Tuesday 11 October 2016
Victorian child protection services are not complying with vital protections put in place across Australia to prevent a repetition of the impact of Stolen Generation policies.
A systemic review of how much effort is put into placing Aboriginal children in out-of-home care with their own family or clan could not find a single case in a random file review where agencies complied with all the requirements to meet the intent of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACPP).
The 'In the child's best interests: inquiry into compliance with the intent of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle in Victoria' review also underlines failure at the national level.
The ACPP was enshrined in legislation in each state and territory of Australia between 1980 and 2004. But the Commonwealth has not enacted national legislation and differences between states mean there is no consistent way to measure compliance across Australia.
The Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos said the review found that Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) child protection agencies in Victoria had set a "low bar" for their compliance with the ACPP and that the best interests of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care "have not been paramount".
He fears the findings are further proof that the urgent recommendations of the groundbreaking national 'Bringing Them Home report' nearly 20 years ago have not been taken up in practice for Aboriginal children removed from their families.
"Far too many of our babies and children are being lost at an early age into placements outside of Aboriginal family, outside of clan and off Country," he said.
"Some children are lost for a short time and some are lost forever.
The review was initiated by the Commission for Children and Young People in 2014 in response to concerns there were "persistent and systemic issues" that prevented Aboriginal children from being placed according to the ACPP.
The review found a large gap between the policy and program intent and what occurs in practice and little genuine effort by DHHS to measure compliance and outcomes.
It found the ACPP system was overly reliant on staff being personally responsible for compliance and did not have effective processes in place to identify or address non-compliance. It found that the dramatic rise in numbers of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care had not been met with commensurate increase in resources.
Aboriginal children represent 20 per cent of all children in state care, numbering around 1700.
Mr Jackomos said it was important to recognise and applaud that the Victorian Government has made significant policy initiatives and funding commitments for Aboriginal children in out-of-home care since the inquiry commenced in 2014. That includes the establishment of the Aboriginal Children's Forum which brings together key decision makers from the Aboriginal community, community service sector and government.
In recognition that only 14 per cent of Aboriginal children are case managed by an Aboriginal organisation and only 9 per cent are placed with Aboriginal carers, one of the Forum's agreed priorities is the transfer of case management of all Aboriginal children in out-of-home care to Aboriginal organisations.
"These are very important and long-awaited steps," Mr Jackomos said.
"But this review also shows us that we will not see a change in children's lives unless such reforms are fully implemented and that agencies are held accountable for the way they implement policies and legislation."
The findings of the 'In the child's best interests' review and recommendations will be built on in a second report being tabled in Parliament later this month by the Commission on the landmark statewide investigation led by Mr Jackomos, in partnership with DHHS – known as Taskforce 1000 – of nearly 1,000 Aboriginal children and young people in out-of home care in Victoria.
Both inquiries come at a time of alarming growth in the number of Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care in Victoria, with Aboriginal children nearly 12 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to have experienced an out-of-home care placement.
"Complying with the full intent of the ACPP is crucial to getting everything else right to prevent a second Stolen Generation of Aboriginal people," Mr Jackomos said.
The ACPP upholds the right of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care to be safe in their culture and their Aboriginal identity and the participation of the Aboriginal family and community in key decision making for the child.. Children are required to be placed in either their own Aboriginal extended family, with other Aboriginal people from their or another community, or as a last resort with non-Aboriginal people in close proximity to their natural family and who have an obligation to keep their culture strong.
Andrew Jackomos, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People
Media contact: Marie Mcinerney M: 0418 273 698