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Human rights lawyer says WA Government has 'very active role in aggressive child removal practices'

Sarah Smit -

An Aboriginal human rights lawyer has hit out at claims the Aboriginal community-controlled sector doesn't have the capacity to support the statewide rollout of Aboriginal Family-Led Decision Making (AFLDM) in Western Australia.

An amendment to the State's Children and Communities Act looks set to pass through Parliament in the coming weeks without AFLDM enshrined in law.

It's a choice that human rights lawyer and Noongar woman Dr Hannah McGlade said is failing to provide Aboriginal families with best practice care.

The AFLDM model is used in Queensland and Victoria, and allows extended families to work closely with authorities to make decisions on the best placement for children in need of intervention.

Though various models of the program exist, Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) play a large role in all of them.

While a two-year trial of AFLDM is set to begin in October, Dr McGlade said the system needs to be enshrined in law.

"In Western Australia, we have the highest rate of [child] removal in the country," she told NIT.

"The State Government did commit to two trial sites but will not agree to put the Aboriginal family decision making in the Bill which would mean it would become available to every Aboriginal child and family.

"This is really about the human rights of Aboriginal children and families and addressing this very shocking history of genocide that's ongoing today."

In an interview on ABC Radio's the Law Report this week, Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk said more capacity-building was required before enshrining AFLDM in law.

"If we were to hand that work over to the ACCOs we would be setting them up to fail because we do not have that sector in the child protection system in the same way we do Aboriginal Medical Services or Aboriginal Legal Services," she said.

"We need to build up that capacity."

It's a claim Dr McGlade believes is offensive.

"It's rather bold for a department that's clearly showing a lack of capacity when it comes to Aboriginal child welfare, to claim that, actually, it's the Aboriginal people and organisations that don't have capacity," she said.

"How can they say that capacity doesn't exist when we now have 56 per cent of all children in care being Aboriginal children? I think they've played a very active role in aggressive child removal practices, and that reflects systemic and structural discrimination."

Minister McGurk said once the two-year trial was completed and the most effective model chosen, the McGowan Government would revisit legislating AFLDM.

"The last review of the Children and Community Services Act, which involved extensive consultation and had representation from senior Aboriginal community members on the committee, did not recommend legislating Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making," she said.

"However, that review did suggest that any amendments to legislation could be re-examined following the implementation and evaluation of family-led decision making.

The Minister said the State Government has a positive working relationship with the existing ACCOs delivering child protection services in WA, and that the Government has committed to considering AFLDM for the next statutory review of the Act.

"However, trialling and legislating Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making will require a significant increase in the scale and nature of the work of ACCOs in delivering child protection services, and we want to ensure we work with the appropriate organisations to support them to meet any anticipated changes to their functions," Minister McGurk said.

By Sarah Smit


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