Connection to community and culture vital for Aboriginal children and young people in broken state care system: report

The impacts of Victoria’s broken child protection and out-of-home care systems are falling disproportionately on Aboriginal children and young people, with their voices and protective connection to community and culture being undermined to the detriment of their rights and wellbeing.

This was a central theme of the In our own words report, which was tabled in Parliament this morning by the Commission for Children and Young People.

The In our own words inquiry spoke with more than 200 children and young people in or with experience of kinship, foster and residential care in Victoria – including more than 80 children and young people who are Aboriginal.

‘With Aboriginal children and young people so starkly over-represented in the system, and with over-representation worsening, it was vital to redress this unacceptable circumstance at least in the voice we have given to them in this inquiry,’ said Justin Mohamed, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, today.

Since 2008–09, there has been a tripling of Aboriginal children and young people removed by the state. Despite Aboriginal people comprising less than one per cent of Victoria’s population, Aboriginal children and young people make up 25 per cent of the care population. In 2017–18, nine out of every 100 Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria were in care.

‘Our aim must be not just to reduce this over-representation, but to end it. These disgraceful figures mean the harms of a deeply flawed system are amplified for Aboriginal children and young people, who are pre-disposed to care through intergenerational trauma including the continuing impacts of the Stolen Generations,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.

‘Despite the protective and healing effect of connection to culture and community, this report shows that vital connection continues to be undermined at every level,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.

‘As I have got older my culture means a lot to me. If I had of had cultural support it woulda help me so much more down the track. It was only Aussie blokes, I was the only Koori fella there in resi. I didn’t start to get to know that sort of stuff till I got to be back with mum and that,’ said a 21-year-old Aboriginal man with experience of residential care quoted in the report.

Aboriginal children and young people are more likely to enter care at a young age, to spend substantially longer in care, and to be separated from their siblings.

Twenty-five per cent of Aboriginal children and young people are recorded as having an Aboriginal carer, 61 per cent do not have a cultural support plan, and 47 per cent who have been in care more than 12 months have never had an Aboriginal Family-Led Decision-Making Conference.

‘Given we have seen real commitment and leadership from the Victorian Government to address these issues and improve compliance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, these findings are disappointing. They show more effort is needed,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.

‘While we have seen increases in the case management of Aboriginal children and young people by Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations (41 per cent), the pace of change is nowhere near enough.

‘This report recognises that the solutions to these challenges can only be achieved by listening to Aboriginal voices, and by the leadership and deep engagement of Aboriginal children, families and communities.

‘If we are serious about Treaty and self-determination in this state, the treatment of the most vulnerable Aboriginal children and young people is a profound test of the genuineness and commitment to that intention.

‘Self-determination will not be a reality for many Aboriginal families until Aboriginal children and young people are no longer over-represented in care,’ Commissioner Mohamed concluded.

Among the report’s key recommendations that focus on Aboriginal children and young people are ensuring stronger compliance with existing laws to connect Aboriginal children and young people to culture (recommendation 2), and better support for self-determination, including through community-led early intervention and progressing the transfer of case management of Aboriginal children and young people in care to Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations (recommendation 3).

A separate media statement on the report has been issued by Liana Buchanan, Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People.

In our own words will be launched this afternoon (1.00–2.00pm) at the Treetops Room at Melbourne Museum, where commissioners Buchanan and Mohamed will be available for interview, together with three young people who will speak about their experiences of the state care system.

In our own words can be downloaded from the Commission’s website.

For interview:

Justin Mohamed
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People

Media contact:

Darren Lewin-Hill
0437 046 360