Removal of Aboriginal children at crisis point and rising

Issue 
The rate of Aboriginal children removed from their families since Kevin Rudd said sorry to the Stolen Generation. Graph: New Mat

The rate of Aboriginal children removed from their families has increased each year since Kevin Rudd said sorry to the Stolen Generations, and more and more Aboriginal children are being placed with non-Indigenous carers, a new report into Indigenous disadvantage has revealed.

In 2008, Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the victims of past policies of forced removal that led to the Stolen Generations, promising that the “injustices of the past will never, never happen again”.

But a new report reveals every year after that promise, the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children placed on ‘care and protection’ orders, which can lead to removal from their homes, increased, widening the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

The Productivity Commission into Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage released its findings into government attempts to ‘close the gap’ between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia.

It has been almost three years since the last Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report was handed down, and the commission says there are “positive” signs. In its official statement, the commission claimed economic outcomes have improved over the long-term, life expectancy has increased and child mortality rates have lowered.

Yet Australia still jails Aboriginal people at worsening rates, with no change in rates of juvenile detention.

Aboriginal people experience rates of suicide almost two times higher than non-Indigenous Australia, and the rate of hospitalisation for self-harm has increased over the past nine years by nearly 50%.

But the report’s most startling figures are on the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children placed on ‘care and protection orders’, which can lead to their removal from their families.

The number has jumped dramatically from 11.3 per 1000 children in 2003-04 to 49.3 per 1000 children from 2012-2013.
When a notification is substantiated, and a further intervention required, child protection departments can apply to courts to place the child on a care and protection order, which can lead to their removal from their homes.

The rate for non-Indigenous children increased from 2.6 to 5.7 per 1000 children over the same period.

That means the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children jumped from 8.7 to 43.6 care and protection orders per 1000 children.

While the most common cause for child protection notifications for non-Indigenous children was ‘emotional abuse’, the majority of notifications for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was for ‘neglect’, with 40.1% of substantiations due to this reason and 33.8% due to emotional abuse. In comparison, 40.1% of substantiations for non-Indigenous children were for emotional abuse.

The report finds substantiated child protection notifications for Aboriginal children aged 0-17 years had increased from 29.5 per 1000 children in 2009-10 to 37.9 per 1000 children between 2012-2013.

That is despite the substantiation rate of non-Indigenous children remaining at 5 per 1000 children over that same period.

The report also found more Aboriginal children are being placed with non-Indigenous carers, against the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle. Nationally, the number of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children who were placed with non-Indigenous carers had increased, fluctuating between 23.3% and 31.2% from 2004 to 2013.

The report found the number of Aboriginal children placed with other Aboriginal families had decreased from 27.5% to 16.3%. About 52.5% of removed Aboriginal children were placed with other relatives or kin.

State and territory breakdowns were not included in the report, but the Productivity Commission noted the different definitions of child abuse and neglect made “it difficult to obtain consistent and comparable national data”.

[This article first appeared at New Matilda on November 20.]

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