The continued forced removal of children from their families is one of the biggest crises facing Aboriginal communities today. More children are being removed now than at any time in Australia's history, with almost 16,000 Aboriginal children in “out of home care” on any given night.
This was the subject of a public forum organised by Grandmothers against Removals (GMAR) Sydney on April 30. GMAR is a national network that was formed by families who have been directly affected by forced removal.
The forum, attended by about 60 people, was chaired by Stop the Intervention Committee Sydney activist Paddy Gibson. Speakers included GMAR spokesperson Laura and her daughter Bianca; Aboriginal rights campaigner and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Ken Canning; Koori activist and elder Jenny Munro; and a number of Aboriginal grandmothers and mothers from the community.
Since forming two years ago, GMAR members have been at the forefront of challenging forced removals, with consistent work assisting families fighting to have their children returned, protests that have forced the issue into the national spotlight and negotiations with welfare departments in an attempt to change their practices.
The forum discussed action the local Aboriginal community in Sydney want to take to change the practices of the Family and Community Services (FACS) in the local area and state-wide.
They demanded Aboriginal control of Aboriginal child welfare and said they want to see resources and opportunities provided to struggling families, rather than the punishment and trauma of forced removals.
Gomeroi GMARs have negotiated a set of "guiding principles" with the FACS office in Tamworth. A new GMAR group in Ballina has just negotiated a similar agreement.
The most fundamental of these principles is that FACS must engage in a process of family group conferencing to find solutions to any issues while keeping children with their family.
The "guiding principles" also allow for the formation of a local advisory group including both community representatives and Aboriginal services.
With local community action and widespread pressure on FACS it is possible to implement these guiding principles here in Sydney.