Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) called on June 23 for Aboriginal control of a review recently announced by NSW Family and Community Services (FACS) Minister Brad Hazzard into all Aboriginal children removed from their families in NSW since 2014.
The announcement comes in the wake of protests on National Sorry Day and a forum called by Hazzard to consult with Aboriginal organisations and communities about the growing crisis in the removal of Aboriginal Children into out-of-home care (OOHC). In NSW, one in 10 Aboriginal children are currently in OOCH.
Suellyn Tighe, a GMAR member from Coonabarrabran, said: “Minister Hazard has only committed to this review as a result of growing pressure and protests led by GMAR, a grass-roots community organisation founded by Aboriginal grandmothers who were fed up with a lack of consultation with Indigenous families and communities about their children.
“We are still waiting for a meeting with Mr Hazzard, who made a commitment to meeting our group last November. For any change to happen, this review needs to be independent of FACS and Aboriginal-controlled.”
GMAR also believes a key focus of any review must be the identification of opportunities for the speedy reunification of Aboriginal children with their families and communities.
This will require resources for support and, where necessary, for litigation to realise the best interests of the child through reunification.
Padraic Gibson, a researcher with Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney who supports the work of GMAR, said: “This review is well overdue but it needs some teeth.
“GMAR has extensive experience working on a voluntary basis with Indigenous families fighting for the return of their kids. Winning reunification through the review of thousands of cases will require a serious commitment of resources to ensure the voices of families are heard.”
Laura Lyons, a member of GMAR Sydney, said: “We still need to push to ensure this happens in a timely fashion and that it is fair. We also want FACS to continue to work with GMAR during this process, although thus far no one has committed to a time frame.”
Both GMAR and the Aboriginal Legal Service have expressed interest and a willingness to play a central role in ensuring the review is in consultation with and representative of Indigenous families and communities.
“Appropriate support services and opportunities must be made available to make this work. Our current experience is that FACS is not willing to give up control of children, meaning litigation is necessary to get kids home,” said Gibson.
GMAR is calling on Hazzard to respond to these positive offers and initiatives from interested Aboriginal community organisations. These assurances are necessary to ensure that the review is independent and that the outcomes will ensure Aboriginal self-determination in decision making about Aboriginal children's best interests.