We can't return to business as usual: Aboriginal voices critical to child protection


The NSW government’s decision not to continue existing project funding for the peak Aboriginal child and family organisation, AbSec, is a worrying sign for Aboriginal children and families in NSW. AbSec, and the communities and organisations it represents, provide an important voice in child-protection policy debates.

As Reconciliation Week invites us to reflect on the harm caused by past policies and our shared journey towards a more just and equitable society, elevating the voices of Aboriginal people in
the child-protection system must be a priority.

Aboriginal children in NSW are five times more likely to be subject of a notification, eight times
more likely to be subject to a substantiation, and 10 times more likely to be removed from their
families by child-protection authorities.

These figures, and the challenges they represent for vulnerable children and families, have undoubtedly been exacerbated in recent months. Children and young people who come to the attention of child-protection authorities tend to be more socio-economically disadvantaged. This is particularly the case for Aboriginal families, for whom 70 per cent of substantiations are associated with relative socio-economic disadvantage.

The social and economic impact of the pandemic will result in more families experiencing crisis and requiring support to navigate these difficult times. With the system under increased strain, the need for reform is even more pressing, and the decision to cut funding even more perplexing.

These reforms are essential to public confidence and Aboriginal voices are crucial to responding effectively to the review. There has been little meaningful engagement with Aboriginal people about its findings and recommended reforms. That concern is compounded by the effective cuts to the Aboriginal child and family peak body.

It presents a worrying picture that governments have still not understood a key point from more than two decades of reviews: that they must work with Aboriginal people and genuinely empower communities to design and administer these systems to end the over-representation of their children in out-of-home care.

The events of recent months have reminded us all that we are indeed "in this together". There has been considerable discussion about when things might return to normal, and what we might change to build a stronger,
more just society.

The child-protection system is one area where we cannot return to business as usual, particularly for Aboriginal children and families. The Family is Culture review provides a clear plan for reform. It must be matched by an urgent commitment to working with Aboriginal communities for lasting change.

This article was first published on WA Today. Read the original article.


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