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Aboriginal voice needed in state care system, NSW says

Luke Costin -

The maligned out-of-home care system must be revamped and designed hand-in-hand with Aboriginal families and communities, the NSW families minister says.

The $1.6 billion state care system has faced repeated criticism in recent years over the use of hotels, motels or serviced apartments for "last resort" care.

More than half the children in such care in NSW were Indigenous, with one 12-year-old spending more than 300 days in a serviced apartment.

Having called the system broken from opposition, Families Minister Kate Washington hopes a forum in Sydney on Tuesday and Wednesday can chart a new course for the state's most vulnerable children.

Led by the government and peak NSW Indigenous child welfare organisation AbSec, the forum will ask key stakeholders, leaders and community representatives how best to address disparities in child protection outcomes.

"We must reimagine the child protection system, so we can build a brighter future for Aboriginal children," Ms Washington said.

"The only way that we can do that is through genuine co-design and partnership with Aboriginal people, families, and communities."

AbSec said the forum was the first step in reforming the NSW child protection system.

"Self-determination provides the foundation of a re-imagined family and child wellbeing service system, a system that invests in families at its earliest point of contact (and) that is accountable to the communities that they serve," AbSec chief executive John Leha said.

Ms Washington dubbed the out-of-home care system broken in November after a court exposed the troubled experience of two brothers.

Known by pseudonyms Lincoln and Finn, the year 6 and year 7 boys had their near-perfect school attendance plummet after they were placed into state care, which was outsourced to a private provider and then handballed to another provider.

Both boys told a government caseworker they didn't want to go to school as they were cold because they didn't have winter uniforms and were concerned about the distance.

Ms Washington accused the coalition of failing to act on numerous reviews, saying the system "is broken, and it's breaking the most vulnerable children in the state."

The coalition said the safety and wellbeing of all children in NSW was "an absolute priority" and said the number of NSW children in out-of-home care in 2022 fell to its lowest point in a decade.

Luke Costin - AAP


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