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New NSW taskforce aims to return First Nations children to their families

Dechlan Brennan -

The New South Wales government has announced the creation of a "restoration taskforce" to oversee efforts to see as many Indigenous children returned to their families from the child protection system as is deemed safe.

The taskforce was announced at the first Ministerial Aboriginal Partnership Group and will see the government partnering with Aboriginal stakeholders, leaders and community representatives.

NSW Families and Communities Minister Kate Washington said the taskforce is "committed to reducing the over representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system, in partnership with Aboriginal leaders, stakeholders and communities".

The taskforce will give community-controlled organisations greater say over how Indigenous children are dealt with by the system, which sees an unacceptably high number of First Nations children and young people entering out-of-home care.

Almost half (46 per cent) of the 14,000 children in out-of-home care in NSW are Aboriginal, with both Indigenous stakeholders and the government agreeing the current child-protection system "isn't working".

AbSec chief executive, MAP Group co-chair and Birra Gubba, Wakka Wakka and Tongan man John Leha, said the formation of the taskforce was a "major step forward".

"It is gratifying to see that the Government has recognised that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) know what their families and communities need," Mr Leha said.

"We need to make sure we do not simply create more of the same.

"We need to seize this opportunity to move further and faster away from the paternalistic and authoritarian history of the child protection system, to finally put Aboriginal people in control of our own destiny."

Mr Leha has previously highlighted recommendations from the Family Is Culture report, as well as those put forward by the Auditor General and the Department of Communities and Justice (DJC) in the secretive Tune Report, which found the child protection service was "ineffective and unsustainable," as reason for pursuing different approach.

The taskforce will aim to "start changing the trajectory of outcomes for Aboriginal children" by giving community-controlled organisations greater say over how Aboriginal children are dealt with by the system, Ms Washington said.

"Status-quo is not an option. We have an opportunity to work across Government agencies and Aboriginal communities to improve the outcomes of Aboriginal children and their families."

Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty Minister David Harris agreed the number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care was "not good enough" and believes both the MAP group and the restoration taskforce would help to close the gap by empowering Aboriginal communities and "transforming government".

"Reforming the system and putting Aboriginal children and communities at the heart of decision-making is essential to ensuring children know and connect with their family, culture, and community," Minister Harris said.

On Tuesday, the Federal Government announced the plan for a long-awaited national Indigenous children's commissioner, labelled a "game changer" and which will give a voice and facilitator for children, young people and families, as well as holding governments to account.

NSW has seen a series of controversies in the state's child-protection system in the last fortnight, which has resulted in Aboriginal children being kept from their culture and community through removals and contrary to legislative recommendations.

National Indigenous Times reported the NSW government also relies on the Structured Decision-Making (SDM) - an algorithm-based tool - to evaluate a child's risk of coming into contact with the system. The "racially biased" tool was quietly ditched by Queensland in 2022, with high rates of false positives in the system only exacerbating Indigenous over-representation.

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