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Family of Indigenous teen who died in NSW state care disappointed by lack of reforms

Giovanni Torre -

First Nations readers are advised that this story contains images and names of someone who has passed away.

The family of George Campbell has expressed disappointment in the absence of recommendations to change New South Wales' Department of Communities and Justice in the coroner's findings on the death of the Dunghutti-Tharawal teenager.

George was in the care of NSW Department of Communities and Justice when he went missing and died in March 2018.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, his mother Karen Campbell, grandmother Fay Campbell, and uncle Rodney Kelly said:

"A lot more needs to be done. We need our own services and our own people looking after our kids, not the colonial system of out-of-home-care.

"We need some accountability for George, because the Minister and their people should have taken proper care of George. It is a terrible thing to have happened, it shouldn't happen to any mother."

Karen Campbell, said: "If George was allowed to interact with his family, maybe things would be different today. My son would still be here if things had been done properly."

The NSW State Coroner, Magistrate Teresa O'Sullivan, found that George required "culturally appropriate, careful, and intensive supervision if he was to have a reasonable chance of successfully achieving some measure of stability in adult life".

The coroner drew attention to the failings of DCJ to provide George Campbell with the culturally-safe care he needed.

"I acknowledge the concerns expressed on behalf of Karen [Campbell] and agree... that a cultural plan is integral to the immediate and lifelong social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people and should actively facilitate their connections to family, kin, community, Country and culture."

Advocates from the National Justice Project, the law firm representing George's family, have more needs to be done to provide culturally-safe care to First Nations youth in state care.

George Newhouse, Principal Solicitor of the National Justice Project, said the status quo is "failing young people like George".

"Aboriginal children are relying on DCJ to do its job properly. There are lives at stake," he said.

"We welcome efforts within DCJ to improve cultural safety, but the department needs to back up its commitments with the human and financial resources to secure culturally-safe care for the 6,661 First Nations children in its care.

"Every effort should be made to support First Nations families and reduce the numbers of First Nations children in state care. Services to Aboriginal children should be provided by independent First Nations organisations, as it is obvious that DCJ cannot do its job."

In its submissions to the coroner, the National Justice Project argued that George's cultural plan was inadequate, did not take into consideration George's own desires and aspirations, and did not have any accountability in place to ensure it was delivered.

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