NSW Aboriginal child protection funding cut ahead of Sorry Day

It has taken Jenny Thomsen a long time to feel comfortable in her own skin.

More than 50 years after she was taken from her family as a baby, the Stolen Generations survivor still carries the weight of her trauma: “It’s thick. You could cut it with a knife.”

On the eve of Sorry Day, when Australia pauses to recognise members of the Stolen Generations on May 26, there are fears that the cycle of trauma continues for Aboriginal children, who make up almost 40 per cent of all children in out-of-home care in NSW.

Despite this vast over-representation, the peak body for Aboriginal child protection in NSW, AbSec, is poised to lose around half of its $5.7 million annual funding next financial year, the Herald can reveal.

The “incredibly unfortunate” funding cut would weaken the voices of Aboriginal children and families at a critical time, said AbSec CEO Tim Ireland.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated pre-existing social issues for many Aboriginal families.

“Now would be disastrous I think in our communities to reduce any kind of funding to either the representative voice that we provide to Aboriginal families and kids, or to any Aboriginal service delivery,” he told the Herald.

Gareth Ward, Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, said there had been no change to AbSec’s core funding.

“AbSec typically receives additional funding for time limited projects, some of which end in June,” he said.

Mr Ireland said AbSec had hoped to continue several of those projects, aimed at building the capacity of Aboriginal organisations within the sector: “Our worry is that all of that progress will just be lost.”

While the overall number of Aboriginal children entering out-of-home care has dropped by 35 per cent since 2015-16, the proportion of Aboriginal kids in the system continues to rise.

In March, child advocacy groups wrote to the Premier calling for urgent systemic reforms after an independent review found Aboriginal children in NSW were 10 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Aboriginal kids.

Mr Ward said the government would respond to the report in the coming months.

The Family is Culture review detailed cases of babies being removed at birth without any attempts at early intervention, “unnecessarily traumatic” removals involving large numbers of police officers and children suffering abuse at the hands of their carers.

In another case, one family had three generations of children taken into state care, beginning with a member of the Stolen Generations.

The review made 125 recommendations to improve government transparency and accountability and early intervention measures to address issues as they arise.

“What we can see, not just in NSW but across the country, is the need for greater Aboriginal community-led early intervention… rather than taking a punitive child protection response of removing kids,” said Mr Ireland.

Without "urgent reforms", he fears that the cycle of intergenerational trauma will continue, “not with the same intent as the Stolen Generations, but [with] similar impacts that we'll see devastating Aboriginal communities.”

Aaron Smith, 19, has experienced this firsthand.

His grandmother was a member of the Stolen Generations who spent time at the Parramatta Girls Home, a notorious state-run institution for Aboriginal children.

Since leaving foster care, Aaron Smith (left) has started a diploma in reptile zoology and helps other Indigenous young people through the TRYP (To Reach Your Potential) program, founded by Col Watego.

Since leaving foster care, Aaron Smith (left) has started a diploma in reptile zoology and helps other Indigenous young people through the TRYP (To Reach Your Potential) program, founded by Col Watego. CREDIT:RHETT WYMAN

Two generations later, Mr Smith, aged 7, was removed from his parents’ home in western Sydney by around 15 police officers.

He moved between a handful of foster carers, often running away in search of his birth parents, before finding a long-term placement with a family in Penrith at age 11.

The Kamilaroi man “got in a bit of trouble here and there” as a teenager, but has landed on his feet thanks, in part, to the guidance of elder Col Watego and Uniting Aftercare, a program to help young people transition out of foster care.

Mr Smith now juggles two jobs, completing a traineeship at the Sydney Zoo and working to support other young Indigenous people through a military-style boot camp called To Reach Your Potential.

“We just try to show them that there are people out there that can help them and that will sit down and listen to them, and we're not here to judge,” he said.

He has been living independently for two years, and is expecting a baby boy with his partner in the coming weeks.

“I’m very excited, very scared, but just full of joy really. There's something to get up to every morning and be thankful for.”


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