Addressing the over-representation of First Nations children in out-of-home-care

hands holding paper house illustration
  • Published Date: 04 December 2020

According to the 2020 Family Matters Report, at June 19, 2019, 20,077 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were in Out of Home care, with the majority of these children unlikely to return to their families. Separation of First Nations children from their families can lead to intergenerational trauma and a loss of cultural connection. Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor, APO’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, investigates the ongoing problem of disconnection of First Nations children from their families and communities, and the solutions and alternatives to this practice, as recommended by First Nations organisations in the 2020 Family Matters Report and supporting literature.

First Nations solutions:

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle Indicators 2018–19 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report states that the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care and receiving child protective services continue to rise. The SNAICC- National Voice for our Children’s initiative, Family Matters, has been established to find solutions to the overrepresentation of First Nations children in out-of-home-care. The 2020 Family Matters Report emphasises the importance of First Nations organisations to lead the way when finding solutions to First Nations child protection measures.

Key report findings

The 2020 Family Matters Report presents not only the data and trends surrounding First Nations children in out-of-home care, but also the structural factors that work against First Nations people that can lead to the separation of these families.

Some of the findings:

  1. Previous Family Matters reports show increases in the number of children being taken from their families. The AIHW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle report supports this claim, stating: “From 2014–15 to 2018–19: The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children receiving child protection services rose from 134 to 156 per 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The rate is currently almost 8 times the rate for non-Indigenous children.”
  2. Institutional racism and socioeconomic disadvantage are structural drivers that can lead to First Nations families encountering child protection systems. Some of these families also have poor access to safe, affordable housing.
  3. The separation of families can lead to intergenerational trauma, as has been found with the Stolen Generations, when children during this time were also taken from their families.

Key policy recommendations

The Report breaks up the key recommendations into four Building Blocks, which are:

Building Block 1: Universal and targeted services

A prevention approach to child safety is critical, to prevent children becoming vulnerable in the first place by implementing policies that identify known causes of harm, and responding appropriately. This means that services and support need to be available to children and families long-term.

Building Block 2: Participation, control and self-determination

First Nations people and organisations need to have control over the decisions that affect their children through expanding authority to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations for child protection functions across Australia. The higher the intervention from the Government, the higher the level of accountability to First Nations people and organisations is required, so as to prevent any possible government abuse of power and cultural safety to the families affected.

Building Block 3: Culturally safe and responsive systems

The need for investment from the Government to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled early year services through programs designed to meet the needs of these families.

Building Block 4: Accountability

The establishment of peak bodies that support and enable participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in policy and service design and in the oversight of systems impacting children.

The report also supports the establishment of a commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, nationally and in every state and territory, as SNAICC and a large number of First Nations organisations recommended in their position paper back in October 2019. 

Far-reaching benefits

Across the country, First Nations people and organisations are supporting families, through cultural connection, early intervention, prevention, and policy design. However, some organisations have been able to achieve more than others, through the assistance of Government funding. The Report presents examples such as ACT’s Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation, which has recently secured funding for Functional Family Therapy. Gugan Gulwan’s previous work has found that First Nations children and their families can benefit from intervention programs that are being led by First Nations organisations. Unfortunately, this is the only First Nations-run organisation in the ACT that is funded to provide child protection services, while 29% of the children in the ACT child protection system are First Nations children.

The Report states that First Nations and non-Indigenous partnership initiatives such as the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, provide opportunities to hold governments to account. One of the targets in this new National Closing the Gap Agreement is to reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45% by 2031. This target is aligned with the goal of the Family Matters campaign to end over-representation in out-of-home care by 2040. However this can only be achieved with First Nations community organisations leading the process. Through Governments funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled services, solutions to the structural factors that impact First Nations families can be found, through services that directly understand the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.

About the First Peoples & Public Policy Collection

As part of its mission to improve Indigenous policy in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, ANZSOG is working to increase knowledge of Indigenous culture and history. Part of this is our support of the Analysis & Policy Observatory’s (APO) First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, launched at our Reimagining Public Administration conference in February 2019.

APO is an open access evidence platform that makes public policy research accessible and usable. It contains more than 45,000 resources, including specialist collections, grey literature reports, articles and data.

The First Peoples & Public Policy Collection is curated from a broad selection of key Indigenous policy topics, and provides a valuable resource on Indigenous affairs, with a focus on diverse Indigenous voices.

Resources

Other APO articles