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Aboriginal boy left in apartment for over a year budget estimates reveals

Rachael Knowles -

A 12-year-old Aboriginal boy spent over 300 days alone in an apartment as part of New South Wales Government's 'last resort' alternative care arrangements.

It was revealed on Friday during budget estimates that the boy was placed in the serviced apartment independently for almost a year.

Greens MP and spokesperson for Aboriginal justice David Shoebridge questioned the situation.

Shoebridge alleged NSW Families, Communities and Disability Services Minister Alister Henskens breached his duty of care.

Minister Henskens responded to accusations noting that he shared Shoebridge's concerns, and it was an issued he had prioritised since his time in the role began in May.

He noted that his time in the position has been "relatively short".

The Minister told the hearing that he had weekly meetings with executive members of the Department and was receiving briefings of "strategies to exit the longer-term children out of alternative care arrangements".

Simone Czech, Communities and Justice Department deputy secretary labelled the situation "clearly unacceptable".

Czech noted that "one day is too long" for a child to be isolated, and that alternative care arrangements were only used in circumstances of emergency.

'Last resort' alternative care is an "emergency or temporary" situation in which no appropriate carer, guardian or residency can be found for the child. Czech reaffirmed that they were used "absolutely as a last option".

She described the 12-year-old's needs as "quite complex" and claimed that scheduled plans for him to return to care had changed. This had delayed his exit.

Shoebridge pushed Minister Henskens for an estimate of how much of the NSW budget was allocated to early intervention and to child removal. The Minister took the question on notice.

"Pretty much everybody in this space wants to know how much has been spent on removing kids and how much has been spent on supporting families," said Shoebridge in response.

"We're at budget estimates and we don't seem to have that most basic data."

The boy is one of 91 children living in 'last resort' alternative care. Of the 91 children, 47 per cent are Indigenous.

Shoebridge described the situation as "grossly disproportionate" and a "damning indictment on the system".

Minister Henskens again noted he shared Shoebridge's concerns, agreeing the rate of removal of Indigenous children was too high.

Currently the NSW Government is in the process of implementing 94 of the 125 recommendations of the 2019 independent review of Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care.

The implementation of said recommendations is hoped to deliver "positive impacts".

One of the recommendations calls for all Aboriginal children currently in the out-of-home care system to be transitioned to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations by 2022.

Minister Henskens noted that this would be a "huge challenge". The hearing heard that currently the rate of Aboriginal children transitioned sits at 20.6 per cent.

Shoebridge claimed that almost 80 per cent of Aboriginal children in the care of non-Aboriginal organisations is an "ongoing Stolen Generations".

Minister Henskens rejected Shoebridge's comment, saying the department had a large focus on "ensuring people are put in culturally appropriate environments".

He said the department was aware of "culturally appropriate ways in which to provide out-of-home care".

"The proposition that you were putting to me doesn't fully take into account that reality," the Minister said.

Czech added 60.3 per cent of Aboriginal children had an approved "cultural support plan" at the end of June. This has increased by a 4.3 per cent since 2020.

By Rachael Knowles

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