'I don't know how they live with themselves': ACT's Indigenous child protection record slammed

A steering committee tasked with investigating concerns about the number of Aboriginal children in care in the ACT says immediate and urgent action is needed.

The committee's Our Booris, Our Way Review, released on Tuesday, said foster carers and parents felt there was a significant power imbalance between families and Child and Youth Protection Services.

The review looked at the circumstances of 307 children known to the Community Services Directorate as at December 31, 2017.

It made 28 recommendations that addressed both systemic and practice issues of children in protection.

The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show the Territory has one of the nation's highest rates of Indigenous children in state care.

One mother quoted in the committee's report said there was a "disgusting miscarriage of power".

"It is not fair for one person to have all that power," she said of the case manager.

A foster carer said CYPS had all the power and knowledge while parents involved in the system had none.

"Like CYPS is playing every season and these guys just come in this one time and they are not supported," the foster carer said.

"There is no weigh-in at the start of the match to make sure that there is an equal playing field.

"I don't know how they can live with themselves because they mustn't feel good after work knowing that you've just done that."

Another mother said she came from a background of trauma but it was never discussed with her.

"I believe if this had been addressed when my daughter was still with me then I could have faced it head on and gotten the help I needed," she said.

The committee said the review must spark real change in the outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children involved in the child protection system in the ACT.

"There is no time for slow, steady implementation - there is a child protection emergency," it read.

The report highlighted inconsistent practices in child protection as a major cause for concern.

It said some case workers used their powers to escalate situations to a point where where a child was removed from the family long term, with active efforts to avoid the outcome lacking.

"These orders are then paired with extremely limited family time that eliminates the opportunity for functional, strong family relationships with a lack of connection to culture causing deep fractures within families and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community," the report read.

"The inconsistency in practice causes cynicism and fear of the powers that CYPS uses in child protection work."

The committee wants the government to fund and grow an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care Association that would design, coordinate and deliver services to families who have children involved in the child protection system.

It also wants better understanding of the importance of culture and family in the child protection system.

At this stage there is very little Aboriginal input into decisions that are being made right through the child protection system.

Steering committee chair Barb Causon

Oversight of the case work practices provided by the outsourced provider, ACT Together, needed to be improved, the report said.

Minister for Children Youth and Families Rachel Stephen-Smith said the over representation of Indigenous children in out of home care in the ACT was unacceptable.

"It is something we must change," she said.

"We have started to see the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander children coming into care falling over the last 12 to 18 months. We must continue to do that."

Chair of the steering committee Barb Causon said one of the government's most immediate priorities had to be involving Aboriginal people in decision making.

"At this stage there is very little Aboriginal input into decisions that are being made right through the child protection system," she said.

"It's also really important that our families are able to access advocacy and legal support services to deal with this very complex system."


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