Victorian child protection services have failed Aboriginal children as the number being placed in out-of-home care escalates to crisis point, a report tabled in the Victorian Parliament has found.
The report by Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos, found that from 2013 to 2015 there was a 59 percent increase in the number of Aboriginal children placed in care.
In June last year, of the 8567 Victorian children in care, 1511, or 17.6 percent, were Aboriginal, despite Aboriginal people accounting for less than one percent of the State’s population.
Nearly 20 percent of Victoria’s 21,146 Aboriginal children were receiving child protection services of some kind, compared to the national figure of 14.5 percent.
The report said many children were taken from their homes for their own safety only to suffer physical, mental and cultural neglect from government agencies such as child protection, police, education and health.
“This inquiry has concluded that there are systemic failures and inadequacies that have contributed to the vast over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection and out-of-home care systems, and that there are practice deficits that have led to the degradation of Aboriginal culture for Aboriginal children who are placed in out-of-home care,” it said.
The 138-page report followed a two-year inquiry, Taskforce 1000. Data for 980 children was reviewed. It paints a picture of failures in the system it describes as “shocking”.
Family violence combined with parents who had alcohol or drug abuse was the main reason children were removed from their homes.
Nearly 90 percent of the children had experienced family violence, 87 percent had parents with drink or drug problems, more than 60 percent were placed with a non-Aboriginal carer and 40 percent were separated from siblings.
Regard for culture was low.
“Many children did not know they were Aboriginal, were split from siblings, and left for years in residential care – isolated from family, culture and country – when they might have been in the loving care of grandparents or other relatives,” Mr Jackomos said.
“We had child protection officials tell us they had been unable to trace a child’s Aboriginal family for years when we were able to track them down on Facebook within minutes.”
Mr Jackomos said agencies, department heads, community organisations, police and school principals must be held personally accountable for the failures.
“Tracing the stories of individual children and their families across Victoria, we saw generations caught up in criminal justice and child protection systems, struggling with unemployment, poverty, poor education, high rates of suicide and the over-riding impact of the past impacting on the present,” he said.
“We know the trajectory, and that if we don’t act now, we are condemning the next generation to similar grief, loss and trauma.”
The report, Always was, always will be Koori Children, said the commission was concerned solutions put forward in the past had not been implemented by successive governments.
It said more needed to be done to help Aboriginal families struggling with problems and funding for Aboriginal child services also needed to be boosted.
The report said mainstream services were not able to provide culturally-appropriate responses.
Victoria’s Department of Education and Training and Department of Health and Human Services also came in the firing line. The report found they had not complied with protocols and agreements to protect the cultural rights of Aboriginal children in care.
The report said in many cases there had been scant regard for the human rights of Aboriginal children to access and practice their culture. These included the right to Koori education services.
Among 77 recommendations, it said the Victorian system should be overhauled and the management and placement of Aboriginal children in care should be transferred to Aboriginal community controlled organisations.
In the meantime, child protection services needed to take a new approach, including increasing the number of Aboriginal workers in executive and other positions in the child protection system.
Specialist Aboriginal child protection teams were also needed.
‘It was quite clear that many parents of the 980 children we saw had been in the care of the state and the state pushed them out of the door ill-prepared,” Mr Jackomos said. “The same thing sadly is happening to the current generation of Koori kids leaving care.”
Victoria’s Minister for Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, said all of the report’s recommendations relating to the Department of Health and Human Services had been accepted.
She said the government was recruiting more Aboriginal child protection workers.