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Queensland Family and Child Commission urges reforms to increase kinship care for Indigenous children

Giovanni Torre -

The Queensland Family and Child Commission is calling for the requirement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship carers to hold a Blue Card be removed, allowing more children to be raised safely with family and retain their connection to Country and culture.

Queensland has the second lowest rate of placement with First Nations kin (21.7 per cent) in Australia.

The Queensland Family and Child Commission (QFCC) "Thematic analysis of provisionally approved kinship carers who receive a subsequent Blue Card negative notice" report, released Wednesday, found the Blue Card scheme's focus on employment suitability, rather than suitability to care for kin, gave limited consideration to the child's best interests.

The Commission said removing the Working with Children screening process (Blue Cards) would not put children's safety at risk, with the Department of Child Safety, Seniors and Disability Services (DCSSDS) to continue to conduct "comprehensive assessment and approval processes of all prospective kinship carers, including criminal history checks".

The Commission stressed that evidence of disqualifying offences within a criminal history report will result in a determination that the person is unsuitable to provide statutory kinship care, even in the absence of a Blue Card check.

Queensland Family and Child Commissioner, Gamilaraay woman Natalie Lewis, told National Indigenous Times the review was undertaken because the Blue Card system disproportionately impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families is a "long standing issue".

"The review looked at cases where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had applied to become kinship carers. The group we looked at went through the comprehensive screening assessment process by the Department of Child Safety and were given provisional approval to care for family members, and then have received negative notice from the Blue Card services," she said.

Ms Lewis noted that the Blue Card system was designed for employment approvals, not kinship caring for family members.

"These cases were not declined due to disqualifying offences - the agreed offences that rule people out. None of those negative notices were due to disqualifying offences, so it comes to a space where Blue Card services have discretion. There were offences, but none involving children or that would pose a risk to children," she said.

"What we have proposed is the Blue Card requirement for kinship carers be removed.

"We believe removing the Blue Card does not reduce safety. There is already an assessment process that is comprehensive and focusses on the risk of harm to the child. It is much more tailored, still involves a criminal history check, still holds the same standard around disqualifying offences, and it involves meeting carers, talking to family, getting the perspectives of the children and young people, and asking for additional information."

Ms Lewis said the assessments carried out by the Department of Child Safety before the Blue Card check are carried out by a panel, "not just a single person's subjective analysis, much more objective process".

"Only five per cent of applications for Blue Cards were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but they got 22 per cent of the negative notices," she said.

Ms Lewis noted that there is a long history of Indigenous people being "over-policed, over-charged" and highly surveilled by police, which "all means there is a higher likelihood of criminal history, but our question is does that mean, in these cases, there is a risk to the child; the answer is no".

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle provides a framework for ensuring that children stay connected with kin, culture and Country. Despite this, far too many First Nations children are being placed and raised away from their families, culture and Country, the Commission noted.

The Commission said the Blue Card process has long been identified by stakeholders as a significant impediment to higher rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Kinship care, and that the proposed change would increase the number of children being placed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family, and lead to improved outcomes for these children.

Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Yvette D'Ath, said the Queensland Family and Child Commission's report into Blue Cards around kinship carers is "an important piece of work and we welcome the report".

"I will be working closely with the Minister for Child Safety to respond to the recommendations," she said.

"While we have done a lot to improve strategies to support First Nations blue card applicants, we acknowledge we can do more for kinship carers. Where we can, we should support kin in helping care for family, which also takes pressure off the foster care system. It also leads to better outcomes for children, by still having connections with family.

"I'm advised that the Department of Child Safety has aimed to increase the proportion of children and young people cared for by kinship carers to 70 per cent by 2026. I'm further advised that latest data shows 5,592 children in care were placed with kin – 335 more children than the same period last year."

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