Any move to have Aboriginal children adopted by non-Indigenous families would be a backward step, according to Australia’s peak body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

SNAICC (National Voice for Our Children) chairwoman Sharron Williams, a Narungga-Kaurna woman based in Adelaide, said all children needed to be safe and cared for but Aboriginal children shouldn’t be separated from their kin and culture.

Ms Williams’ comments came as federal Children’s Minister David Gillespie said permanent adoptions should play a role in finding new homes for abused or neglected Aboriginal children, including adoptions with non-Indigenous families.

Debate on the issue has raged following the alleged rape of a two-year-old girl in the Northern Territory town of Tennant Creek.

Mr Gillespie has described the situation as a child protection “crisis”.

Ms Williams told NIT this week that before upping adoptions, more work needed to be put into helping parents, families and communities care for their children.

“We don’t believe Aboriginal children should lose connection to culture through adoption,” Ms Williams said.

“We know from our history that (approach) has created some enormous problems with our children losing connection to their country, their culture and in many instances their community.”

Asked if she thought non-Indigenous families should be able to adopt Indigenous children, Ms Williams said: “I don’t think they should.”

She said in most states and territories adoption was not an option, but permanent and stability placement was.

“In most states, non-Aboriginal people can become foster carers of Aboriginal children and that happens and in those instances cultural connect plans and stability plans are developed for individual children in care,” she said.

“But adoption is one of those areas where it doesn’t happen.

“I know there is work happening in New South Wales where there is a push to go down the road of adoption.

“I’m unsure how far that’s got, but in South Australia that isn’t something that is on the drawing board.”

Need to look at underlying poverty

Ms Williams said more resources needed to be put into addressing the poverty in Aboriginal families, the lack of employment, difficulties with housing, access to early childhood services and health programs.

“I think if they were better addressed for our communities, we would have a far greater response to better parenting (and) building stronger and more resilient communities, therefore less children would be removed.”

Northern Territory Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation head Eileen Cummings said a bridging program was needed to help keep children who were removed from their homes for their own safety connected with their families, communities and culture and to also help the communities grieving the loss of the children.

“We don’t want the children at risk to be left in their home environment unless there is a safety net there somewhere,” she said.

“But what we want is programs for the parents and the community as well.

“A lot of them are upset because the children are being removed, but you can’t leave them if they are not safe.”

Ms Cummings said when her corporation worked with women who were being subjected to domestic violence, one of the shelters ran an outreach program so that women could work to revisit their families and reconnect with their children.

“I thought that was a good way of reconnecting the parents back with the children because I don’t want our children to lose their identity as young Aboriginal people,” she said.

Children need better home environments

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said in a statement vulnerable children should be removed, but they needed to be going to a better place.

“We are troubled by the knowledge from past Royal Commissions of the dangers of neglect and abuse perpetrated within institutions and of the failures of many out-of-home-care alternatives,” it said.

“We desperately need to know where we are removing our children to.

“Their new environment must allow them to thrive.

“Countless Aboriginal children who have missed out on care and support have already been ‘removed’ – they are currently in juvenile detention centres and jails.

“These are the children failed by support ‘programs’, failed by distant policy-makers, failed by families in over-crowded houses and failed by communities where local control and self-determination have been frustrated.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 people last week protested outside Channel Seven’s Sydney headquarters following a segment on Seven’s Sunrise program in which an all-white panel discussed the proposed removal of Indigenous children through an adoption scheme.

The program subsequently revisited the topic with a panel of Indigenous experts, but ignored calls for an apology,

It said it blocked out the protestors with a generic backdrop last week.

“We respect the right to protest as much as we respect the right of free speech,” a Seven spokesperson said.

“Some of the group was holding offensive signage and some began banging on the window and mouthing obscenities.

“To ensure regulatory compliance, and bearing in mind the potential for young children to be watching, the decision was made to utilise a generic backdrop.”

Wendy Caccetta

reporter@nit.com.au