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UN alarmed at number of Indigenous kids in care system

Rudi Maxwell -

Too many Aboriginal kids are coming into contact with the criminal justice system and being removed from their families in Western Australia, according to an international human rights delegation.

The United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has made a series of recommendations to the WA government, following a visit to Perth, Albany and Geraldton in October, at the invitation of the Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council.

The UN body has advised that WA raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10, establish a dedicated First Nations children's commissioner and expand the Dandjoo-Bidi-ak (together on a path), a specialised therapeutic court being piloted at Perth's Children's Court.

About 19,500 Indigenous children were in out-of-home care in Australia as of June 30, 2021– a rate of 58 per 1000 Indigenous children, which is more than 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous kids.

However, WA has the most disproportionate rate, with Indigenous children 19.1 times more likely than their non-Indigenous peers to be in out-of-home care.

Human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade, a board member of the Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council, said that until intergenerational trauma and the underlying root causes of disadvantage were addressed, Aboriginal children and families would continue to suffer.

"We know that we have to address systemic racism in the system and prejudice that is rife through child protection systems," she said.

"There doesn't appear to be much change since a report a few years ago showing widespread lack of cultural safety in the child protection system and that's not okay."

The UN report says the best long-term avenue to addressing the over-representation of Indigenous children in care is to support an approach that is community-centric and grounded in self-determination.

"This situation of Indigenous children being removed from their families at increasingly high rates in WA is alarming," it says.

The UN group said it shared the deep concern of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination regarding the high proportion of Indigenous children in contact with the criminal justice system.

"Indigenous children face a higher risk of being removed from their families and placed in alternative care facilities, many of which are not culturally appropriate and in which, too often, they also face abuse," the report said.

Dr McGlade called on the WA government to implement the expert mechanism's recommendations, including the creation of a specific Indigenous children's commissioner, as has been done in most other jurisdictions, and which she and other Aboriginal women have been recommending for years.

"They're still always investing at the crisis and removing children, which is incredibly harmful and traumatic and violent," she said.

"My advice to Australian governments is very clearly that we need to take Indigenous rights in our own country more seriously if we are to have any credibility in terms of our international work in human rights."

WA Child Protection Minister Sabine Winton said the state government was considering the expert panel's recommendations.

"The State government recognises the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care is a significant issue," Ms Winton said.

"We're committed to addressing this through Aboriginal-led approaches that empower families and communities while always prioritising the safety and wellbeing of children."

Rudi Maxwell - AAP 

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