For immediate release – Thursday 28 October, 2021
The Commission today tabled its annual report in the Parliament of Victoria as Justin Mohamed prepares to finish his term as Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People
The Annual Report outlines shocking over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria’s child protection and youth justice systems, and unusually high numbers of Aboriginal children dying in scope for a child death inquiry. Aboriginal children also continue to be disproportionately represented in notifications received by the Commission about alleged institutional abuse of children.
The report affirms the need for self-determination, supports the inclusion of a stand-alone cultural safety standard in the Child Safe Standards and highlights the recommendations of the Our Youth, Our Way inquiry which addresses the systemic barriers facing Aboriginal children and families and outlines ways to improve outcomes.
‘It is with mixed feelings that I am ending my term as Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People. I am fiercely proud of the progress that we have made – in partnership with Aboriginal children and young people – to call out the stark over-representation of Aboriginal children in Youth Justice and Child Protection and to highlight the benefits of community-led solutions and connection to community and culture so necessary to end this inequity.”
Led by the Aboriginal Commissioner for Children and Young People, this year the Commission tabled the landmark systemic inquiry Our youth, our way which recommends fundamental change to end the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in the justice system, underpinned by culturally safe solutions designed and delivered by the Aboriginal community.
The findings and the recommendations of this inquiry drew heavily on state-wide consultations with Aboriginal community, including Aboriginal children and young people themselves. The report incorporates the voices of 93 children and young people who shared their stories with us (‘our youth’). It reflects what many community members told us about how to reimagine the youth justice system in ways that build on foundational principles to strengthen Aboriginal children and young people’s connection to culture, family, community and Country (‘our way’).
‘It is unacceptable that Aboriginal children are nine times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children in Victoria. Aboriginal children as young as 10 should be with their families and in their communities, not caught up in the justice system; instead, we should be wrapping culturally safe supports around our kids so they can grow strong in culture, safe and resilient,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.
The Commission’s child death inquiries have continued to highlight the adverse experiences of Aboriginal children and young people known to Child Protection. Over recent years, there has also been a concerning increase in the number of deaths involving Aboriginal children reported to the Commission.
‘In 2020-2021 more than a quarter of all children who died having had involvement with Child Protection in the year prior were Aboriginal. Every one of these deaths is a tragedy, and reinforces that we must do more to keep all Aboriginal children safe and connected,’ said Commissioner Mohamed.
This year, the Commission also completed an inquiry into the quality of care and circumstances surrounding an Aboriginal child in the child protection system – ‘Jane’ – initiated following a referral from the Minister for Child Protection. The review found significant failures in the approach and service system response to Jane’s care, with insufficient home visits, failures to engage with her directly about her safety needs and a lack of appropriate senior supervision over family interventions.
‘Sadly, Jane’s case is emblematic of the harm and trauma child protection and out-of-home care systems can cause our children; to break this generational cycle genuine reform needs to be actioned and institutional racism must be eliminated,’ said Commissioner Mohamed.
Child Safe Standards and Reportable Conduct Scheme
This year also saw the introduction of new Child Safe Standards including a stand-alone cultural safety standard to require organisations to ensure the cultural safety of Aboriginal children and young people – a change recommended by Commissioner Mohamed.
The introduction of these new standards could not have come soon enough with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children significantly over-represented in notifications of abuse and inappropriate conduct against children received this year under Commission’s Reportable Conduct Scheme.
‘From July 2022, more than 50,000 organisations in Victoria will be under a legislative obligation to properly include Aboriginal children, young people and their families and to take action to ensure racism within organisations is identified and confronted’, said Commissioner Mohamed.
Justin Mohamed’s three years guiding the Commission’s work on Aboriginal children and young people has reaffirmed that key to ending the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the systems we oversee, Aboriginal children, families and community must be empowered to design and drive the solutions.
‘The solutions to the issues facing Aboriginal children and young people must be self-determined, community-led, and reconnect or strengthen Aboriginal children and young people’s connection to community, culture and Country,’ concluded Commissioner Mohamed.
Commissioner Mohamed is available for media comment.
The Commission’s 2020–21 annual report can be downloaded from the Commission’s website.
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