Wednesday 26 October 2016
Victoria's child protection system has failed Aboriginal children in the state on an individual and systemic basis, a landmark state-wide investigation of nearly 1,000 cases by the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos has found.
Mr Jackomos said the groundbreaking Taskforce 1000 investigation found children were taken from home for their own safety only for many to suffer physical, mental and cultural neglect across multiple agencies, including child protection, police, education, and health.
The Taskforce 1000 report – Always was, always will be Koori children: a systemic inquiry into services provided to Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care in Victoria – was tabled today in Parliament and released at a community event in Melbourne.
"Many children did not know they were Aboriginal, were split from siblings, and left for years in residential care – isolated from family, culture and country – when they might have been in the loving care of grandparents or other relatives," Mr Jackomos said.
"We had child protection officials tell us they had been unable to trace a child's Aboriginal family for years when we were able to track them down on Facebook within minutes."
The investigation into the circumstances of 980 Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care found that more than 86 per cent were case managed by a non-Aboriginal agency, 60 per cent placed with a non-Aboriginal carer, 42 per cent away from their extended family, and more than 40 per cent separated from brothers and sisters.
It also found that family violence and parental alcohol and drug abuse were by far the main reasons why Aboriginal children went into care, revealing the urgent need to intervene better and earlier with families at risk and to stop inter-generational cycles of abuse.
Throughout its two year inquiry, Taskforce 1000 saw many committed and hard-working individuals from community and government, both frontline and central office staff.
However the report shines a light on a system that has not valued and respected Aboriginal people and culture and provides heartbreaking, graphic case studies of the failure to keep children safe and well – over generations.
It puts agencies, departmental heads, community sector organisations, police and school principals on notice, saying they must be held personally accountable for failure to comply with vital cultural protections and to act in the best interests of Aboriginal children.
Mr Jackomos applauded significant policy initiatives and funding commitments from the Victorian Government for Aboriginal children in out-of-home care since the inquiry commenced in 2014. But he said they can only deliver better care if they are properly implemented and if there is a similar commitment to reform from the State Opposition.
"Tracing the stories of individual children and their families across Victoria, we saw generations caught up in criminal justice and child protection systems, struggling with unemployment, poverty, poor education, high rates of suicide and the over-riding impact of the past impacting on the present," Mr Jackomos said. "We know the trajectory, and that if we don't act now, we are condemning the next generation to similar grief, loss and trauma."
Among the report's 77 detailed recommendations are calls for Aboriginal children to be placed as a matter of priority with properly resourced Aboriginal community controlled organisations, a rapid escalation in the number of Aboriginal people working at every level of child protection, expansion and better resourcing of kinship care, and prevention and early intervention programs particularly to address family violence.
It also calls on the Federal Government to establish Close the Gaps targets to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in out of home care and in juvenile detention, as so many other reports and groups working with vulnerable children have urged for years.
The Taskforce 1000 systemic inquiry was launched in 2014 by the Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to investigate how to stem the rapidly rising numbers of Aboriginal children in out of home care in Victoria – then totalling 922.
In the course of the two year inquiry, their numbers rose by nearly 60 per cent to 1700.
Aboriginal children represent 20 per cent of all children in state care despite Aboriginal people representing less than 1 per cent of the Victorian population. They are nearly 12 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be put in out-of-home care.
A number of major inquiries over the past 10 years have focused on child protection in Victoria. This – and the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle report also tabled this month – are the first to provide specific scrutiny about the experience of vulnerable Aboriginal children.
Media contact: Marie Mcinerney M: 0418 273 698 or Luis Gonzalez M: 0425 871 816