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Care trend shows new Stolen Generation

Care Trend Shows New Stolen Generation

For those of you who thought the Stolen Generation was a thing of the past – think again.

The annual Family Matters report – issued this week – shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are around 9.7 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children. There are more than 20,000 Indigenous children in out-of-home care.

This over-representation has increased every year over the last 10 years in every state and territory.

Another disturbing trend is that 81% of Indigenous children are in state care to the age of 18. The report says those children are “at serious risk of permanent separation from their families, cultures and communities”. In NSW, the use of permanent care orders is twice the national average.

Earlier this month distinguished legal academic, Indigenous rights advocate and 2011 NSW Australian of the Year, Professor Larissa Behrendt AO, presented on this topic at Newcastle’s third annual Margaret Henry Memorial lecture.

Prof Behrendt said whilst the Black Lives Matter movement has appropriately focused attention on incarceration rates and deaths in custody, an equally important issue is keeping Aboriginal children with their families. She said the rate of Indigenous child removal has almost doubled since the Apology in 2008.

Much of Prof Behrendt’s work is campaigning for those Aboriginal children who are considered to have been appropriately removed from their parents but have not been placed with extended family. More than half of Indigenous children are living without an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carer. The issue here is lack of connection to culture.

Reunifying a child with their family or extended family should always be the goal of any care and protection system. Only 26% of Indigenous children in out-of-home care were identified for possible reunification compared to 37% of non-Indigenous children. Of those children, only 19% of Indigenous children were reunified compared with 28% of non-Indigenous children.

Placing children in permanent care or adoption, particularly with non-Aboriginal carers, takes the child off the Government’s hands but often has devastating consequences.

The Family Matters report lays out sensible recommendations to address this issue. Aligned with the views of Prof Behrendt, it concludes that self-determination and placing the voices of Indigenous people at the centre of this issue is the way forward.

Catherine Henry has more than 30 years’ experience as a health, medical and aged care lawyer and is the principal of Newcastle based firm Catherine Henry Lawyers.

This opinion piece, ‘Care trend shows new Stolen Generation’, appeared in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday 21 November 2020.

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