The Greens today moved to reform the law in NSW to stop spiralling rates of First Nations child removals by implementing the findings of the ground-breaking “Family is Culture” report to end the ongoing Stolen Generations.
Despite decades of political promises, Aboriginal children today are 16 times more likely to be taken from their families than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
The Family is Culture report by Professor Megan Davis found widespread systemic failings in the child protection system and made a range of recommendations for essential legislative reform.
The Report was commissioned by the NSW Government and delivered in October 2019, but the government has refused to consider any of its proposed legislative reforms before 2024.
Greens MP and Aboriginal Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said: “Successive governments have broken countless promises to stop tearing families apart- it has been twenty four years since the apology yet First Nations children are still being ripped from their families and deprived of their kin and culture.
“First Nations children removed from their families and placed in out-of-home care are more than 15 times as likely to be in youth justice supervision, which in turns leaves them at risk of unemployment, poverty and substance abuse. These are cycles of disadvantage and trauma that link back to child removals.
“Our collective failure to stop this cycle of disadvantage is a stain on our nation. It is a failure that ignores the painful scars we inflicted on past Stolen Generations. It is a failure of now, not of history.
“The Stolen Generations were some of the darkest chapters in our colonial history and for many families this painful colonial legacy is a continuing living reality - we are repeating and entrenching the unforgivable failures of our past.
“The system is rigged - instead of working to keep families together and addressing systemic problems such as entrenched poverty and inadequate housing and health, it seems designed to take children away.
“Of the $2.5 billion child protection budget, only a tiny fraction goes to helping families stay together- just $164.2 million is invested in early intervention services that support families and communities experiencing or at risk of vulnerability. In comparison, $1.4 billion funds out-of-home care and permanency programs, in other words child removals.
“For more than 60,000 years First Nations families and extended kinship structures have been raising their children in culture and on Country. There is a wisdom and strength in this that bureaucracies and child protection structures refuse to acknowledge, and that is why these laws are so important,” Mr Shoebridge said.
In September 2016, the former Minister for Family and Community Services in NSW announced an Independent Review of Aboriginal Children and Young People in Out of Home Care. Led by First Nations legal expert Professor Megan Davis, the “Family is Culture” Report examined the reasons for the disproportionate and increasing number of Aboriginal children and young people being taken from their families in NSW.
The report found widespread non-compliance with legislation and policy and a child protection system that is failing to protect or support Aboriginal children and their families. The report made 126 recommendations for systemic reform however the government has refused to even consider legislative reforms until 2024.
The Greens’ “Family is Culture Review” Bill has been drafted with extensive involvement with stakeholders and seeks to implement critical recommendations for law reform made by the report. This includes legislating to implement the right to self-determination, which was identified as a systemic failing in the existing framework. The Bill:
· Provides that Aboriginal children may not be adopted.
· Provides that the Children’s Court must presume that removing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child or young person from his or her family causes harm.
· For the first time requires the principle of Aboriginal self-determination to guide all decisions about what is in the best interests of Aboriginal children and that the Children’s Court must set out how it has applied the principle of self-determination.
· Mandates early-intervention and support to keep families together.
· Enshrines a stronger mandate for Aboriginal community controlled organisations in the child protection system including:
o The Children’s Court must not make a final care order unless it expressly finds that the permanency plan has been approved by a recognised Aboriginal community controlled organisation;
o The Court must hear from a community representative or an Aboriginal community controlled organisation with a relevant connection to the community before making a care order.
o Holding government accountable: the Minister must table in Parliament a plan, with twice yearly updates, that sets out the actions taken to engage with First Nations people to negotiate and agree about implementation of programs and strategies that promote self-determination.