A call to end the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in OOHC within a generation
Family Matters is a national campaign led by SNAICC – National Voice for our Children and is supported by an alliance of over 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous organisations, leading academics and educational institutions. The campaign aims to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care (OOHC) within a generation.
This article presents a brief overview of two reports recently published by the Family Matters campaign.
In 2015, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were:
- 6.7 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be the subject of substantiated reports of abuse or risk of harm,1 and
- 9.5 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be removed by child protection authorities.2
The Family Matters report highlights that the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in OOHC has grown by 22 per cent between 2011-12 and 2014-15, compared to 5 per cent for non-Indigenous children during the same period.3 It warns that the number of Indigenous children in care will almost triple by 2035 if current trends continue.4
A number of factors contribute to this situation for Indigenous families:
- Child protection processes
This includes processes contributing to higher rates of children in care relative to rates of substantiated abuse or risk of harm and unknown rates of family reunification.
- Economic, social and community-level drivers
This includes high levels of family violence, poor housing, poverty and under-representation in services that could respond and prevent entry to OOHC.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation and respect for culture
This includes compliance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle and the mechanisms to enable families and communities to participate in decisions that affect children.
In responding to over-representation, the Family Matters Roadmap report highlights the need for greater investment in early intervention, cultural safety, self-determination and accountability. It outlines four building blocks to ensure all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people grow up safe and cared for in family, community and culture. They are:
- All families enjoy access to quality, culturally safe, universal and targeted services necessary for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to thrive.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations participate in, and have control over, decisions that affect their children.
- Law, policy and practice in child and family welfare are culturally safe and responsive.
- Governments and services are accountable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Cultural safety is a key feature of many of the strategies outlined in the report; these include culturally-competent services, compliance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle and a focus on the strengths of culturally-based child rearing among others.
The report also highlights the importance of self-determination. This is fundamental at all points of contact with the child and family system. It includes building the mechanisms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in decision-making and transferring greater control to Indigenous communities and organisations to design and deliver services.
The Roadmap report concludes with 5 immediate change priorities for 2016-2017:
- A COAG target to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 2040;
- Increased investment in early intervention to support families and prevent children being placed at risk in the first place;
- Government investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family and community participation in child protection decision-making;
- Prioritisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled services;
- Reform of permanency planning measures across all jurisdictions towards stability, ensuring adequate mechanisms to strengthen families and to protect children’s right to family and culture.
Download the reports via the Family Matters website:
- The Family Matters Report: Measuring trends to turn the tide on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child safety and removal (PDF)
- The Family Matters Roadmap (PDF)
Further reading and resources
- Enhancing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: Policy and practice considerations
- Child protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
- Innovation in Aboriginal child and family services (webinar)
- What works in effective Indigenous community-managed programs and organisations
- Strengths of Australian Aboriginal cultural practices in family life and child rearing
- How can we improve the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle? (webinar)
- Promoting Indigenous child health and wellbeing: "Get a piece of paper honey, no-one can take that away from you" (webinar)
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2016), Child protection Australia 2014-15, Canberra: AIHW. Table 3.5, p. 28. Retrieved from <http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129554728>
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2016), Table 5.4, p. 54
- Family Matters (2016), The Family Matters Report: Measuring trends to turn the tide on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child safety and removal, p. 7. Retrieved from <http://www.familymatters.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Family_Matters_Report_2016.pdf>
- Family Matters (2016), p. 7