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Government urged to act to bring two Aboriginal children without passports back home

Dechlan Brennan -

Two Aboriginal children stuck in the UK child protection system without passports or visas "beggars' belief," with the nation's peak body for Indigenous children urging them to be brought home immediately.

SNAICC admonished the Federal and NSW Governments, begging them to act immediately and bring the two children home. SNAICC chief executive, Arnette/Luritja woman Catherine Liddle, said it was beyond belief this had been allowed to happen, inquiring how any government agency could allow vulnerable children to leave the country and then refuse to take responsibility to bring them home.

"The fact they are in the UK in the first place is yet another demonstration of how child protection systems are failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families," Ms Liddle said.

"These Aboriginal children should be in their country, with their family and community, maintaining their connection to culture and country. Instead, they are left as unwanted aliens in a distant country, with no family or cultural links."

The removal of the children seems to contradict the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, which legislates Aboriginal children should be raised, where possible, in connection with their community.

The principle states its objective is "to ensure that, recognition is given to an Aboriginal child's right to be raised in their own culture and, to the importance and value of family, extended family, kinship networks, culture and community in raising, — 'growing up'— Aboriginal children."

If the children cannot be kept in an Aboriginal family or the wider Aboriginal community for any reason, it is imperative the children are kept in contact - through a care-plan - with their culture, for their unique Identity to be maintained, along with a connection to Country and community.

"This case not only disregards the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, it shows the NSW Government is trying to wipe their hands of any responsibility for these children," Ms Liddle said.

The Guardian revealed on Tuesday the two siblings, a boy and a girl aged 14 and 15, have been in the care of the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DJC) since they were removed from their Wiradjuri mother in 2010.

The two Aboriginal children were fostered by a British couple in December 2017, referred to as Ms M and Mr L. When Mr L's visa expired in 2019, and Ms M's the following year, the Minister gave consent for Ms M to travel to the UK with the children under the belief they would all return to Australia by October 2020.

However, it was revealed their flight was cancelled during the pandemic and the two children have remained in the UK since that time.

In 2022 the NSW Children's Court granted parental responsibility to Mr L and Ms M, but ordered the Minister ensure the children's contact with family - and connection with culture - was strongly maintained. It was unclear how this was supposed to happen from the UK.

In 2023, the mother - known in court documents as DN - appealed the decision, arguing the court did not have jurisdiction to make orders in regard to children living outside of Australia.

The appeal was successful, with the three justices stating: "It is unclear how an undertaking could be enforced, how breaches might be dealt with…and how order requiring the Secretary to provide 'an assessment of the child's contact with the child's maternal and paternal families', might operate given that the children were living in the UK and were expected to remain there."

DN was granted parental responsibility in December last year, however the children remain in the UK. The Australian reported the foster carers appeared to not have ­applied for further orders to keep the children, nor offer to accompany them back to Australia, and the second child will therefore be placed in the UK child protection system. It is believed the other child has been in the system in northern ­England for a period of time.

A Department of Communities and Justice spokeswoman said the NSW Government was working with the Commonwealth Government, UK Government, the family, as well as supporters and advocates to fix the situation quickly.

"This situation is incredibly complex, involving local and international laws and conventions, and more importantly, vulnerable children," the spokeswoman said.

"The DCJ is committed to ensuring Aboriginal children and young people are placed safely within their biological family, extended family, local Aboriginal community or wider Aboriginal community and culture wherever possible.

"DCJ recognises the importance and value of family, extended family, kinship networks, culture, and community, in raising Aboriginal children."

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General's Department told the National Indigenous Times the Australian Government was aware of the situation and was "working with all relevant authorities in Australia and the United Kingdom to ensure the interests of all parties are considered, with the interests of the children being paramount."

"Due to privacy obligations the Australian Government is unable to comment further."

It is understood that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is assisting NSW authorities and the Attorney-General's Department.

Ms Liddle called on the Federal government to issue the children passports "as a matter of urgency" and for the NSW DJC to "do everything possible to reunite these children with their family and community."

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