Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle

Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle

Policy and practice considerations

Fiona Arney, Marie Iannos, Alwin Chong, Stewart McDougall and Samantha Parkinson

CFCA Paper No. 34 — August 2015
Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle ("the Principle") was developed in recognition of the devastating effects of forced separation of Indigenous children from families, communities and culture. The Principle exists in legislation and policy in all Australian jurisdictions, and while its importance is recognised in many boards of inquiry and reviews into child protection and justice systems, there are significant concerns about the implementation of the Principle. Recent estimates suggest the Principle has been fully applied in as few as 13% of child protection cases involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The purpose of this paper is to explore the contemporary understanding of the Principle, and review the multiple and complex barriers at the policy and practice levels which are impeding its implementation. Promising approaches that might address these barriers are also examined.

Key messages

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle was developed in response to the trauma experienced by individuals, families and communities from government policies that involved the widespread removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The fundamental goal of the Principle is to enhance and preserve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's connection to family and community, and sense of identity and culture.

The Principle is often conceptualised as the "placement hierarchy", in which placement choices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children start with family and kin networks, then Indigenous non-related carers in the child's community, then carers in another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community. If no other suitable placement with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander carers can be sought, children are placed with non-Indigenous carers as a last resort, provided they are able to maintain the child's connections to their family, community and cultural identity.

However, the aims of the Principle are much broader and include: (1) recognition and protection of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, family members and communities in child welfare matters; (2) self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in child welfare matters; and (3) reduction in the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system.

Related to these aims are five inter-related elements of the Principle: prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection.

Implementation of the Principle varies between and within jurisdictions, and concerns have been raised about the implementation of the Principle in terms of the physical, emotional and cultural safety of children.

Barriers to implementation include the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system, a shortage of Indigenous carers, poor identification and assessment of carers, inconsistent involvement of Indigenous people and organisations in decision-making, deficiencies in the provision of cultural care, and inconsistent quantification and monitoring of the Principle.

Supports to implementation include approaches based on partnerships between communities and governments, with a focus on enhancing understanding of the intent of the Principle, improving links between legislation, policy and practice, providing earlier supports for families, recognising and enhancing leadership, participation and decision-making among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and enhancing the recruitment and assessment of Indigenous carers.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Professor Fiona Arney is the Director of the Australian Centre for Child Protection at the University of South Australia and is a leading expert in child protection research, resilience and models of parenting and childhood vulnerability. Marie Iannos is a registered psychologist with 8 years clinical experience in child and adolescent mental health, and research into the health and wellbeing of mothers and children. Alwin Chong is a Wakamin man and is currently the Acting Director of Yaitya Purruna Indigenous Health Unit (YPIHU) at the University of Adelaide. Alwin is a respected Aboriginal leader and advocate for Aboriginal health research that is culturally equitable. Stewart McDougall first joined the Australian Centre for Child Protection in 2011 as a Summer Vacation Research Scholarship holder, and then as Honours student with the Centre. Since 2013, Stewart has been a part of the Centre's research team. Samantha Parkinson first joined the Australian Centre for Child Protection in 2011 as a Psychology Honours student before continuing on as a Research Assistant and Project Manager in the following years. She left the Centre in July 2013 to pursue further education overseas and has recently returned to the Centre as a Research Assistant.


We would like to acknowledge the valuable work by a round table brought together under the auspices of the former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (now the Department of Social Services) to identify ways to enhance the application of the principle and nationally consistent reporting.

The authors would like to thank our external reviewer, John Burton (Manager, Policy and Resources, SNAICC) for his helpful comments in refining this paper.

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 34
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, August 2015.
20 pp.
ISSN: 
2200-4106
ISBN: 
978-1-76016-042-5
Suggested citation:

Arney, F., Iannos, M., Chong, A., McDougall, S., & Parkinson, S. (2015). Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: Policy and practice considerations (CFCA Paper No. 34). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange.

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