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NSW Government failing to keep First Nations kids with family

Rachael Knowles -

Two-years after a landmark independent review into the New South Wales child protection system, the rates of First Nations child being removed has increased.

Last week Budget estimates revealed that currently First Nations children in NSW are 11 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children.

In 2019 Family is Culture Independent Review of Aboriginal Children and Young People in Out-of-Home Care review uncovered the out-of-home care system that lacks accountability and maintains a resonance with historical practices of child removal used against Aboriginal communities.

Upon the release of the review, Richard Weston, Family Matters Co-Chair said the rate of First Nations children being on a "permanent care order until 18-years" was 7 times more likely than non-Indigenous children.

As of 2021, the state government maintains it has completed or is in the process of completing 94 of the Family is Culture review recommendations.

However, analysis by Aboriginal organisations indicate that the majority of said implemented recommendations are still being scoped, are under review or there is no progress report available.

The two notable changes that have been implemented, the establishment of the Aboriginal Deputy Children's Guardian and the Aboriginal Knowledge Circle, were not recommendations of the Family is Culture review.

In Budget estimates, the Government confirmed that there are 6,829 First Nations children in out-of-home care as of June 30, 2021.

The rate has increase by 4 per cent since 2018, and First Nations children make up 43 per cent of all children in the system.

Marking the two-year anniversary of the Family is Culture report being released, AbSec Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation and the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS) have published an accountability framework to track the Government's future progress in implementing Family Is Culture's 126 recommendations.

The organisations are also calling for the Government to work with Aboriginal communities to develop a shared plan for reforms to uphold Aboriginal children's rights to family and culture.

"If the NSW Government is serious about meeting their Closing the Gap target and reducing the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent before 2031, they will come to the table and meaningfully engage with Aboriginal communities," said John Leha, CEO of AbSec.

"Business-as-usual is not good enough when it comes to improving the lives of Aboriginal children. For every year the Government delays action, the state will remove around 900 Aboriginal children and young people from their families."

Leha said the sector is "demanding reform" through the implementations of all the 126 recommendations.

"The Family is Culture report exposed unethical practices of removing Aboriginal newborns from their mothers' arms in hospitals. It found that concerned family members were frantically contacting the department to offer care for their nieces, nephews and grandchildren, but their calls weren't being returned," said Nadine Miles, ALS Acting CEO.

"It found an increasing number of children are 'graduating' from out-of-home care to incarceration â€" the state relinquishing its role as parent and becoming jailer."

Miles noted that whilst "Aboriginal children and families are incredibly strong" having survived decades of "children removal and attempted cultural erasure ... enough is enough".

"It's well past time for the NSW Government to admit its out-of-home care system is failing the Aboriginal children it claims to protect. The Government cannot continue to sideline its own commissioned report."

In 2019, Bundjalung woman, child's rights advocate and survivor of the statutory out-of-home care Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts was named the recipient of an Australian Human Rights Award.

In 2008, the same year that former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave his national apology to the Stolen Generations, Turnbull-Roberts was taken from her family.

"In this moment, I felt confused, because I knew my mum and dad were fighting for my custody, were fighting for my culture, were fighting for me to come home."

Turnbull-Roberts said that the state care system did not give her a better life.

"It provided more harm than good, and the goal must always be to do no harm. Child protection has a lot to be accountable for, in particular the failure to amplify community organisations and voices and ensure the rights of First Nations children," she said.

"I would never deny the fundamental rights for our children to feel nourished, loved and protected, however the current agenda that exists in both legislation and practice is a false narrative that Blak families and communities cannot provide this.

"When in fact, it's who we are and where we come from."

By Rachael Knowles

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