperson for Mr Ward said the Aboriginal Knowledge Circle would work in consultation with grassroots groups, including Grandmothers Against Removals.

Ms Tighe said she “fervently hoped” to see more progress going forward.

“This is the pattern we see from government – there's a review done and they'll implement one, possibly two changes ... and that's where it stops,” Ms Tighe said.

“We're hoping this will be the beginning of movement forward to systemic change within the department.”

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said the government’s response was a wasted opportunity.

“At a time when tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets to demand justice, to say that Black Lives Matters, that Aboriginal children’s lives matter, this response from the government is simply not good enough,” he said.


1 comment

  • Toni Stefaniak

    Housing plays a big big part in not being able to have aboriginal children. Families need to be housed before any great change to families. My aboriginal daughter can come home if we could find somewhere afforadable to live. How Many more are in this position. How can these children ever get a sense of belonging if we don’t help them and their families. This is one small but urgent requirements to get things started.

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