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Aboriginal foster generation exceeds Stolen Generations

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Author Topic: Aboriginal foster generation exceeds Stolen Generations  (Read 83 times)
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« on: November 23, 2008, 03:24:58 pm »
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Caroline Overington | November 24, 2008


WELFARE workers in NSW are removing Aboriginal children from their homes in numbers far greater than during the Stolen Generations, and the recruitment of Aboriginal staff has done nothing to stem the tide.

On the eve of the release of another report on the crisis in child welfare, The Australian can reveal that a staggering 4000 Aboriginal children are now in state care in NSW.

This compares with about 1000 Aboriginal children in foster homes, institutions and missions in 1969.

Black children are being removed at 10 times the rate of white children, despite a tripling in the number of Aboriginal welfare workers.

The total suggests that about one in six Aboriginal children in NSW is now a ward of the state.

The huge numbers of black children in care is of great concern to indigenous groups, who argue against the removal of children, particularly when the primary reason for removal is not abuse but neglect.

Amanda Bridge, chairwoman of the Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat, said: "It's more than were taken in the Stolen Generation." And Jacqui Reed, chief executive of the Create Foundation, which supports children who cannot live with their parents, described the figures as "very, very worrying".

"It's alarming, and as a practice it's wildly different to what we'd like to see, which is the numbers coming down," Ms Reed said.

According to Bringing Them Home, the official report on the Stolen Generations, an estimated 1000 Aboriginal children were in institutional or family care in NSW when the Aboriginal Welfare Board was abolished in 1969.

A source in the NSW Department of Community Services last week gave The Australian data that suggest there are now 12,813 children in state care in NSW - enough to fill 30 medium-sized primary schools.

Of these, one third, or about 4000 children, are indigenous. The numbers are up by 37 per cent this year, and by 65 per cent over the past five years. The state total is now equal to the national total of 1993.

By comparison, numbers have flattened and started to fall in other states, especially in Victoria, which recently undertook massive reform of its system.

The NSW Government is awaiting the release of a new report on child welfare, after an inquiry conducted by former judge James Wood QC, before deciding what reforms it should undertake in the area.

The Australian understands that about half the indigenous children in NSW who are separated from their parents live just streets away with a grandmother or a great-grandmother.

These foster parents, or kinship carers as they are known, receive benefits for taking in the children. They can have as many as six children at a time, and there is no limit to the number they can take over a fostering career.

Several Aboriginal organisations are currently advertising for more foster carers. These include the KARI Care agency, established by indigenous businessman Paul Ralph in 1999.

Foster carers get a tax-free allowance, which does not affect other commonwealth entitlements, such as the parenting payment. These allowances are not available to the natural parents of the children who have been removed.

Aboriginal groups had hoped the arrival of indigenous case workers in the system would bring down the numbers of children being removed.

The first group of 12 Aboriginal case workers started at what was then the department of youth and community services in 1978. Two years later, a report by the Aboriginal Children's Research Project put the proportion of children in care who were Aboriginal at 15 per cent.

In the 30 years since, that proportion has doubled, despite the number of Aborigines working at the department booming.

Seven per cent of the welfare staff at DOCS, or 237 people, identify as Aboriginal, including 35 case workers.

There are deep concerns about a system that results in 10 times more Aborigines being removed from their homes than other children, and about the damage being done to children on the foster care round - moving weekly or monthly while their parents try to pull their lives together.

The system is presided over by a NSW minister who is herself part Aboriginal, and who was raised in a home without her parents. Linda Burney's white mother had a child with an Aboriginal man. Ms Burney was raised by her mother's aunt and uncle. She was not told as a child she had indigenous heritage, and did not meet her father until she was 28.

Ms Burney is conscious of keeping Aboriginal children near their country or the lands of their ancestors, which means they are most often kept in homes with other Aboriginal people. "Addressing the issue is my highest priority," the minister said yesterday.

In an effort to ensure the children understood their culture, Ms Burney said DOCS was committed to the Aboriginal placement principle, which seeks to place those children who have been removed from their homes with kin, or with other Aboriginal people.

She said the problem of removals would not be solved inisolation.

"The issues are complex," she said. "Child welfare has to be considered at the same time as housing, as health and unemployment."

The executive officer of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, Julian Pocock, said welfare workers were removing children "as a last resort".

"We've got to pay attention to the wisdom of human experience in this field, and it doesn't matter how poor people are - they want to know their parents," Mr Pocock said.

"Being poor and being unhappy are different things. When children reflect back, they don't see it as an unhappy time. Often the last thing they have left is the love they have for each other."

Stephen Hagan, of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge at the University of Southern Queensland, said those children at risk must be removed from their homes.

"Logically, it would be best if the parents could be put on notice, unless they change their ways," Mr Hagan said. "But where the parents are repeat offenders, my preference would be for the child to be relocated.

"The worst thing anyone can do is to turn a blind eye to the parlous state. Children have rights. The state has a duty of care to provide the care, and that means a roof over their head and adequate schooling.

"I'm appalled at how we got to such a position. The Government knew of these trends, there are a lot of public servants who work in this area. They are aware of it. Who are they taking advice from?"
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