Keeping First Nations families together

paper people holding hands
  • Published Date: 06 December 2019

By Carissa Lee Godwin

Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor of APO’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, explores the new Family Matters report, produced by the Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC – The Voice of Our Children), and some of the proposed solutions from the First Nations policy and research community.

The Family Matters Report 2019 outlines the growing over-representation of First Nation children in out-of-home-care (OOHC) in Australia. The report calls on the Australian government to recognise that First Nations people and organisations should be the lead influencers in policies and implementations involving First Nations children, with submissions and position papers from First Nations organisations supporting this call for self-determination.

SNAICC – The Voice of Our Children, is a national non-government peak body that focuses on the physical, emotional and cultural wellbeing of First Nations children in Australia. The Family Matters report notes that SNAICC’s Family Matters Campaign – Australia’s national campaign to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people grow up safe and cared for in family, community and culture – has provided real advancements in the wellbeing of First Nations children: “These are people and places that have experienced healing and hope; pockets of brilliance that do not capture the attention of research agendas, or feature prominently in collections of literature about what works.”

Since the publication of the Family Matters report, SNAICC has also released a position paper calling for a national commissioner entitled: Establishment of a national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people (SNAICC Position Paper), and Professor Megan Davis has authored an independent review of Aboriginal children and young people in OOHC in the Family is Culture: Review Report 2019 (Family is Culture report).

Key research findings

The Family Matters report, along with others referenced, present the magnitude of emotional and cultural damage caused when children and babies are separated from their communities and culture.

  1. The SNAICC Position Paper found that “significant over-representation in the child protection and youth justice systems around the country demonstrate that the need for change in the systems and services that support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people is significant and urgent.”
  2. The Family Matters report expresses concern about the government’s First Nations child protection data, including poor identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, a high number of children in Tasmania in OOHC with unknown Indigenous status, and some states excluding children who have received third-party parental responsibility orders from their official OOHC population counts.
  3. The Family is Culture report states that a newborn child may be removed from their parents, who may not be aware that their child is to be removed. The grief this brings can lead to “serious and longstanding psychological damage”, which may have a detrimental effect on later experiences of pregnancy and parenthood.

Key policy recommendations

The Family Matters report “aims to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care within a generation, by 2040.” To make this happen, SNAICC’s key recommendations to the government include:

  1. Develop a national comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s strategy that includes generational targets to eliminate over-representation and address the causes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removal.
  2. An end to legal orders for permanent care and adoption for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, replaced by a focus on supporting the permanence of their identity in connection with their kin and culture.
  3. Adopt national standards to ensure family support and child protection legislation, policy and practices are in adherence to all five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, including increased efforts to connect children in out-of-home care to family and culture.
  4. Establishment and resourcing of roles and bodies that enable participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in policy and service design and in the oversight of systems impacting their children, including state-based and national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s commissioners.

An additional suggestion from the Family is Culture report is that data relating to the Stolen Generations may also be useful to inform and provide context to the damage that can be done when Indigenous children are severed from their culture and communities: “The experiences of the Stolen Generation also provide stark evidence of the horrific damage that is inflicted upon Aboriginal children, families and communities when their familial, cultural and spiritual connections are forcibly severed.”

Connection to culture

The intergenerational trauma caused by OOHC policy repeats the trauma of the Stolen Generations. Children, even if separated from family, should remain in their communities so that they can maintain a connection to culture.

First Nations organisations are in the best position to ensure the wellbeing of First Nations children. These three reports make it clear that First Nations-led input through organisations and communities is the best way to ensure the wellbeing of First Nations children.

The Family Matters report states that the benefits of First Nations organisations working alongside their own people (or Mob) will result in governments and policymakers recognising the benefits of First Nations-led policy change:

“Once the critical importance of culture and self-determination is recognised, and once investment follows that recognition, we can then begin to co-create a future where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children can thrive.”

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 online knowledge hub that makes public policy research visible, discoverable and usable. It contains more than 40,000 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.

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